This is something I don’t write a whole lot about these days but being poly is forever etched in my heart and soul. I know what’s good about it – and it’s more than just the sex – and I know what’s bad about it and how/why a lot of people who give being poly a shot, more often than not, tend to fail more than they succeed.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people embrace polyamory and a lot of them have been single and, well, for the longest time, I would wonder, “How does this work for single people?” and more so when single folks are actually free and clear to engage with whoever they want and as many as they can manage… and then I thought about some stuff that made going poly for single folks not so easy to do:
It’s what we think relationships are supposed to be like and an inability to break away from the prescribed behavior of one man/one woman. I gave a lot of thought to this and saw that when it comes to relationships, single folks are held to the same standard as married people are – relationships are monogamous and can’t be anything other than that. Having been married and poly showed me that while this doesn’t make being poly any easier, what it does do is provide an anchor point (for the lack of another way to put it); married folks often find it’s “easier” to be poly because at the root of this, their core relationship is the anchor point and provides the strength, love, and trust to make branching out “easier.”
And an anchoring point that single folks don’t have. The biggest mistake I found and learned about this is when you attempt to be poly while invoking any of the rules of monogamy, yep – that’s gonna be a problem. Then toss in and for good measure that many folks aren’t too keen about sharing and, of course, the rules of monogamy says, “Thou shalt not share anything with anyone else – ever!” The way we’ve always gone about relationships makes us… territorial and, yeah, possessive which brings me back to the thing I say about this: In order to be successfully polyamorous, you must forget and unlearn everything you know about love, sex, and relationships so you can learn a whole different way of doing these things… and not many people can do this.
It’s one thing to think that you can; it’s one thing to see the sense that polyamory brings to the table and, again, just not exclusively a sexual thing. It’s a whole different thing to actually get into it and saying it this way doesn’t even begin to cover how intensely difficult it can be; it’s not as “easy” as getting together with a bunch of people who thinks and feels the same way you do… because almost everyone has their own idea of how a relationship is supposed to work. Not only do the ever-pervasive rules of monogamy make being poly one hell of a clusterfuck to end all clusterfucks, there’s the other thing I’ve said that comes into play: All those negative emotions like envy, jealousy, possessiveness and obsessiveness? You can’t allow them to be a part of this – ever…. but it’s a combination of human nature and the rules of being monogamous that makes this a difficult thing to move away from and eliminate from one’s heart and soul and, yes, their minds.
I’ve seen a lot of written material about this and I’d not say that it’s bad or anything like that but, shit, how can I put this and have it make sense? Being poly isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing so while there are experts who write and talk about the “best ways to be poly,” there’s much more to it and beginning with the people involved and if you’re the kind of person who thinks or otherwise believes that being able to openly love more than one person at a time is the “big problem” everyone says it is, you’re not going to do well in a poly situation. You have to know, without any doubts in your mind, that you do have the capacity and ability to be “madly in love” with more than one person and it never made sense to be limited to loving just one person at a time. And then you have to be able to find people who are like this, too. I’ve said that to be poly, you have to be seriously grown up and, sorry to say, a lot of people find that they’re not as grown up as they thought themselves to be.
This isn’t about sharing sex with a lot of people: This is about sharing every damned aspect of your life with a lot of people. In a piece that DDJennifer wrote about this very same thing, she accurately pointed out an inherent flaw and cause for polyamory to utterly fail with some folks: Expecting equality rather than equity. Many find out almost right away that trying to treat their poly partners equally just doesn’t work. Indeed, one of the qualities needed is the ability to multitask and with attention to detail about those in your poly group because, um, everyone is different and while that sounds like yet another Captain Obvious statement, you probably can’t imagine how this means so much when considering polyamory and right along with the fact that people do change and I do not mean “over time” but literally from one moment to the next.
