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The Polyamorous Misanthrope

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Welcome to the The Polyamorous Misanthrope, in which myself, the Goddess of Java, or some guest columnist will rant, rave and otherwise edify on some poly subject.   If you have an idea for a column or a rant on spike, contact me and we'll talk it over.   For past articles, check out the Archive .

So, Ya Wanna Be Poly...

So, what if you’re already in a relationship and want to convince a spouse/partner to try polyamory?

As I have stated before, I am not particularly sympathetic to cheating . I frequently have conversations with people who say that they have this compelling need to love more than one person, but that a mate would not understand. Being somewhat naive, I do not think that they are loving anyone if the motive is to “turn” someone poly or to obtain absolution for cheating. I strongly suggest that if you want to try poly and are considering cheating – don’t. Trust me on this one. Keep your zipper up or your panties on and show a little self control. Keep that burning cauldron of passion under wraps until you straighten things out. You’ll be glad you did.

Basically, if you want to go poly and you are in a committed relationship, you have three honorable options. First, you can discuss it with your mate and hope like all get out you get at least a moderately affirmative answer. You can discuss it with your mate, get a negative answer and stay in the monogamous relationship or you can discuss it with your mate, get a negative answer and opt to leave the relationship.

Obviously, this is fraught with a great amount of emotional turmoil. There are plenty of people, maybe even most that would agree to poly to keep a beloved mate. How much do you love your mate? Can you live with forcing that kind of choice on him? I have seen the effects of this choice. About half the time, it works out fairly well. The other half tends to range from nightmare to hell. I wish I could say otherwise, I really do.

Your mate is going to have to know in his heart that she is loved. Your actions must speak very loudly on the fact that you love your mate and will devote a great deal of attention to the original relationship. If you behave in this way, you will be coming from the right emotional place where it has the greatest chance of working. This is something that you learn, by the way. It takes constant effort. Love is powerful, but to be truly, honestly loving requires a lot of self-discipline – more than you're likely to have at the moment . That's okay, too. The important thing is to work on it, and develop it day by day. It's not something you'll acquire overnight, after all. Be forgiving with yourself without giving yourself permission to slack about it.

I don’t mean to sound too pessimistic here. In fact, I know a couple rather intimately who started monogamous and decided to be poly. It has worked quite well for them. Just remember that it does take work on everyone’s part.

The first thing to do when attempting to bring up polyamory is to follow through on this as best you can. Your partner will see your actions. This is important, as it is likely that any words that indicate a desire to open the relationship are going to be scary to your partner. How could they not be? Let’s face it, our society is into the whole “one true love” idea -- the perfect love, the perfect bliss, the ideal soulmate. Reality check: Your partner’s breath is going to smell bad in the morning. Your lactose intolerance is still going to create situations in which your partner needs a gas mask after a pizza. The electric bill still needs to be paid and if you don’t put away your laundry, it is still going to get wrinkled. This is not going to change because you’re in love. That perfect state of giggly bliss is wonderful and will come back from time to time in relationships, but it is not a constant.

Unfortunately, many polyamorous people are hooked on that newly in love feeling. That’s no great surprise, of course. It does feel really good. Friends, it’s not meant to last. It’s meant to get you to bond with someone while being able to overlook that fact, that yes, this person, too, gets eye boogers. It’s not a sign that you have found The One Who Will Make You Happy For The Rest of Your Life.

I am, honest to God, not against romance. I like it very much. I merely want it understood that romance is no more indicative of love than blue eyes is indicative of high blood pressure.

The reason I am cautioning so strongly against this is that it is so very easy to get swept up in the feelings of being newly in love. If you are not presently in a relationship and you find someone, it’s no big deal if you let yourself get all giddy. It is quite a different matter if you are already in a relationship.

Your partner is just as much of a member of your culture as you are. You partner has heard the One True Love fairy tales, might believe on some level that you can only be in love with one person and has seen how you act when you fall in love. Remember when you fell in love with your partner? Your partner probably does. People do crazy things when they fall in love. Your partner knows and remembers this. Certainly, he remembers the time you left school to marry him, dumped an old boyfriend to be with him, switched careers to be able to be close to him, or even ignored some of your own goals to support him while he tried to get a writing career started? She remembers you going into debt to buy her jewelry that you really couldn’t afford and neglecting to pay the rent. She remembers you blowing off your friends to be with her.

