*This is my first foray into writing about polyamorous Things. In this post, I’m attempting to collate all of the wisdom I’ve collected so far – none of this should be taken as gospel. Some of it might fit you like a glove. Other bits, not so much. Feedback in either case would be awesome. *
What’s happening in your life?
So you’re with your partner and feel that it’s time to take your relationship to a new level of openness and trust? Great! I’m truly happy for you! However, before diving head-first into a very deep and potentially dangerous pool, take the time to think things through and figure some shit out. The points below might give you some ideas.
Polyamory is not a relationship band-aid
If your relationship is on the rocks, please, for the love of God, don’t think that opening it up will be some sort of magic bullet that will make love blossom from the ashes and things will become better with the addition of a third person.
Relationships are complicated and hard work. The workload and complexity increase the more people are involved. Figure things out with your partner and work out the kinks first, please. Poly
‘Becoming poly’ doesn’t have an expiry date. You can wait a year while you spend some real productive time with your partner, figuring your lives out. The points here might help with that too!
Do some research
The most important piece of advice I’ve encountered from multiple disparate sources is to take it slow. I can’t stress this enough.
I know that the image of being in a loving relationship with multiple partners who you fuck senseless and who all love each other is immensely appealing and I bet you can’t wait to be free to see whoever you like with your loved one(s) doing the same. I know that the energy and the rush of positive emotions is incredible.
I also know that it’s fucking dangerous.
If neither you nor your partner have really considered polyamory before, take your time and do some basic research first.
There are a myriad really useful pieces of writing on the subject, the Ethical Slut probably being the most well-known. There are a number of blogs out there with great contributors – my favourite is the Polyamorous Misanthrope blog which contains so many useful bits of writing.
And when I say: “Do basic research”, I mean “Sit down with your partner and read about it together“. This absolutely has to be a joint decision. It’s no good saying to your partner: “Hey I think poly is wonderful! Everyone loves it and we should try it! We’ll pick it up as we go!”. It has a chance of going well, but if you dive in at the deep end, without knowing what you’re getting yourselves in for, it can end in tears.
Be honest with yourself
As you & your loved one are doing all this exciting wonderful reading about how much love polyamory can bring into your life, etc, etc, take time to think, and I mean really think about your motivations and emotions in their present state. Don’t lie to yourself.
Take time to talk with your partner about your conclusions and take the time to get their side of the story. You both need as clear a picture of your emotional states, precepts and biases as possible. The clearer the better. Believe me, the less guessing you have to do, the less your ‘irrational brain’ will fabricate petty bullshit problems that absolutely have no basis in reality.
If you find yourself saying things you think your partner wants to hear, stop the bus and back the fuck up. This might feel like an easy out but trust me, it’ll fuck you right over in the long run. Don’t say “I’d be totally cool with you spending Sundays at Adam’s place” unless you really mean it, because guess what? When the time rolls around and your lady-love goes to spend some quality time with a dear friend and/or lover, you might suddenly find your head is a maelstrom of betrayal, jealousy and fear.
Figure out your own shit
The prevailing mythology of romantic relationships in the West is one of “You will find the one who completes you and you’ll be happy”. Consequently, many people go through life looking for their prince charming who they believe will fix all their problems.
A ‘romantic relationship’ (ed: I realise that the spectrum of relationships is almost infinite in scope, I’m generalising) is a partnership of two humans. We all have issues – be it with our bodies, or how we feel about our partner eating cookie dough ice cream in our presence or the way we get jealous when they hug a close friend. All of those thoughts have roots in some pretty fundamental shit inside our own minds.
It’s important to realise that your partner is not responsible for your emotions and neither are you responsible for theirs. I’m not saying “be a douchebag, it’s cool, bro!”.
How you react to your partner’s actions and words and vice versa is entirely your responsibility. You can flip the fuck out if your lover announces that they met someone on OKCupid and call them an unfaithful douchecanoe OR you could ask them about what it was like and talk about it like grownups do.
Speaking of talking..
Communication shouldn’t be a heavy, onerous affair filled with foreboding. I’m talking about the classic “Honey, we need to talk” feeling. Sometimes, a big sit-down-and-work-shit-out session is in order, but most issues can be easily dealt with in 5 minutes.
Mama Java put it best:
- The 5-minute checkin: “Hey, I’m going to be late tonight because I’m seeing friends”, “Hey, I need you to pick up some coffee; we’re all out”, “Jack’s coming over tonight”. These are pretty much what it says on the tin – checking in with your partner to make sure everything is OK.