Most attempts at polyamory fail because of a lack of planning and by this, I mean there is no plan that is – and should be – a shared vision of how this crazy relationship is going to work and what its goals for everyone involved are. Even I learned that if you don’t have 100% buy-in to the shared vision by everyone involved, things are going to get interesting. There are different… flavors of polyamory: Open, closed, triads, quartets, so on and so forth and then the shit gets deep and I do mean really deep within these flavors and it does make a difference whether or not a poly group is living together or separately and, yeah, if anyone has children. I’ve seen people apply rules and, with married or existing couples, rules that more often than not serve to preserve their core relationship. It’s not that it doesn’t work because it can… but it’s usually a recipe for disaster when, I’d say a lot of times, those rules are severely locked down and not subject to change or even discussion.
Which brings me back to another part of this and some skills that, if you don’t have them or suck at them, you’ve got some work to do. Communication is everything and once that fails to be established in effective ways and among all involved, failure is imminent. The other skills are time management, conflict resolution, and problem resolution as well as an ability to be more objective than subjective when you wind up having to “play” referee and peacemaker and not having these skills and abilities is yet another recipe for disaster.
I’ve said time and time again that being in a poly relationship makes being married look like child’s play… because it’s way harder than being married and if you’re single and thinking about embracing a poly lifestyle, hah – if you think dating is a major pain in the ass? You ain’t seen nothing yet because being poly makes dating look easy and problem-free. I’ve said that the moment anyone involved starts thinking “me” more than “us,” things are going to get shaky and, again, it’s just human nature for someone to think about what they want and need and it becomes the basis of their “agenda” and one that carries a lot of urgency and must be front and center… and that’s yet another fatal mistake those who fail at this tends to make – that “my way or no way” thing that has killed the shit out of relationships time and time again.
As such, if you lack the ability of the art of compromise and negotiation, well, hmm. It’s not just “what’s best for me” but it’s all about “what’s best for all of us.” It’s “what can we do together and as a ‘whole’ while attending to each other’s individual wants, needs, and other stuff like that. Whether your single and trying to do this or you’re already in a relationship, eh, it’s not so much a thing of “management by committee” so much as someone probably – or should – bear the responsibility of maintaining the group gestalt and keeping everyone focused on the shared vision that you better had established. It’s not so much a thing of being “the leader of the pack” but, yeah, it kinda is but doing so in an objective way and minus any personal biases and that’s incredibly difficult for a lot of people and, usually, I think, because of what they think relationships should be like and not what they can potentially be, you know, if you can get and keep everyone involved on the same page.
The sex. I’m not gonna bullshit you: If you think the sex is a secondary concern, you just screwed the pooch. The sex is important because sex binds and even in this, if you have a long list of things you’re not going to do for love or anything else, yeah, you might wanna do something about that. In this area alone, failures occur because someone will invariably start feeling like they’re being left out or they’re not getting enough of the action or, with existing couples, one person is having way too much fun than the other and many find that the more rules put in place to, um, contain or suppress sexual activities, the greater the chance of failure. Even in this, a lot of people tend to think more about what they want and need more than what can be possible and eschewing what I think is a “simple” premise: Everything is negotiable. It’s just that not many people are of a mind to negotiate and in that “my way or no way” mindset that we all tend to have. It might sound counterintuitive but the sex must flow, whether it’s one-on-one or if it happens in a group setting and if you have inhibitions or other hang-ups about sex and, yeah, sexuality, hmm, ya might want to work on getting rid of them and beginning right now.
And then, if all of this doesn’t load your plate up to beyond overflowing, you still have to go about your daily life and those things that are connected to it. One of the things that is a benefit is that if you’re struggling in day-to-day stuff, you hopefully have people around you who are ready, willing, and able to jump on in and give you a hand with it; poly relationships are “one for all and all for one” so it’s not just about the sex and the other things that go along with being in this very extended and complex way to be in a relationship… and one of those things also involves children and whether they’re youngsters or adults… and that just makes all of this even more complicated. It’s funny in that there was a time where we’d say that it takes a village to raise a child but these days? Yeah, not so much and no parent likes or wants to be told how to raise their children and other related things and, yep, a lot of folks tend to forget that their children do have a minds of their own and, yep, one big mistake a lot of folks make is trying to hide this from their children – and children who are a lot more observant that we’d like to believe.
