Originally posted on
In my interactions with the online poly community, one of the phrases I often hear is, “Oh it would be selfish of me to ask for X. I can’t do that !”
My first reaction is often an eyeroll. My own philosophy is such that I do not consider the concept of selfishness a great evil — or evil at all. In fact, the contortions people go through to prevent themselves from being or being seen as selfish often cause more trouble than true callous self-centeredness actually would. This is not to say that I recommend that you be callously self-centered. No, no, no. I am all about love and being loving. Really. I’m just not very fluffy bunny about it.
But selfish? Honestly, I think the poly community could do with a little more selfishness. Before you run off and insist on your own way and cite this article as your excuse, though, please finish this article so I can explain what I mean. If I find out you’ve shoved something down someone’s throat citing me or my word as an excuse, You Shall Incur the Wrath of the Goddess of Java.
One of the biggest problems I see is that people do not ask for what they want. Now, I am picking my words with extreme care, here. I did not say “demand” “insist” or any of the other of a long string of words that imply a high emotive connection to getting what you want, or strong negative consequences if you don’t. I said and meant “ask”.
Asking means you’re open to being told “no”. It means you’re open to analyzing the essence of what you do want so that you and the person you are asking can come to an agreement that, in business jargon, is a win/win situation.
I mean, come on, if you’re poly and you’re asking for something in a relationship, you love the person, right? One of the things you really do want is for the partner to be happy and satisfied, too. (If it isn’t on your list of wants, I would question whether or not that is a loving relationship).
With that in mind, let’s approach a classic poly situation.
Hepzibah and Albert are married. Albert is also dating Megan. Now Megan knows that she is a secondary, and because of this is insecure about asking for too much. So, even though she wants to spend more time with Albert, she doesn’t ask out of fear of it being too much to ask for and perhaps annoying Hepzibah to the point of wanting to ask Albert to discontinue the relationship.
While it does take a fair amount of guts, one thing Megan can do is quite simply ask for the time anyway. She can ask that they all sit down together to discuss the matter, and then say something along the lines of, “I would enjoy it very much if I could spend a couple of nights a week with Albert. Could we discuss some sort of schedule?”
Now, what if Hepzibah is not really cool with Albert being away two nights a week. They both have jobs and children and other commitments in their lives. Here’s a point where Hepzibah needs to express her concerns. “Megan, I know you want to see him, and I don’t blame you. But here’s the deal. I’m in night school and on the nights I am at home, I’m studying while Albert takes care of the kids. Would you be okay with a grown up date night, where things can be completely kidless, and then another evening where you guys hang out around here, look after the kids and still spend some time together so I can get some studying done? To be honest, that’s still leaving me with little kidless time with Albert myself, but I can deal with that until I get my degree next semester. After my degree is done, I really am going to want more time to reconnect with him.”
Notice that both Hepzibah and Megan are quite clear on what they want and why. It is absolutely futile to enter into negotiations until you do know, what you want, why you want it and how much of what you want will satisfy you.
Albert probably has his own needs and wants at this point, too. “Hepzibah, actually, I am not cool with us never getting any alone time. I feel like eight months is longer than I want to go without keeping up with our connection. I know school is overwhelming, but I think things will go more smoothly if we do devote some time to each other, too. Megan, would you be okay with a date night for you and I and then maybe babysitting the kids another night while Hepzibah and I go out?”
Notice here, everyone’s immediate wants are a little different. Notice also, that they are being very clear about what they really want and are not getting caught up and fixated on what they think will give them what they want. Megan wants more time. She doesn’t fixate on specific days of the week when what she really wants is more time. Hepzibah wants time to study without having to keep an ear out for the kids. Albert wants to spend more time with Hepzibah.
They all offer solutions, you notice. Now there is a difference between offering a solution and having an attachment to it. For this sort of thing, you need to offer and release attachment. If Albert, Hepzibah and Megan keep on being selfish, really into and clearly understanding what they want, as well as being careful to communicate it well, they’ll do fine in their relationships.
It’s a bad idea not to ask for what you want.
It’s a worse idea not to take the time to find out what it is that you really want. If you haven’t analyzed this, it is impossible to ask for it. Take the time to know the essence of what it is you truly want. You absolutely must do this before negotiations are going to work. This is not to say that sometimes, in the middle of talking, you realize you hadn’t had as clear a handle on the essence of what you wanted as you thought. That’s okay. It can happen. (I’ve had it happen to me in some amazingly entertaining ways!) Make sure when you get these little moments that you say so . The people that came up with Communicate, Communicate, Communicate as the Polyamory Mantra were smart people. Pay attention to that.
And maybe, after a few years of the Poly Training Ground, you’ll make a great living as a mediator or negotiator. <snicker>