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

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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7 Comments

  1. My 21-year marriage ended this way. My husband decided he was poly and the only way he could remain married was to be allowed to “embrace love when it came along.” I didn’t want it, didn’t understand it, hated it, but really tried. I continued to keep the home fires burning, keep our daughters’ lives stable, keep our business churning, while he was out wining and dining the “new” love of his life. I tried being nice to her, overlooking her propensity for drama that always drew my husband away from our family and into her world. But when he blew off the dr’s appt when I found out I had thyroid cancer in order to calm her down over a fender bender, I quit. I filed for divorce. Their relationship ended about 10 months later, my fault of course.
    I will admit to not being able to stomach physical intimacy with him when I knew he’d been in some other woman. Our sex life came to a screeching halt, not that he really had the time and energy to notice. It seemed like the only time he was interested in me, was after he’d been with her. Left over passion. Ick. So, I guess from these points, I handled it all wrong.

    1. I don’t think you handled it all wrong. It sounds like you did the best you could, given the situation. There are some situations you end up in where there isn’t an option to stay in the relationship without being miserable.

      And for what it’s worth, I’m not really down for one person deciding they’re poly without their partner consenting and wanting to be on board with it as well as date on their own. From the way you describe it, it sounds like you wanted to be exclusive, and he didn’t, and you were extended well beyond your personal comfort level.

      When I wrote this essay, I was thinking more of a situation where everyone involved is poly and consensually so. I’ve seen plenty of situations where everyone involved claims to be poly, but one person is only okay when they’re the one dating other people and don’t know how to share, especially when New Relationship Energy is involved. So that was more what I was thinking of.

      Your comment makes me think I might want to rework/reword it a bit.

      I’m sorry you went through all of that with your ex as well as with your health issues. I can’t imagine how devastating it must have been to be treated as interchangeable and unimportant at a time when you needed his support most.

  2. I have a question which is related to the subject in this post.

    You say “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”.

    What if the important responsibility are their children, and they’re neglecting them, and it happens over and over again because, additional partners come and go and the excitement of a new love is, as we know, difficult to control?

    Do the community have guiding lines for these situations?

    1. You raise a VERY important point here.

      If a partner is neglecting childcare (or if your partner is a caregiver responsible for some other vulnerable person who is being affected, say, an aging parent, etc), that’s an important point at which it would be MORE THAN APPROPRIATE to step in and put a stop to that.

      Neglecting or ignoring another adult is one thing — ignoring a child is another.

      Thank you for this question. I’m going to write a followup blog post addressing this issue.

  3. So what I’m taking from this is that if your partner is in the throes of NRE and neglecting you and his or her responsibilities, as the “grounded” partner, you should shoulder their responsibilities and accept being neglected each time they have NRE happening? At what point does the partner accept responsibility for his or her actions? I’m all for supporting him or her, but at some point, he or she needs to accept that his or her NRE may be negatively affecting other relationships, and it’s not fair to expect the stable partner to pick up the mess he or she is leaving behind. What’s the point of a relationship when you’re always picking up someone else’s mess?

  4. Hey Michelle – great comment.

    I agree with you that the tolerance should only go so far. Here’s what I said that sort of touches on it a bit:

    “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.”

    Figuring out where you need to really call out a partner for what they’re doing is very personal. Depends on boundaries and priorities, etc.

    I think it’s important to let people know when they’ve crossed an important line.

    I wrote a bit more about it in these two posts —

    1. https://poly.land/2017/01/17/getting-no-setting-boundaries/
    2. https://poly.land/2016/12/27/polyamory-boundaries-first-second-degree/

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