Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Calculus of Non-monogamous Relationships

A few nights ago, I wrote a long post about some realizations I'd had recently in my current relationship. When I woke up the next morning, I decided it might be too personal to publish, especially in the eyes of my partners, who are more private people, though I knew I still wanted to publish something that touched on those realizations, however obliquely, as well as address other general issues in poly. This is my attempt at that. Also, my current relationship is all 3- non-monogamous, open, and poly, so that is what I am speaking from. I tried not to use them interchangeably though because they are not the same thing. Non-monogamous covers all three, but not all poly relationships are open (as in an exclusive committed poly triad where those three people are only with each other) and not all open relationships are poly (as in people who have sexual contact outside of their main love relationship, but aren't looking for love relationships outside of their primary love relationship.) Every dynamic is different so your mileage may vary.

Lately, I've found myself in a weird position. That of being a grown-up, one that other people sometimes even look to for advice, as if I was some kind of expert. That is super weird to me because I've spent so much of my life looking at other people who seem to have it so much more together than I have. Half of the time, when someone does ask for advice, I don't feel like I have much of an answer to give them. This is especially true when it comes to issues of non-monogamy. Just because I'm doing it and it is working doesn't mean I feel like I have very good answers. Then again, sometimes I think they're just asking me the wrong questions, questions that I have no answer to, that largely no one has good answers to. That's probably because most people ask me how they can find a unicorn or how they can help their partner find other partners. My answer to that is "fuck if I know. I just kinda fell into this situation. None of us were looking for it but it just kinda happened." No, what I have more answers about is how we're still together, though that might also not be helpful for everyone. Just as with BDSM, I came to non-monogamy and openness and poly with a good deal of theoretical knowledge, only to have found that practice with real people in the real world is very different.

There's a meme I see pop up online from time to time about "Don't make someone a priority if they only make you an option." I've seen this cited by people who came into an open or poly situation that didn't work out for them as how they now view open or poly relationships, why they won't be involved with open or poly people, etc. In fact, I recently had someone close to our family, who is really supportive of our family and our relationship tell me that the whole reason she won't allow her and her husband to be open/poly is because she didn't feel like he would continue to treat her like a priority if he had other options.

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: I am not the great poly proselytizer. There are a million ways in which it is a lot of work. No matter what version of non-monogamy you are practicing, it is more work and complication than monogamy. If having a relationship with one person means multiplying by 2, non-monogamy makes things more complicated exponentially. It's not calculating trajectories for two objects out in space. It's orbital mechanics for a whole solar system, with planets and moons for each planet. Even within my own little triad, we all have different reasons why it works better for us, but that doesn't mean that it is for anyone else. The people who didn't feel like they were made a priority in the non-monogamous, open, and/or poly relationships they were in are completely justified in not wanting to potentially repeat that by being in another one. 

On the other hand, I would also say that maybe it wasn't the non-mono/open/poly that was the problem. Maybe it was the people involved and/or differing expectations for the relationship. Most of you reading this probably know that The Professor, Ginger, and I had several months of "break" in our relationship at the end of last summer and during last fall. When I would tell people that I wasn't living with them anymore and that I was dating other people, most people responded with some variation of, "So you figured out that type of relationship doesn't work/wasn't for you, huh?" (Though there were a few people who hinted they thought it was over because "well, he didn't chose you," which I largely ignored.) Nope. There were lots of issues. I realize now that some of them were even with how I felt about the poly dynamics, but it was never poly itself. No, most all the issues were ones of differing expectations and unexpected limitations, which I think that every relationship goes through. New relationship energy makes you want to give the moon to your partner and even convinces you that you can. Then reality sets in and it's difficult to admit not only that your partner can't give you the moon they promised but that you can't do it either. Now imagine you have two partners that you can't give the moon to and who just told you that they can't give you the moon either because, well, you're all a bunch of fucked up people with lots of baggage and limitations. I'll admit, I went out looking for someone to give me the moon I thought I wanted. While I met some very nice people, I largely found that they didn't really have moons to give me either, even if I had wanted to take a moon from them. More than that, I realized that all the things my partners could give me, while not the unrealistic things we'd initially promised, were given in love and pretty fucking awesome. I'd already realized that when I then got a moon accidentally anyway. 

One of the other things I think about with the above meme is if the person posting also made the other person's other relationships a priority. When talking to that above person who knows my family personally, I told her that it could be difficult, especially when one of us gets the new relationship energy with a new person, but we really try hard to communicate about our needs, so that no one feels like they are left behind. Some people feel like they are bad at poly when they don't feel compersion (the opposite of jealousy, when you can feel joy seeing your loved one love someone else.) I think it's more in how you deal with the jealousy and/or envy that you will feel at some time. We regularly schedule time where it is just two of us together, in all pairings. Not just "yeah, we sat around and watched tv just the two of us" kinda nights, but nights were you are actively participating with that partner. When I first came into the relationship, I knew the nights that Ginger had off work and respected those as time they had together. Even when I lived with them, I'd often plan weekends out of town or stay at my parents and do laundry on nights that were reserved just for them. As my schedule was much more flexible, the Professor and I largely didn't have to schedule things as tightly, though Ginger and I often had to because our schedules and sleeping hours would clash. The times that I attempting dating other people, I made sure to give undivided attention to them as well. 