Then if all of this hasn’t baked your noodle to a very crispy crunch, there’s what other people are going to see and think… and some of that isn’t going to be a good thing. I learned that when you try to keep this on the DL, yeah, that just ain’t gonna work and if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what the hell was going on, my money problems wouldn’t be a problem. They’re going to notice it and some will be intuitive enough to know exactly what you’ve gotten yourself into and some of them are going to read you the riot act and like you’ve never heard it before. Sure, it’s none of their goddamned business what and how you’re living your life in this and, yep, they’re gonna preach to you about the way you should be doing things and the important thing that you and all who involved should keep firmly in mind that this is your life and lives and you have a responsibility to yourselves to live it the best way you can manage to do so and if that means there’s a “bunch” of you living and loving together and it allows everyone to flourish, that’s just the way it is and if no one else likes it, all they can do is not like it… and being prepared for repercussions is a very smart thing to do.
Shit… I remember when my mom figured it out and I was kinda/sorta prepared to get read the riot act to end all riots acts when all she said was, “I hope you know what you’re doing.” My response was, “I hope so, too.” I did have to “correct” her on one thought she had: This wasn’t my idea to begin with but I was both challenged and tasked to make it work and it actually made sense since we were already open to begin with and there were certain… needs that had to be met to maintain continuity – and peace in the valley – in our marriage and relationship. I knew before I accepted the challenge that this was going to be one hell of a mess… but one I felt I could deal with. I didn’t expect it to last very long… and it lasted way longer than I could have ever dreamed of and, nope, it wasn’t as smoothly as it could have idealistically been. We all made mistakes and, yeah, if you wanna know how I know what I do about it? It’s because we screwed things up as well as made them work and since I had the “job” of being the gatekeeper, well, I learned some stuff about what it takes to live a poly lifestyle that I’m glad I learned… and kinda wish I hadn’t.
It’s like “any other relationship” in that what works for one probably ain’t gonna work for another which is why if/when you’re considering this, you and whoever chooses to be with you in this has to sit down and “design” the foundation of the poly relationship and keeping it as simple as humanly possible. Being in a poly relationship is the ultimate relationship; it defies everything we know and believe when it comes to love, sex, and said relationships. Monogamy and it’s hard-set rules will not work in this and trying to hold onto to those rules can turn this into an “us versus them” kind of situation that will lead to its demise and in a hurry. It’s being committed to each other but also being committed to that shared vision I mentioned a while ago and if you or those with you aren’t of a mind to be that committed, well, ya might not wanna get into this or you can keep your nose to the grindstone and find those who can be this committed… and with the sure and certain knowledge and understanding that nothing is forever.
Being poly – and very much like being bisexual, as it turns out – isn’t just a thing to do: It is a way to be and it’s a life-changing way to be. It’s not all about having a group of lovers or sexual partners; this is about, again, sharing every aspect of your life with people you love and everyone being in love with everyone else, not equally because that’s impossible but with focus on equity, the quality of the relationship and with those who are willing to do whatever’s necessary to make it work and keep it working.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Research it; see what others are thinking and saying about it both pro and con and then take a lot of time to search deep within yourself and see if you can be up for the great challenge it is most definitely going to present. It is worth it because if nothing else, you learn some stuff about yourself; you learn what being in love can really mean and that love doesn’t have any boundaries except those we put in the way of it. There’s just so much work that has to be done, personally and especially if you go forward to embrace polyamory.
And I do wish anyone considering this all the luck in the world because if you do this, I can almost guarantee you that it’s going to be the most insane thing you’ve ever done… and ya just might be glad that you did it anyway.