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I have a predicament. My wife just told me the date of her graduation from law school but I already have plans with my girlfriend to go out of town camping that weekend. We made the plans weeks ago before I knew when the graduation ceremony would be. What should I do?
Man in the Middle
Dear Man in the Middle:
What do you want to do? That is a starting point because polyamory is not about imposing obligation over pleasure. But what you choose to do may have consequences in your relations with your partners. Your wife has been working hard for years now and graduation is a celebration of her effort and accomplishment. Your girlfriend, however, is entitled to predictability and dependability in the plans that she makes with you. The key principles to remember here are to be honest about what you want, respectful of your girlfriend’s autonomy, and supportive of your wife’s success.
Sit down with your partners. I would prefer to get the three together at the same time, if possible. Be honest about your predicament and the pull you feel to both of your partners. Brainstorm: is there a way that everyone can be made happy? Can you attend the graduation and move the camping trip? Can you skip the graduation ceremony but instead throw a graduation party?
If these options are not feasible, then this is where prior agreements would be helpful. Some couples prioritize the commitments between the married couple. But “couples privilege” can quickly alienate those outside the pair who are, thus, unprivileged. From my perspective as a solo poly female, I am sympathetic to your girlfriend’s predicament, as constantly having plans reshuffled to accommodate another can feel disrespectful.
For this reason, my partners and I generally practice the “first in time” rule where the plans that were scheduled first (and that make it on the Google calendar) would trump any later plans. But, there are always exceptions. No one rule can anticipate all of the varied circumstances that will present themselves. It would help if you had a pattern of honoring your commitments and this conflict was viewed as an aberration.
Remember to thank your partners for their accommodation in the love language of their preference. For example, if your girlfriend likes touch the most, you could offer to give her a massage and if your wife most likes acts of service, you could offer to cook dinner. In this way, you remind each how important they are in your life.
I hope, with honest self-reflection and open communication with your partners you are able to arrive at an accommodation that will leave all feeling respected and valued in the relationship.
Thanks for writing!
Archie Comic Publications, Inc. (2014). Image of Veronica Lodge.
To find out how it came to be that Veronica, Betty, Archie, Jughead, Moose and Reggie all transitioned from monogamy to polyamory, or to ASK VERONICA and the other members of ARCHIE’S GANG questions about polyamory or open relating, go to the Poly Advice page.
Sounds simple enough. And it is. Here is how:
Compersion and Jealousy
Compersion is such a recent concept, spell-check doesn’t even recognize the word and you cannot find a definition in mainstream dictionaries. This is the definition offered up by Modern Poly:
Compersion: adj., the experience of taking pleasure in the knowledge that one’s partner is experiencing pleasure, even if the source of their pleasure is other than yourself. The feeling may or may not be sexual.
While this concept is commonly understood by those who practice polyamorous relationships, it has not yet found mainstream acceptance. Yet it operates as does altruism and self-confidence, whereas jealousy, its evil twin, operates through its antithesis: selfishness and insecurity. The more I embrace compersion, the more I reject jealousy. This concept is equally compatible with monogamy as it is polyamory and non-monogamy.
Jealousy needs no definition; we have examples all around us. Jealousy is a destructive emotion. Jealousy seeks to deny, repress and hurt. Compersion, on the other hand, is constructive. Compersion seeks to give, share and provide pleasure. Imagine how many murders and assaults have been committed due to jealousy and insecurity? What if, instead, we embraced compersion as a society and encouraged the idea that if you love someone else, then you should want that other person to experience pleasure?
With jealousy, the bearer of the emotion makes others accountable for his or her insecurity. A lover is expected to conform to the stated or unstated expectations of another to avoid triggering a jealous response in that person. The jealous person is rarely required to accept responsibility for the negative emotion and conform his or her behavior instead. Outside relationships, however, we would not tolerate this, so why do we embrace it within the confines of dating and marriage? Consider the following analogies:
- A high school student is jealous of another student’s good grades. Instead improving his or her grades or otherwise dealing with this jealousy, the student with the good grades is expected to stop performing so well.
- A neighbor is jealous of the car another neighbor drives. Instead of dealing with this jealousy, the neighbor with the car is expected to stop driving it or to sell it entirely.
- An amateur athlete is jealous of the fame and success of professional athletes. Instead of dealing with this jealousy, the professional athletes are expected to stop competing professionally.
These make no sense. So why, therefore, in the context of dating, should a lover’s reaction dictate our choices and freedoms? Remember, jealousy are the selfish trappings of the ownership paradigm of monogamy. With jealousy, we believe we have an ownership interest that trumps our partner’s rights to control their own body, make their own decisions and extend their personal experiences with others.
We invest time and effort to create rules that we convince ourselves will help us feel safe and secure when, paradoxically, when another stays with us in the absence or despite the rules we find the greatest reassurance. Jealousy is of our own creation and we have the ability to examine it and discard it. When we allow it to control our thoughts and the actions of others we are inviting the misery and drama that jealousy brings.