- The 30-minute chat. Sometimes you need to have a longer conversation with your loved one, but one that doesn’t warrant a lot of time. Things like: “Hey, I met this awesome lady on OKCupid and we’re thinking of having a coffee date in a week’s time – how do you feel about this?”
- The Marathon. Occasionally, there is nothing to be done but to have a big chat about Life, The Universe and Our Relationship.
A tip for easier chatting
Take a walk.
No, seriously, walk somewhere. Our subconscious brain does much better when it knows that it’s not under attack and like it as not, sitting across the kitchen table from your lover and saying “So what’s going on with us?” will register as an aggressive interrogatory question and your walls will slam up.
When you’re walking along and having a chat, your the action of walking creates a pleasant distraction so your subconscious can do its own thing for a while. When you’re side-by-side with your partner, both heading in the same direction, your brain will be much less focused on defending itself from a perceived attack. Also, it primes you to achieve a mutual goal: getting somewhere!
Better too much than too little
If you want to build an environment where communication can happen easily and naturally, get used to being able to talk about trivial, inconsequential things.
- If you saw something really awesome on the way to work – kittens playing under a rainbow made of unicorns – tell your partner! Unicorn-rainbows are the best.
- If something is bugging you – your left nipple is really sore – let your partner know! Imagine them not knowing and coming to give you a really amazing heartfelt hug and catching that fucker with a button on their shirt or something. You might snap at them and they won’t know why!
- If something is on your mind, for the love of all the deities, tell your partner. Even if you haven’t quite figured out what exactly is bugging you.
It’s OK to be unsure. “I don’t know yet” is a valid answer. Nobody expects you to have all the answers to everything. Sometimes humans need time to process this shit.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Let me say this right now: It’s fucking hard, ok?. To start with, most of us are primed to avoid conflict or saying ‘hurtful’ things to our loved ones.
Unfortunately, a lot of those things that we think are ‘hurtful’ are actually real concerns that need to be heard.
If you’re feeling uncertain about your partner going to see Jeremy on Wednesday because something about him doesn’t quite feel right, your responsibility is to tell your partner of your concerns. It’s hard, because of the incessant feeling of ‘being the party pooper’, but it’s so utterly necessary.
If spending most nights together with your partner is of paramount importance to you, tell them that. If, to you, that means “I’d love it if you were back by 1am”, let them know what that abstract “I want to spend most nights together” means to you. If you don’t, and they come home at 4am after having taken a taxi home, you have absolutely no license to bitch at them for not being home at 1am.
Want to be super-clear? Give context! For instance: “I think Wonderbras are amazing!” isn’t terribly clear. “I think we should buy a Wonderbra for you to stop traffic with because I think you’d look even more jaw-droppingly gorgeous in one” is much better. Don’t hint.
Finally, don’t read minds or try to. Some people think that just because you’ve been with the same person for ten years, it means you know every nook and cranny of their mind. You don’t. Don’t lie to yourself. Neither does your partner.
“All that the conscious ego can do is formulate wishes, which are then carried out by forces it controls very little and understands not at all”.
We hardly understand how our own minds work – how can we be expected to read our partners’?
If you communicate honestly, you’re setting yourself up to win on two counts:
- You act on information received. If your partner tells you that they’re ok with you seeing Helen tomorrow and staying the night and then has a go at you because you were inconsiderate of their feelings, it highlights an issue you need to work on and
- It encourages your partner to be honest. If they communicate honestly and you act on that information responsibly, only good things will happen!
A word on models
Our minds are constantly creating and revising our internal model of reality, based in part on our experiences, things people say, the internal filter through which we perceive the world. They do this so well that we hardly notice it happening.
It can also be incredibly counterproductive.
Our minds are also incredibly good at hastily assembling a new model based on circumstantial, second-hand and unconfirmed snippets of data, not concrete information. This is where clarity is of utmost importance. Failing that, learn to notice when you’re assembling these skewed models and at least be aware that it’s happening.
My personal mantra when I catch myself trying to assemble a model of reality based on incomplete facts is: “Data, data, data! You can’t make bricks without clay!”. It reminds me that instead of letting wild paranoia and conjecture rule my thought processes, that I don’t have all the information I need yet.
For all that, it’s totally OK to be uncertain. It’s not a crime to be unsure of something if you don’t have all the information. Just be wary of assembling models of reality with incomplete data, especially where other humans are concerned.