[Polyamory] forces us to contend with the hubris of monogamy, [a] false arrogance about who we are in a relationship that never has to be tested or contended with at all [in our] monogamous relationship.
I cannot remember when or where I had this conversation with a friend of mine. Discussing, among other topics of note, why polyamory is so difficult. Which troubled me, because in my thinking, well, don’t we all have multiple relationships? Some of us my have -only- one romantic partner. But we’ve all got busy lives to manage. Why would a polyamorous life be any more difficult than, say, a person with a large family? Until I thought about it.
“Do people, in fact, learn something from polyamorous relationships that they do not learn in other forms of romantic relationships?”
I didn’t have an immediate answer. But it got me thinking. This popular guide to beginning polyamory says,
“Moving from monogamy to polyamory requires a complete overhaul of your communication tactics.”@PolyamorySchool
With that thought in mind, I recalled two friends from a few years back. We went on a road trip together– and it turned out they hadn’t really ever spent that much time together (I didn’t know them very well, they were friends of a friend). Well, the first time their relationship ever got tested, it fell apart. During that trip. Not exactly fun for the rest of us to be around. But it taught me a lesson: Don’t test a new relationship with a big trip.
I thought about other things. How many times, I ask myself, has a friend has blown me off when they started dating someone new? How many of my friends have terrible relationships with their parents– who never did figure out how to keep a relationship with their spouse and nurture lasting relationships with one or more children and ended up with poor relationships with everyone? They aren’t bad people, but they don’t exactly have the best relationship practices.
You know, I don’t believe people learn something new in polyamorous relationships that they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, learn in other forms of romantic relationships.
I think people learn things in the polyamorous community, because they can’t avoid it any longer.
Like this common story.
Joe returns home after a long time away. His schedule has been busy, far busier than his wife’s. Yet, when she picks him up, it’s only to inform him that she has a date planned with her new boyfriend and she’s dropping him off at home. Joe is upset and thinking maybe they should just go back to a monogamous life.
Poly couple new to poly; one of the original couple wants time with their -first- partner; partner ends up spending that time with new partner. Yeah, I’ve heard this before.
Your average person in the poly community has heard “Communicate. Tell your partner your needs.” But has everyone?
Something tells me Joe hasn’t. And I feel bad for him. Joe is none too pleased at realizing he cannot spend intimate time with his wife. That she has chosen to wait until he is available to schedule time with this other guy. Despite having ample opportunity to see the new guy while Joe was busy and she was not. And I can’t blame him at all for those feelings. But I also can’t help feel like this was preventable.
Obviously, this is a problem. Because this is clearly something that Joe wants. For his wife to be there for him, excited for him, when he comes home. That isn’t such an unreasonable thing to want. But he’s never asked. It’s possible that Joe has had this complaint before…
…but he never said anything.
And why not? Why hasn’t this ever come up in, what, ten years of marriage, maybe fifteen, twenty?
Because, from the wife’s perspective, it easily looks like he’s just jealous and trying to keep her from spending time with the boyfriend. When I’d like to give Joe the benefit of the doubt and assume that isn’t his intention at all- he simply had never voiced his needs before this situation occurred. Never said, “Hey, honey, I really want that evening with you.” Instead, he probably always assumed she’d be home for him– because before she always was. Why wouldn’t he think that would just continue? Well…
Have they, in fact, ever sat down and asked each other, “Hey, what are your expectations in this relationship? What could I do for you that would make you feel more loved? Am I reading your love languages correctly?” Heck, watch a romantic comedy together and ask the other, “What about this would you like to be how we work as a couple? Would you like a spontaneous trip to Hawaii? Or do you actually hate the sand and surprises and would prefer us to plan something together?” I don’t know, but she sure doesn’t seem to know Joe wanted that evening with her before the night of.
Why does Joe only deal with these emotions now when there’s three people involved?
IfJoe had an understanding with his wife that he wanted to spend more time with her when he returned from a work trip, she -might- not have scheduled time with her other partner. She would know that he wanted that time with her, in and of herself. Because, second partner or no, eventually he’d have resented that she blew him off during this special time (for him). Or felt she just did it, because she had nothing else to do. Because maybe he does express his needs, and she ignores them, but at least he’d have the ability to decide what he wanted to do about it. Instead of sitting around and waiting.
We wonder why people struggle in poly. We wonder why so many relationships end in divorce. We wonder a lot…but we don’t try to learn anything.
I’m not sure entering a second romantic relationship is the best time to learn how to communicate in romantic relationships. But where else is it going to happen?
It doesn’t matter if nobody ever has a Second Love. We need to do better with the First Love.
We teach people to run restaurants, or countries, or build skyscrapers. Why don’t we teach people to communicate needs and wants; how to express and acknowledge consent; how to…any number of important relationship skills? Why are so many people entering a polyamorous structure, without having ever learned the core skills they needed in their first relationship? Or even second or third or fourth? Why is it only when we’re balancing at least two romances that we think, “Huh, maybe we should talk about X.”?
But, I’m never going to be polyamorous, you say. I’m never going to have to worry about any of this. My relationship is doing just fine.
First, off, why does that matter? Shouldn’t you have the most happiness in your life, regardless if you date other or not? Also, what happens when it stops working? You might think that will never happen to you– but who plans on their romance exploding?
Romantic skills are life skills. Cause your best friend felt pretty neglected when you finally found that really amazing guy that made your heart flutter— and you didn’t have the skills, then, to throw yourself into this new relationship, while still fulfilling your original commitment to said best friend.
Because your friend matters, too.
Relationships matter. People matter. Romantic or not.
I think we need to stop telling people that they need special relationship skills to be in a polyamorous relationship, or that they’ll learn them after exploring polyamory. I can tell you right now that I don’t have any special romantic skills that I would feel I could do without if I were with my one and only romantic other.
I don’t have any skills that enhance my poly relationships that don’t also benefit my other relationships. And I don’t have any skills- in which I’m currently having a little trouble with– that aren’t negatively impacting my non romantic relationships just as much as my romantic ones.
We need to learn how to treat our loved ones well and do it in a way that works for ourselves, regardless of how many romances we happen to be juggling.
(And if you’re asking yourself, what if you begin your romantic life practicing polyamory or non monogamy? Then learn how to manage relationships in familial and platonic relationships before mixing up in romance.)
We need to do better. Because we owe it to ourselves.