Your partner probably isn’t stupid. If you bring up the idea of opening up a relationship, all these things are going to come tumbling out. Don’t do a whole lot of verbal reassurance here. Yes, you need to express your thoughts, but do not go overboard. Make absolutely certain that any actions you take will match your words.

The big issue here is trust. You have to let your actions show the love you profess.

By the way, polyamory is not going to fix a failing relationship. It will mercilessly expose the cracks in your present relationship. So, before you go looking for other partners, do yourself a favor. Get your present relationship straightened out. Are you communicating? Are you listening? Do you know your partner down into her bones? Do you know his dreams? Do you know his fears? Get your relationship between the two of you straightened out first, then go to work on expanding the relationship.

Frankly, I do think for poly to work, you really do have to have a “tell the truth and shame the devil” attitude. I know from experience that the natural inclination is to make sure you only reveal what you think will keep relationships going – whether from pride, or because you feel a partner may not accept an emotion or an opinion, or whatever. It’ll only turn around and bite you, so don’t bother. If you’re comfortable and happy with something, say so. If you’re uncomfortable and unhappy with something, say so. Don’t beat around the bush. Not letting your partner have all the information isn’t actually loving – especially assuming your partner cares deeply for you and your feelings.

When you do this, you might want to consider some ground rules for opening up the relationship. Yeah, I know this is totally contradictory to the whole free love thing, but when the Sixties ended I was still in diapers and when I came of age, AIDS was a tragic reality. More than feelings get hurt when you screw up these days.

These are some ground rules that I have seen people set up in opening their relationships:

  1. I must meet your new partner
  2. I want Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights to be mine no matter what.
  3. I want, if you take a lover, for that person to be lovers with us both.
  4. I don’t want to meet or know your new lovers.
  5. We agree always to use safer sex practices.
  6. I must approve your new partner.
  7. I don’t want any rules at all.
  8. We will not have sex with other partners in our own bed.
  9. We will not have sex with other partners in each others’ hearing.
  10. We will only have sex with other partners if both are present.
  11. We will reserve specific sex acts/recreational activities only for each other.
  12. I want to be considered your primary partner, and all other lovers to be secondary.
  13. I want all partners in our various relationships to be considered equally.
  14. I want to have other partners, but I do not want you to.
  15. You must give any potential lovers full disclosure of what a relationship with you entails, before you become lovers preferably, and this means telling them about all other SO's, and that your other partners will know about them, and would like to meet them and hopefully become friends and if that is not acceptable then no dice.
  16. Don’t lie to significant others.
  17. Don’t fall in love with anyone but me.

Obviously, not all of the rules I have seen are compatible with each other. I’m not going to suggest specific ground rules for you and your partner, other than the fact I do think you should decide between yourselves what they should be. Both of you should feel comfortable with them and agree to them freely. The “freely” part is important. You want everyone in the relationship to feel comfortable. Railroad someone into poly and you will have an explosion on your hands. I guarantee it. Even the most submissive of doormats has a breaking point. Show this to your partner and tell her I said that you’re not allowed to try to intimidate her into going poly.

As I will reiterate until you want to scream, communication is essential. A salesperson I know once commented, “If you do not ask, you do not give them the opportunity to say yes.” I’ve always liked that sentiment.

One thing I do recommend, and this is from the experience of observation, is a “speak now or forever hold your peace” rule. I have seen many relationships in which a couple opened up, one of the spouses got involved with someone, then the husband or wife pulls a switch after some weeks or months, telling their spouse that they have to break it off with the new love. I think this is a bad idea.

This does not mean that once your husband has given approval, you can run off, spend 75% percent of your time with your new love and ignore your husband, and he can’t say a word about it. I am not giving blanket permission for people to be self-centered jerks here. Remember, polyamory. Love. That kind of behavior is not at all loving.

What I am saying is: Do not give your approval unless you are very, very sure. Remember, once someone you love gets involved with someone else, there are more people’s feelings involved. If your husband gets involved with someone else, he and his new partner are (hopefully) going to love each other, too. It’s not very nice to permit such a relationship to get started, then jerk the rug out.

There are people who make as a ground rule that the established relationship must come first and that all other relationships are secondary to that. While I am not really big into hierarchy, you are a couple living together, you might find it easier to designate primary and secondary relationships in order to make sure that everyone’s needs are properly taken care of. This is completely up to you and will vary from relationship to relationship. There is no One Right Way to do this, other than making sure everyone is freely agreeing to what is going on.

So, if this still sounds like a good thing, go find your partner and communicate, communicate, communicate!

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