This guest column is by Jenny Ford.
Polyamory ain’t all beer and skittles. Like your hand, it has two sides, and they can’t be separated. For every wonderful advantage to being polyamorous, there is a corresponding down side, and some of them are mighty difficult to anticipate. Jealousy, time management, communication and boundaries are the obvious ones. This is a little guided tour of some of the more obscure pitfalls.
“I am polyamorous, therefore I must accommodate my partner’s other partners.”
We are people of goodwill. We are open to extended, loving networks of chosen family or whatever else we choose to call it.
There are people in this world who will take advantage of goodwill. They will do less than their share of the heavy lifting, whether that is financial, emotional, or physical.
Just because you are polyamorous, and you partner loves someone, that does not mean that you have to automatically extend to the new lover the same level of trust and support – physical, financial or emotional – that you extend to your partner.
“I am polyamorous, therefore I have no right to be unhappy about my partner’s partner.”
Some people do things which are truly unhappy-making.
In my years as an active member of the poly community, I have heard the following examples. In each case, the first reaction of the party who had been trespassed against was “I have to make this work. I have to get over my reaction for the good of all,” and in each case, it was actually quite reasonable for the person to be upset.
A childless-by-choice couple decide to venture into polyamory. The husband’s new girlfriend accidentally falls pregnant. Twice.
A poly couple invite a V partner to be their live-in child-carer. The carer is consistently late picking the kids up from school.
A partner in a fluid-bonded group has unsafe sex, and keeps it secret from the others.
Two couples decide to move in together. Two weeks before the big day, one person announces they aren’t going to move in, in fact, they have decided to move to another city 600 miles away.
Someone’s partner secretly starts a new relationship, and then introduces it as a fait accompli and expects the poly person to accept it.
“I am polyamorous, therefore I should support my partner in their new relationship.”
Sometimes, hormones and pheremones lead our loved ones up the garden path.
Healthy boundaries means we don’t rush after them yelling “stop, stop, you’re going to get hurt,” but that doesn’t mean we have to turn down the covers on the spare bed and put a chocolate on the pillow to welcome the drug-addicted psychopath of the moment into your family.
You are well within the bounds of reasonableness to say “I am not going to tell you want to do, but I don’t want to watch the train wreck. Keep it away from me.”
“You are polyamorous, so I don’t have to take this relationship seriously.”
Subtle pitfalls come from dating not-completely-poly people. They have subconscious attitudes about poly people which can show up in quite inconsiderate behaviour sometimes.
“You are polyamorous, so you can be my partner – while I am between monogamous relationships.”
This one has caused a mountain of heartbreak for several poly people I know.
“If I have more than one relationship, each one will be less intense.”
Ummm, no …
If anything, poly relationships are more intense, because the people involved are – on average – more willing to talk through issues and more in touch with how they feel.
“I am polyamorous, therefore my jealousy is my problem to deal with on my own.”
This is a big one.
Sometimes “jealous” feelings are a result of one’s own internal wobbles. Other times, the situation is actually violating a boundary or failing to meet your needs, and the emotion is a completely valid flag that something needs to change.
Don’t be too quick to take on 100% of the responsibility as though you are simply inventing a problem. (Consult the brilliant Brave-Little-Toaster post for elaboration on this point!)
Assuming that because you are polyamorous you should be OK with everything that goes on in multiple relationships is like assuming that because you are gay you should be OK with every sexual advance from any person of the same gender.
Whether or not you are in a sexual relationship with any given individual, you absolutely always have the right to say “no” to anything that doesn’t work for you, and without feeling guilty.
Jenny Ford has an Honours degree in Psychology and works as a business consultant and executive coach …. by day. In her other life, she is a polyamorous, bisexual community-builder and relationships coach. She has husband, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, three children (though the teenager could count as three all on her own), and two cats. She lives in Sydney, Australia with a subset of the above family members and is currently researching how to bend space and time so she can live with ll the people she loves in all the places they want to live without leaving Sydney. She has a blog at raisingentrepreneurs.com. Expressions of appreciation for Jenny should take the form of Lindt chocolate balls. Bonus points if they are the black 60% cocoa ones.
Front of the hand, back of the hand …
© 2007, Jenny Ford
Used by permission, all rights reserved