Thursday, September 25, 2014

"We're Poly, She's Not": The Problem with Poly-Mono Pairings (And Why Exercising Veto Power Isn't the Solution)

Dear Viny,

My husband came back from Burning Man having connected with a longtime mutual friend of ours. The problem? We're poly and she's not. Admittedly, I have my own triggers about his relationships because his last one was spectacularly one-for-the-record-books bad. This time around, we've made a serious effort to do things right and I'm feeling supported and assured. 

We met her at the same time so she's very much *our* friend. Therefore, there is none of the “you're-befriending-me-because-you-want-to-bone-my-husband” worry, and this is good. Up until recently, she was in a long term relationship and we had, in passing, conversations about our "lifestyle" (I hate this word because it sounds like we spend excessive time agonizing at the grocery store about which vegetables are appropriate for insertion. Nevertheless, it's probably the correct word for the situation).  

She is giving the situation a lot of thought because the idea of poly interferes with her long time supposed goals for herself. (I say supposed because she's at the age where you start being really honest with yourself about what you actually want vs. what you always thought you wanted... or would want.) I commend her for recognizing the gravity of the situation and not taking it lightly. 

She and DH have had many talks about it and she and I finally got together recently to discuss things. To put it bluntly, I am nervous about the prospect of her overcoming her resistance to poly just because she has feelings for my awesome spouse. In order for her to do this, she has to "get over" his having a wife. While I recognize it isn't specifically personal because she likes me and we get along, it still IS personal because my husband and I have spent most of our adult lives together and we *are* part of each other. 

Tell me, oh storied one...  Are there poly monsters under my bed?  Am I fussing over nothing? 

Yours truly,
Perturbed in P-town


Dear Perturbed,

You're not fussing over nothing. Your letter gave me a quick peek behind that oh-so-chic dust ruffle of yours, and I'm pretty sure you've got something furry and clawed hiding under your bed.

No, it's not the cat. And it's not the fabled green-eyed monster of jealousy, either, because that particular critter is curled up on top of your bed, in plain sight, along with the hard-nosed monster of cynicism and the thin-skinned monster of insecurity. As you know, a monster you've tamed isn't a monster at all. The puppy-pile of nuisances napping on your afghan isn't what's freaking you out, because those are the issues you've already identified, and you obviously already know how to deal with them when they arise.

I don't have a clever name for the monster currently keeping you up at night, but I can try to describe some of its characteristics. It has big eyes, big ears, and fuzzy boundaries. Commonly found under the beds of people whose lives are entwined with those of others, it feeds on a very specific kind of fear, which is this: someone I love is about to fuck up.

I can see why you would be worried that the romance developing between Dear Husband and your mutual friend might turn out to be a mistake. Your friend's “resistance to poly” is a huge red flag. Yes, she is in the process of re-evaluating who she is and what she wants, so it's possible that she will end up deciding she wants to be in a relationship with your husband – not in spite of you, but partly because of you! – which would be groovy as all git-out. Or, she might decide that while she herself prefers to be monogamous, she is perfectly happy sharing your husband with you. However, it seems somewhat more likely that she will end up deciding she really is monogamous by nature, and would prefer to be in a monogamous relationship. Which would be decidedly less groovy.

The reason why so many poly people have a “poly-only” dating policy is because they have experienced first-hand the many miserable ways in which a poly-mono pairing can devolve into drama and dysfunction. I was once in love with a man who took seven and a half tumultuous years to realize an important truth about himself, which was (to quote him verbatim): “I can't be healthy around you when I have romantic feelings for you and you are in a poly lifestyle.” Either I had to let go of my lifestyle, or I had to let go of him. Since my “lifestyle” at that time included a husband, a new lover, a metamour whose friendship I really valued, a set of personal convictions, an ideology, an identity, and a future in which I would be free to nourish other intimate connections and express my sexuality however I chose, with whomever I chose – well, I did the only sane thing. I let him go. And I vowed I would never again allow myself to become romantically involved with someone who could not accept me as I am.

I didn't share this story in the hopes that your husband will learn from my example and nip this new relationship in the bud, before it has a chance to get all overblown and blowsy. I shared it to explain why I am pessimistic about the chances of a poly-mono pairing working out long-term, and why I can understand your fussing. If one of my partners fell in love with someone whose response to the burgeoning romance was something along the lines of, “Too bad you're not single! Oh, well...I'll try to overlook that Viny person...for now,” I would be crawling the walls. I would be sorely tempted to put both my feet down: “So sorry, honeybee, but it's a definite ix-nay on this one. Trust me: been there, done that, and it's a disaster. I can't stand by and watch you get hurt.”

Yes, if I were in your situation, and I had veto power, I would be tempted to use it. And this is precisely why I don't have veto power in my relationships: I don't want to be tempted. In my opinion, the concept of veto power does not belong in intimate relationships between equals.

I realize this is a controversial statement. Many poly couples explicitly include veto power in their relationship agreements. Unfortunately, I don't have enough time right now to go into the well-reasoned disquisition this topic deserves, but I will say this: I believe that people should be free to make their own mistakes.

Notice I said “mistakes,” not “decisions.” Not every decision can – or should – be an individual decision. Mistakes, however, properly belong to the individual. If it is a mistake for your friend to get involved with your husband, given the goals she has for her life, then that is her mistake to make. If it is a mistake for your husband to get involved with this particular woman, given her resistance to poly, then that is his mistake to make.

This brings us back to the monster that has taken up residence under your bed. I suspect that the source of much of your current anxiety is uncertainty about the extent of your responsibility in this situation. I would like to submit that it is not your responsibility to decide whether or not your husband and your friend should continue to explore their connection. It is not your responsibility to make sure your husband doesn't get himself into another mess. It is not your responsibility to make sure your friend meets a certain “percentage of time spent soul-searching” quota before she begins experimenting with a new relationship paradigm. You can share your concerns with each of them, of course. In fact, you owe it to yourself – and to them – to communicate clearly how you are feeling, to speak up about what you want and need. But that is where your responsibility ends.

Granted, it's not easy to let our loved ones conduct their other relationships their own way. I have to remind myself to back off constantly. However, there is great peace of mind to be found in trusting others to take care of themselves – by trusting them to learn whatever they need to learn from making their own mistakes.

Pickles and Peccadilloes,

1 comment:

  1. I am in awe of that response. Well said!