It’s been great to touch base lately with some of my other partnered poly friends. My best friend Fluffy, while definitely polyamorous and possessing a very similar bent towards relationship anarchy as my own, has a hard time finding partners and hasn’t been in a relationship for a few years now. The spirit is willing, but Fluffy needs very specific things and is a tough one to match. It certainly doesn’t help that they often find themselves not fitting into the scripts of the pan poly crowd or the gay dating scene. I have a lot of understanding of this state… although Fluffy is markedly phallocentric (i.e., they’re attracted to people with penises), neither community lines up quite right with their ideals, and in that way, it’s a lot like the outsider status I experienced as a bisexual person before finding a kind of “home” in the pan/poly/kink scene.
I talk to Fluffy all the time about their dating and sexual experiences, philosophies, and hopes. And also LH, Fluffy’s other best friend, who is herself self-professed solo poly and vigilant about avoiding entanglement and, by extension, dependency. The three of us talk in a group chat fairly frequently, and at times, on certain issues, any one of us is the odd person out.
One way that I certainly stick out is that I’ve been partnered most of my dating life. It hasn’t always been the same person, and there have been times when I’ve been single, but even then, I was still hooking up and/or on the prowl, save for a 6-month self-imposed break from dating as part of my recovery. And all the poly I’ve ever done, it’s been partnered poly, where I had a preexisting partner (I even briefly had 3 primaries), and we consciously opened up our previously closed relationship.
So it’s been an interesting experience being a sounding board to these friends without those particular experiences. It feels like it’s taken a while to gain their respect regarding my relationship reads because even if it wasn’t intended, from much of what they say about couples and attendant couple privilege, there’s the implication that especially LH considers partnered poly less challenging than solo poly. I haven’t done solo or single poly, so I don’t have a lot to compare it with.
But over time, time showed my reads were great as to explanations for seemingly inexplicable behavior:
“Oh, her girlfriend might need reassurance, so they’re probably reconnecting.”
“They might be scheduling their dates so that they’re out at the same time.”
“It’s possible that there’s metamour drama going on, or meta-metamour drama.”
That sort of thing.
In a lot of ways, these friends are both more ideologically “pure” than I am, more hooked into queer activism, trans issues, QUILTBAG scholarship, social justice, etc. This contributes to my sense that I have little to contribute.
I am, conversely, just me. Sure, I have a background in psychological research, an inquisitive nature, and biblically epic sexual history, but I’m impure. Everything I say equivocates. I’m obsessed with nuance. My D&D alignment is True Neutral according to those highly scientific self-assessments where they ask you precisely when you would rob and kill the beggar and for how many cookies. Kink community role of social connector and unpaid pseudo-therapist. It doesn’t help that the more I know about a thing, the less sure I am that I’m 100% right. I had a lecturer once who said that education isn’t about knowing the answers, that it’s more about learning how to ask better questions, and I’ve found that to be the case.
However, I DID have the opportunity to act as a sounding board to a friend whose general judgement I very much trust (we have been known to do sanity/reality checks for one another) who is partnered, and while I am never happy when a friend is struggling, I was relieved to note that she’s running into many of the same issues I have. This is her first real run of the partnered poly non-package deal gauntlet with someone she’s terribly emotionally invested in, and while she’s making it work, it is notably and unprecedentedly challenging. I’m glad she reached out – I was a good choice (see, I told you her judgement is excellent) as I’m very acquainted with that particular cluster of emotions, and I was able to help. And she gave me a much-needed sanity check because she’s about as secure, level-headed, and rational as they come, and she is finding it challenging, even after quite a long history of being more or less solo poly in spirit.
I spoke to Spooky about this as well as Spook spent about a year doing the solo poly thing before my web-burning and various drifts and fizzles in his own resulted in our adopting a sort of poly-aware monogamy. So he’s done the solo poly thing AND opened up from an enmeshed relationship.
“Partnered poly is way harder,” he said, without hesitation. I had mentioned LH’s belief that having a primary relationship to fall back on would assuage the fear of being alone.
“Ah, but that assumes you feel secure in the primary relationship. You don’t necessarily, especially when things are new. Your brain tells you that you can end up all alone. There are game-changers. They HAPPEN. And the breakups are nastier when you’re really serious.”
I asked him if solo poly was terribly different than your “normal” single and dating scenario. He said it wasn’t really, aside from there being the expectation that you’d seek out multiple partners and not be forced to choose to be exclusive with any one of them.
Of course, these terms are all slippery. Even LH has been discussing the possibility of her girlfriend and metamour moving in with her, something that’s kind of a no-no in solo poly, and has recently stated she’d like to have a primary.
And I know the kind of annoying and unfair behaviors that LH is talking about when she speaks of “couple privilege,” having dated a few different couples myself (LH dated one and had a miserable experience and vows never to do so again): the 2-on-1 being-ganged-up-on feel, the collateral communication, the unequal access to them, the feeling that you can be dropped as a partner at any minute if you threaten the couple’s bond, being a dirty secret. All of those things. And I think these are especially the case in package deal situations, especially hierarchical ones.
But I do think that there’s a special burden, too, to subjecting an established exclusive relationship to uncertainty and the pull of others that a person can only appreciate once they’ve experienced it.
Granted, it’s pretty fucking wonderful, to have a whole array of adventures before you – and to trust someone so completely, to have things be tested and have them stay. That’s all pretty great.
But until you’ve experienced sheer primal fear that you’re going to be replaced or abandoned by a person who means the world to you and you’ve built your life around? I don’t think you have any clue.
I do my best, especially when Spook and I are dating someone together, to not let couple privilege rule the day. It’s a big part of why Spook and I have carte blanche with each other… I absolutely do not want to legislate his other relationships. And for what it’s worth, I would love it if something amazing happened, even if it meant I wasn’t his only primary anymore. A serious triad would be spectacular, but compatible ones are rare. We had a shot this past fall at one, but it wasn’t a good match for a long-term setup, and it wasn’t fair to anyone to force it, although we were all disappointed. Even a serious vee could be super fun, provided the 2 metamours got on well, and we were at a Pop-Tarts level of comfort.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve chosen the hardest path, carte blanche partnered poly – putting everything on the line without a lot of legislative safety net or guarantee… but then I feel how much more secure I’m becoming as I challenge myself and how much fun I’ve been having (from encounters, from the excitement of possibilities) that I feel pretty good with the decision.