Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why Poly Agreements Need a Sunset Clause (Three Men and a Question, Part Two)

Dear Viny,

Thank you for your response. I think you really "got" how I was feeling when I wrote my question. It's so nice to have someone who might understand where I'm coming from.

Since I first wrote - I'm happy to say that my LTR is a bit more receptive to hanging out as a trio. He seems more willing to hang out when the mood strikes, rather than timing it after some arbitrary number of days.

We talked a bit further and he's alright if I meet with the new guy without him (if he's not feeling it, or if he's busy, or for any reason really) though he asked that we do not have any physical contact outside of greeting each other. I'm willing to agree to this in hopes of illustrating my loyalty to him and trustworthiness, though I do hope this might change over time.

I've also communicated to my LTR that I would be fine if the two of them hung out without me. And I gave express consent for them to be physical (anything that we've already done so far as a trio for now) provided they're both safe and honest with me. His response was maybe a bit surprised. I'm not sure how likely he is to take me up on that, though I encouraged him and explained that I would enjoy hearing about the experience after the fact.

Anyways. We're all doing our best I think. I'm reading a lot – Nonviolent Communication, Opening Up, and The Ethical Slut (my least favorite so far) to help me explore this. At the very least, I'm learning a lot about myself and my relationship with everyone around me.

The unknown is very confusing and exciting.

– Wants More


Dear Wants,

It's lovely to hear from you again. I am glad your conversations with your LTR partner have been productive, and that you feel like you're learning a lot. Yes, you are absolutely right: striking out into unknown territory can be simultaneously scary and exhilarating.

As someone who has been wandering around in uncharted regions of Alternative Relationship Land for quite some time now, I want to warn you about a particularly treacherous cliff located in Concessions Canyon, because I'm worried you may be headed straight for it.

I understand why you've agreed to your partner's request that you and the new guy not have any physical contact outside of greeting each other. However, I am here to tell you that when you have a major crush on a guy, and he has a major crush on you, and you're hanging out alone together on a regular basis, but you're not supposed to get physical with each other, because one of you has promised your jealous partner that you won't, one of two things is going to happen: 1) you are going to start resenting the hell out of the person who has hobbled your hot-to-trot hooves, and/or 2) someone's resolve is going to slip.

Situation #1 has happened to me. I actually spent an entire sleepless night lying chastely next to someone I desperately wanted to be squished by, or glommed onto, or tangled up with – and why? Because I had promised my boyfriend I'd keep it platonic with this other person. I did manage to keep my promise, but I ended up losing the relationship I thought I was protecting by making that promise. Take-home lesson: resentment is highly toxic to romance and mutual regard.

Situation #2 has happened to more than one friend of mine. Here's an example. Person A and person B were in a long-term and somewhat troubled marriage. Person C, who was good friends with A, began talking to both A and B, in an attempt to help them resolve their marital issues with each other. A, B, and C had long telephone conversations together – which had an unintended consequence: C and B became more and more emotionally intimate with each other. Soon, C and B were talking on the phone together, just the two of them. Then they began falling in love, long-distance. Person A quite naturally became jealous, and put the kibosh on “duo” phone time for C and B, making them both promise not to talk to each other unless it was an ABC trio conversation. They promised. Then A promptly lost interest in having group conversations. After two weeks, C and B, miserable and jonesing, couldn't stand being out of contact any longer. They snuck in a private phone call, late at night – which A found out about. And that was the end of A and B. It was also the end of A and C. Take-home lesson: Concession + Betrayal = Alimony.

It is a well-known fact that prohibiting an activity increases its allure. It is also a well-known fact that people in the thrall of NRE (new relationship energy) want nothing more than to jam their dirty little fingers into that electrifying socket, if you catch my drift. And finally, it is a well-known fact that someone who is on the lookout for reasons to distrust you is gonna find them, every time. For these reasons, I am concerned that your present agreement is a set-up for failure.

I recommend that you establish a time frame for revisiting the agreement about limiting the physical contact between you and the new guy outside of the trio context. Unfortunately, your LTR partner probably doesn't have a lot of incentive to have that conversation, so it may be a bit tricky to set it up – which is why, for future reference, I suggest you include an expiration date, or “sunset clause,” any time you make an agreement you are hoping will be temporary. In other words, you make sure, up front, that the agreement is understood to expire after a certain length of time, unless and until you agree to renew it for another specified length of time. I strongly believe that a sunset clause should be part of any agreement that feels like a concession to jealousy.

Let's say your partner says, “I'm okay with you eating apple slices, as long as you promise never to put any peanut butter on them.” And you are super excited about apple slices. In fact, you are so excited about them, you are willing to forgo peanut butter, even though you suspect that apple slices with peanut butter would be really, really amazing, given what you know about celery sticks with peanut butter. So you say, “Okay, I can promise not to put any peanut butter on my apple slices for the next three weeks. After that, though, I am going to assume I am free to do as I like, unless you specifically tell me you need more time to get used to the idea of me slathering my apple slices in gooey deliciousness.”

Without a sunset clause, you see, the jealous partner has no incentive to revisit the agreement, and the partner who hopes to get permission, eventually, for a dab of peanut butter will wait and hope, and wait and hope – probably in vain. Setting up an agreement that automatically expires on a given date changes the incentive structure: now, it's the jealous partner who must initiate the difficult conversation, if s/he wants the agreement extended. 

If you've already stepped off of the cliff in Concessions Canyon, and you're hanging onto an itty bitty twig, going, "Now she tells me," I'm really sorry. Here's a virtual hand up.

Mandates & Mandrills,

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