Even with all this fairly good communication and compromise skills, sometimes you still feel this tug of "ugh, this thing really bothers me, even though it's unreasonable and there isn't a way to change it." A few days ago, I wrote a long post about an issue I had like that. While I decided the long version was too private to post, I am going to try to summarize my part of it here. For much of the relationship, I was bothered by what I thought was unequal sleeping arrangements. For me, the difference between a casual sexual relationship and a romantic relationship was if I felt comfortable sleeping with someone and did on a regular basis. At Ginger and the Professor's old place, there was a master bedroom with a queen, later king, size bed and a guest room with a double bed. Even once they got a king, it wasn't comfortable for all three of us to share a bed. I didn't usually sleep at the same time as Ginger, so we rarely shared a bed. Sometimes the Professor slept with me in the double bed, but more often than not, he'd sleep in "their room." Now there are many reasons why this was not an unreasonable situation. First of all, because of differing sleep schedules, it wasn't actually like he slept more with Ginger than with me. More often than not, he was sleeping alone. Even more than this though, he had very justified reasons for not wanting to sleep with me. We are both big people and the double bed just isn't big enough for us. Even when we could sleep in the bigger bed in the master bedroom, I snore and talk in my sleep, both of which prevent him from getting much sleep at all. Even knowing all of this, there was this thing that nagged at my brain and said "you aren't equal because you sleep alone." 

When I wrote the post a few nights ago, after we had all gone to bed at our new place together, me in my double bed in my room, them in the king size bed in the master bedroom, I realized that them sharing the same bedroom was actually much better in many ways. For a few months after I got pregnant, the Professor slept in the bed with me every time I was over. (Must be a male "must protect the pregnant lady" urge, combined with the fact that I wasn't snoring as much anymore.) It was really sweet for the first week or so. Then the annoying started to creep in. "Fuck he keeps stealing my pillows." "How did I end up with only 6 inches of the bed?" "Damn, I was really planning on watching some dirty porn and masturbating tonight, but he had to be all sweet and want to cuddle and now he's asleep! When will I start snoring again so he won't want to sleep with me!?!" Then there's that I love having my own space. I got used to having something that was just mine in the apartment that I had for the last year or so. There was no argument over bedrooms when it came to this place. Master bedroom would mean sharing and I didn't want to share. Yes, my bedroom isn't large but it's my sanctuary and I also have the "family" room downstairs for most of my books and such. Finally, just like I need the space to myself, I have realized how it makes their relationship, a relationship I was welcomed into but that already existed, stronger and more secure. We are going through some growing pains right now. While we are welcoming a child into the relationship, it is not how we planned it originally, which puts unique strains on all of our bonds. Ginger is also growing an existing friendship into a romantic relationship, which is unique both in that she hasn't had more than a few dates with anyone outside the relationship but also that there is hopes of it being a long-term addition to the family, not just a passing thing, which is what the Professor and I tend to go for. This is a time that could be especially precarious for their relationship and I want to do everything in my power to help ease that, even if that is just making more space for them to be together, no matter what they choose to do with it or not do with it. I've learned the hard way that I can't "fix" things between them, any more than Ginger can fix things between the Professor and I or the Professor can fix things between Ginger and I. The best we can do is make space and time. 

So what I'm getting at is poly is hard. It can be really fulfilling and I think that everyone should at least know that non-monogamy, open relationships, and poly relationships are things that are out there, even if they decide that it is not for them. And I am completely useless at finding unicorns, as I can't even find an outside FB/FWB that I feel comfortable with at this time when that should theoretically be much easier. It takes people really communicating, even if all they can say is "I'm feeling sucky about x. It may be unreasonable. Let's find a reasonable way to deal with it." As Ginger and the Professor have often said, it takes you wanting the relationship more than you want to not be vulnerable. It takes people who are able to actively put the health of the other relationship(s) first sometimes, even when it doesn't look like it benefits them directly. It takes knowing that every dynamic is different, both those between individuals within the group and the groups themselves. It means that things won't always be equal, or at least won't always look equal, and that sometimes you won't be the priority. At the end of the day, it's about what works, for you as an individual and for you as a group. 


TyRoy Washington said...

Once my abacus finished translating this; I get what you are saying. Much like the first relationship anyone has in middle school, high school or later; they usually aren’t the only dating relationship they have. But rarely does someone just stop dating. Kind of sad when someone is too afraid to try. But that loss of prioritization is definitely a bigger loss than I could ever quantify on the abacus though. Better break out that slide-ruler.

AvaAlso said...

I think it's more that they gave up on non-monogamous dating bc they didn't feel like they were made a priority, but were just some side piece of ass. And that may have been true or they may have a hogher expectation of interaction, esp coming from a mono background, than the person they dated who had other relationships as well as the usual life responsibilities. And i think it's valid to say "hey, this isn't for me", but i also think that people coming into already established relationships need to realize that those relationships have to continued to be nurtured too, which sometimes means yours won't get prioritized.

AvaAlso said...

Don't know why this posted weird or even if it looks ok on computer and just not my phone. Too lazy and in pain to fix it though.