Conversely, with compersion one person loves the other unselfishly and want’s the other person’s happiness. The person who embraces compersion recognizes his or her own individual limits and that he or she cannot provide all possible pleasure or happiness to those who he or she may love. The partner who embraces compersion chooses happiness – both that of their partner and their own. Knowing their partner has received pleasure brings them happiness.
If one is insecure, however, and does not trust what they bring to the relationship is unique and incomparable, then the idea of allowing the object of one’s affection to experience pleasure with another is threatening. The jealous person seeks to confine and restrict the other person to avoid feeling insecure rather than address their own lack of self-esteem or confidence.
Thus, the ability to embrace compersion is recognition of one’s own limitations. We cannot provide all the pleasures in the universe to those whom we love. Those who are self-secure is not threatened by their partner’s pleasure. Indeed, the person who embraces compersion finds happiness through their partner’s pleasure.
So, to choose happiness, we need only take pleasure in our partner’s pleasures. To reject misery we need only abandon the selfish trappings of our jealousy. It’s that simple. Reject misery. Discard jealousy. Choose happiness. Embrace compersion.
Modern Poly. (2011, March 26). Compersion. Retrieved on November 30, 2013 from: http://modernpoly.com/feeditem/definition-compersion
Originally published under title Compersion and Jealousy: The good twin and the evil twin on December 1, 2013 at Puzzle Pieces blog.
Do you know that phenomena in the wild when one species adopts another and raises it as its own? Well, as cute or amazing as this occurrence is, it is also very, very rare. And this is for obvious reasons. Bunnies and chicks may hang out together for springtime photo opportunities but have little else in common. This article addresses the problems inherent when Poly Peeps attempt to relate with mono types. Sometimes cute. Rarely productive or practical. Conflict laden.
Birds are able to fly and have wings that will take them far and wide. If the bird paired with a rabbit, the bird wouldn’t be able to share flight with the rabbit. The bird would be grounded and unable to experience the world as the bird was able to, following the migration patterns that define its species. The bird wasn’t well designed for hopping about and so as the rabbit experienced life in the way that rabbits do, the bird would not be able to fully engage in that activity. Both animals would have to suppress their animal nature to share time and space with the other.
While partners need not share the same interests of their other partners, they do need to be able to experience the world in the manner best suited for them. An individual who has chosen poly follows different rules and seeks different goals than does one who seeks to find a monogamous pairing. When a polyamorous-minded person dates a monogamous-minded person, each are playing by a different set of rules and applying a different set of expectations. This is likely to engender conflict or predispose the union to failure.
Consider the consequences if a basketball player followed the rules for soccer, instead. The failure to achieve one’s unstated expectations can result in disappointment and disillusionment. Imagine being handed a sandwich and assuming it to be tuna salad but it instead turns out to be banana and peanut butter? Much could be avoided had the server informed the patron of its contents instead of expecting the patron would know, and similarly, the patron could also have sought confirmation that his assumption was accurate before the first bite. The shock of the first taste aside, the patron may find the variety of taste appealing. More plausible, however, the person’s whose expectations were not met will be left with disappointment and disillusionment. With the rabbit and the bird, one would give up what it wanted (to hop or to fly) in order to co-relate with the other, but consider if instead, the species were called upon to give up what each needed?
In another mixed species analogy, consider the plight of the seahorse who needs to be in water and the horses that run wild on the beaches but lack the biology to breathe under water. Size difference aside, a union between these two species would be quite near impossible. Outsiders can see such an arrangement lacks much potential, but those who are caught up in the moment of connection may lack the necessary objectivity.
Is the inclination toward poly or mono relating then a want or a need? If a “want,” the individual will be be called upon to sacrifice its animal instincts. Short term this might be cute. Long term, one or both of the partners will be disappointed and disillusioned. But, if instead the inclination is a “need,” then the pairing could be not only impossible, but also injurious to one’s health. Sea horses cannot live on the beach. Wild horses cannot live underwater. Thus, dating within one’s species may not just be a matter of selfish practicality, but also one of physical necessity.
Honesty and acceptance are two of the twelve pillars of polyamory. A pairing between a mono- and poly-inclined partner is inherently dishonest. Either the individuals are not being true to themselves and their poly inclinations or if they are, they are not truly accepting of the other person who holds contrary objectives of monogamy. The lack of self-honesty, self-acceptance and acceptance of others will pre-incline the relationship to failure. Without knowing what one is looking to find, one is certain not to find it.
There are several common circumstances in which a mono-inclined person and a poly-inclined person seek to co-relate. These include:
Strings-Attached Transitions: One person in an exclusive relationship seeks to open up the relationship in order to pursue that person’s inclination toward polyamorous relating. The other partner remains monogamous, but permits the person certain agreed-upon freedoms, with conditions.
