Polyamory is about love and intimacy, right? So poly people are the lovingest, mostest intimate cuddlemuffins out there. If you find someone wants to keep the slightest bit of themselves to themselves, they’re not really poly. People that need space cannot possibly be polyamorous. They’re sneaky monsters with an agenda to torture the poor loving cuddlemuffins.
Okay, I can’t go on with this without laughing so hard I burn my sinuses with hot coffee.
Love certainly does have an intimate component. You’re not going to be able to have a loving relationship without a strong degree of intimate communication and interaction. Cranky misanthrope I might be, but even I know you can’t love in a box. It’s a two-way street, and you really do have to open yourself up to give and receive love. But sometimes you’ll object to a behavior only to hear, “But I thought we were poly!”
The problem comes in when people confuse loving intimacy with stomping on personal boundaries. Intimacy is closeness, but look out for some warning signs that say that what you’re experiencing is a boundary violation rather than intimacy:
- Emotional Blackmail
Emotional blackmail is use of negative emotions, especially guilt, to control behavior.
You probably won’t notice it the first time you experience it.
You’ll be approached, possibly hesitantly, and your love will say that something you did or didn’t do hurt. You’ll feel bad and try to correct your behavior. Now, ya know, in good relationships, sometimes you do screw up. It happens! You get called on it, and will get an explanation about how to avoid it in the future. That’s not emotional blackmail. That’s human. Don’t chalk every single time someone doesn’t like your behavior up to emotional blackmail. We’re none of us perfect.
It’ll be the second or third time within a relatively short period when you notice that it’s emotional blackmail. You’ll experience strong attempts to make you feel guilty. They might even work, if you don’t have a clear vision of good boundaries in place.
Luckily, you are in control of this. Take the time to make sure you have a good sense of what you’re okay with, how you want to behave and the person you want to be. When you’re solid and grounded in yourself and your own sense of who you want to be, it’s a lot harder to use guilt to manipulate you.
- Creeping Concessions
You know old canard that if you put a frog in a pan of cool water, then gradually heat it, the frog will not notice when the temperature rises to a dangerous degree and will boil to death?
While the literal story is false, the moral of the story has a point. You can agree to one small concession, right? That’s okay. Now if that small concession is treated as a precedent rather than a single exception, someone who is ignoring boundaries is likely to ask for another oh, so small concession that’ll become a precedent, until you’ve found you conceded way the devil more than you ever intended.
You can’t blame this one on the other person, though. You’re responsible for your own boundaries. You’re in control of this one. If you give a concession, be clear whether it’s a precedent or a one-time deal! You’re responsible for communicating your intention, so you can handle this pretty easily when you get into the habit.
- Confusing intimacy with intrusiveness
Intimacy is voluntary. Intrusiveness involves a demand, sometimes combined with emotional blackmail. You get to decide what you’re okay with sharing or not. The other person doesn’t. Sure certain sorts of info can be dealbreakers, but the person who owns the info is the person who gets to make the final call on this.
Do you get frequent calls at work? Do you find when you are not in the person’s physical presence that you get contacted more than you want? If you’re on vacation, are you called more often than you’d like, interrupting your free time?
If you object to these things, do you get a tearful reproach about love and poly? Remember, even poly people are allowed to set boundaries about how they want to spend their time.
- Attempts to tell you how you are allowed to live
If you’re poly, ever had a new love tell you that you needed to change how you associate with an old love? Big time boundary violation. There are many others to choose from, but keep in mind that just because you have a romantic relationship with someone doesn’t mean you’re allowed to tell them what to do.
Good relationships require good boundaries, no matter what the relationship form. Far from separating loves from each other, a respect for a person’s individuality and free choice is a wonderful way to promote loving relationships –even with yourself. You’ll find that a careful respect of the other person’s free choice causes you to treasure the unique individuality of that person, allowing for even greater opportunities for love.
 But you agreed you had to bow to the North in respect for our relationship before you got in bed with your other partner, last time!
 Not wishing to share STD history leaps to mind.
 Notice the “more than you want to” caveat. You wanna spend your life on the phone with a love who isn’t physically present, enjoy. Free choice and all. This is about what you WANT.
 As an aside and slightly off topic, I’ve often found it amusing and confusing that sleeping with someone is perceived in our culture as granting the other person rights over you. You see it in sitcoms, where once a girl is sleeping with her love, she gets to “straighten him out” and reorder his life. The plot usually presents this as a good thing. I think it stinks.