Poly Debriefing #3: Don’t Fight the Moonlight, an NRE Survival Guide

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These days I’m polyamorous in spirit, monogamous in practice. It feels disingenuous to claim that I am one or the other completely. Even though my relationship is monogamous, meaning that we are sexually exclusive, I have learned so much from experiencing polyamorous relationships that I will never be the same person I was before. As they say, you can’t go home again. No one steps in the same river twice. All those cliches. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to. Even though those relationships are in the past, I learned something from each and every one and many lessons from polyamory in general – thus these essays.

Part #1 of the Poly Debriefing series is available here.

Part #2 of the Poly Debriefing series is available here.

I’ve seen it over and over again. Two people meet and form a new polyamorous relationship, become absolutely cracked out on love for each other and consumed by the flames of passion – while their older, more established partners twitch in their respective corners, feeling ignored and insecure.

And many times, this is precisely when things go terribly wrong in otherwise seemingly stable long-term relationships.

Having been on both sides of this equation and played the role of ignored partner and cracked out love junkie, despite what one might think, the neglected partner has a lot of the control regarding how things play out and whether or not the older relationship can weather the storm that can come with adding a new person to your poly web.

Realize that your partner is under the influence of some pretty serious chemicals.

Falling in love is a wildly emotional and irrational experience. I had the experience of starting 2 new poly relationships within a few months of each other (in addition to my open marriage), and I was so excited and happy that I spent most days feeling like my heart would actually burst with joy. My libido soared. I spun around in a manic haze. And a few months later, the intensity faded, and I had my wits back about me.

Was I crazy? If so, not for that reason anyway. The phenomenon I experienced has a name and happens to lots of perfectly sane people.

Limerence, more commonly known in polyamorous circles as New Relationship Energy or simply NRE, is a physiologic state many love birds find themselves in when a relationship is bright and shiny and new. All sorts of outrageous chemicals flood your body, causing you to form emotional attachment with your partner, pushing you to mate, and causing you to overlook many of their flaws.

So if your partner seems loopy over someone new in a way you haven’t seen them be about you in a long while, it’s not necessarily a warning sign or something that should make you terribly insecure. That’s actually fairly normal. Old relationships have a very different character than new ones. And it’s a good thing, too! While falling in love is extremely fun, it’s not something we’re necessarily meant to perpetually do. Under the influence of NRE, people have been known to neglect important responsibilities at work, make poor financial decisions, and skimp on sleep and other self-care.

Don’t lecture them.

They are basically high on love.

Keeping that in mind, the last thing someone in NRE wants to hear is a reminder of how irrational they are being, how they are infatuated, etc, so it’s best to keep that sort of criticism to yourself or at least be tactful when discussing your frustrations. In time, they’ll regain their senses, and then you’ll have a much more productive discussion. They’ll come back to earth eventually.

When you make yourself tough to juggle, you raise your chances of getting dropped.

When I see a lot of trouble as a result of the addition of a new partner to an existing web, especially with groups newer to polyamory, it is usually because one partner is off gallivanting and being generally inconsiderate under the spell of NRE, and the ignored partner starts making ultimatums and escalating demands, and an angry spiral ensues, hurtful things are said by both parties, and even formerly serious relationships (ones where partners share finances, live together, and/or are married) end in extremely nasty breakups, ones that end up damaging everyone involved, even the ancillary relationship.

Instead, I propose that you support your partner the best you can, cultivate compersion, try to help them with any neglected daily tasks that need doing, be a good friend and listener when and if they need it. Even if they don’t acknowledge or appreciate your efforts while they are wrapped up in their new relationship or relationships, such behavior makes it infinitely more likely that they will be grateful once the dust has settled rather than bitter, resentful, or in many cases – completely gone!

Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t some valid reasons for calling out someone in the throes of NRE. There are. Sometimes rules and boundaries are violated that must be addressed when they happen, NRE or no NRE. But it’s folly to fight every battle. If you do, you risk making your lover your sworn enemy, and there are a great many times when it’s simply better to wait until everyone has returned to their senses.

For good measure, I’ve written you a limerence limerick.

There once was a young man named Wally

who set off on adventures in poly

he was too busy humping

to notice his dumping

but found himself nonetheless jolly.

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