Deliberate Ignorance: Partners couple due to shared activities or to have needs met and close their eyes to any potential discord. Each will avoid asking questions to which they don’t want to know the answer and both will avoid talking about their different relationship style.
Dating Choice Odds: Persons seeking poly partners find a greater selection amongst the broader population of singles than amongst the smaller poly sub-culture in their community. While each knows the other’s relationship style contrasts with that of their own, they put off resolving the conflict with the hope that if the relationship develops, the other person can be persuaded to change their mind.
None of these situations, however, are fully embracing of polyamorous principles nor do these situations permit full participation in the polyamorous experience. Let’s consider yet another analogy: three swimming pools are open to the public: one is for poly people only, one is for mono people only and the third is for people who have not decided. The poly pool contains the fewest swimmers, with people swimming alone, in pairs and in groups of three or more. The mono pool has twice as many people as the poly pool, but most of these individuals are navigating in pairs. The third pool is crowded; standing room only, a lot of whom have their eyes closed.
With the strings-attached transitions, one partner is in one pool and another is in another pool. The two can get together on land, but can never swim together. How sad? Another comparison for this group is permitting a loved one to go swimming, but only while wearing a life vest and tied to the shore. The body is in the water, but can it be swimming with such constraints? The persons who attempt polyamory yet impose ownership-based rules on the autonomy of the partner are still tethered to the shores of mono, allowed to dip their body in the poly pool but never fully submerge and never swim with the freedom of a fish.
With those who gravitate to deliberate ignorance, they find themselves in the crowded “undecided” pool with all the other unexamined swimmers. Because they don’t want to alert the partner about their inclinations they remain in the over populated pool. They would be looking yearningly toward the poly pool, but those who elect deliberate ignorance have their eyes closed. Thus, not only are they swimming in the most populated of pools, they are doing so with their eyes closed. The reluctance of those in this group to assert and communicate their needs also renders them powerless to call out for “help” should they need it. This is the scariest of options to be blind and mute and attempting to stay afloat in a body of water crowded with others in a similar predicament. In this situation, the blind and mute swimmers are dependent upon an observant lifeguard, if any, to avoid drowning or other dangers.
With the deliberate ignorance group, these persons also are tethered to the shore and cannot fully participate in the complete polyamorous experience. Poly participants are self-reflective and take inventory of what it is they want and need. Without this step, they would be powerless to communicate those needs to others. Without communicating those needs, they would be less likely to have those needs met. Thus, the deliberate ignorance group is sabotaging their autonomy and instead “going along with the crowd.”
Those in the third category, “Dating Choice Odds” arrive at the pool and are shown the three pools, but deliberately choose the overcrowded pool so that they will have a lot of different choices. Or will they? Imagine if you want only blue m&ms. Would you rather reach your hand into a bowl of only blue m&ms or instead grab a handful of assorted m&ms and sort through to try and find the blue ones? Just because there are more swimmers in the overcrowded pool doesn’t mean that these persons are going to want to leave the comfort of the pool that he or she chose to instead swim in the pool that you would like to explore. Moreover, this presupposition, that you will eventually change the other person’s mind, denies the other person the respect and autonomy that are crucial to the polyamorous experience.
What are the odds, if you are a bird that you will find a horse or a rabbit who will be able to fly as you can fly and who will be able to experience life as you are able to experience it? Only with photoshop is this possible.
A word about the journey: it is an individual one. While we may invite others to accompany us and join others in their journey we are all, still, on our own individual journey. Like a bird who perches on a rhinoceros or a driver who picks up a hitchhiker, our paths may cross but our journey remains singular.
Polyamorists value honesty and consent. A driver would not consent to pick up a hitchhiker headed north when his or her own path was heading south instead. A hitchhiker headed south would not consent to get in a car headed north. Neither of the two would get very far by being dishonest about their intended direction. As polyamorists, the individuals we pick up along the way should therefore further our objectives and not impede our journey. When we intend to explore poly connections but we remain rooted to persons with inclinations toward mono tendencies we prevent ourselves from living the experience. Even though we may get a front row seat to watch, the perspective is still only that of a bystander and not a participant.
Undoubtedly, this is a lot of analogies to make the same point. For good reason. These are mistakes and lessons learned experientially. How do you explain an experience so that others may benefit without their having to live through the experience themselves? Through analogy and comparison to situations and experiences that are more understandable and recognizable.
These are lessons learned by others and rarely without struggle and discord. When the mono type and poly peep pair, the mono will continually seek more restriction, ownership and control to achieve the intended mono goal while the poly person exploring poly will seek more and more freedom and autonomy. There is nothing but conflict in the forecast ahead.
Choose the poly pool. Experience the experience. Untether yourself from the mono shore. Assert your needs. Respect the autonomy of others. Date within your species.
Not enough people in the poly pool? Stay tuned for articles on finding and growing community. Subscribe to this blog and other’s like it to meet like-minded others and to have a forum for resolving the relationship issues that present themselves in poly arrangements.