Not too long ago, I was in the living room working idly on some material. The Prince was in his room on a teleconference with a client. Our son was wandering through the house as he often does, waving a blue-painted wooden sword and speaking dialog that will be turned into his latest movie.
He wandered into The Prince’s room already speaking to him. The Prince, who was otherwise engaged, said, “I’m on a teleconference right now. Could we talk later?”
Muscle Boy apologized and The Prince said, “Don’t sweat it. You didn’t know.”
So, how does this relate to poly?
Well, it’s not poly-specific, but it’s a great relationship tool. It’s a great example of good, respectful communication on both sides. Muscle Boy often goes into his father’s room to speak to him, so the expectation that he could just start talking had already been set up. But, when he learned he was wrong, he apologized. Fortunately, he got an understanding response that made that apology an easy and natural thing to do. There are plenty of households where a the busy person would speak sharply, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” or worse. It’s easy to do in the heat of the moment, especially if we’re concentrating on something else involving business or money.
But it’s also easy to do in the heat of the moment when our tender and vulnerable emotions are engaged. I think all of us have been irritated when someone close to us has not automagically known to perform an action, avoid a subject, bring up a subject or whatever. We often want to be interacted with without exerting ourselves, or making ourselves vulnerable by asking for what we want or how we want to be treated. Worse, romantic literature praises the lover who instinctively knows what and how to give. Pick up any woman’s romance you can lay hands on, and you’ll not find one with a partner who asks directly for anything.
Looking at it, it’s a terrible way to treat someone you love. People can’t read minds.1 Sure, sometimes we get lucky and guess right. That’s cool and it’s fun to get a neat surprise from a love who does. I’m not running that down. But while delighting in the surprise, for goodness sake don’t punish it when someone gets it wrong.
Here are some keys to good, respectful communication:
- In the future, I would like it if you would…
- If you’re willing, I’d like it if you would…
This is one of the first and best ways to ask for something, especially on the heels of inadvertently getting something you didn’t want. You can’t “shoulda” anything. The past is done and you can’t change it. If you preface your request as something in the future, you’re letting go of the past and looking to the possibilities of the future.
I admit this one looks wimpy as hell in print. Here’s the funny part. It’s not. Respecting freedom of choice is an amazingly powerful act of love and respect. While I’ve been told “no” in the face of it, I do not get bad behavior or disrespect back when I do so.
I often re-iterate that there’s little about poly that’s really all that polyamory specific. The reason it’s not is because communication, respect and relationships all have basic principles that are not rooted in romance. Rooted in love? Sure. I’ll buy that. When you hold on to the deep love and respect that you have for the people in your life, you’ll find you’ll be behaving in ways that really promote deep bonds and intimacy. It works for family members and community as well as lovers, so it’s something you can practice almost constantly.
And the payoffs in your romantic relationships are amazing. So keep practicing, mah little poly chillun. Mama Java wants you to be happy.
1Yeah, I know, there are some special snowflakes who claim they can. Unless they have a track record of great, long-term, harmonious relationships, and most I know who claim this do not, I’m disinclined to believe them.