I’ve seen it play out dozens of times. A nice young couple discovers polyamory. At last one half is terribly excited. The other half might be reluctant to explore at first, but after extended processing and assurances, it’s all systems go. Off to the races!
Our heroes give this new relationship philosophy everything they’ve got. They play this new game as hard as they possibly can.
Except… they’re playing the new game by the rules of the old game. And you can imagine how well that goes.
Think of monogamy as a game of bingo where you wait until all the right numbers are called, marking your card off dutifully until you see the right pattern emerge (in keeping with the various levels of the relationship escalator). At that point, you publicly announce that you’ve won and go collect your prize. Bingo! Game over. The end. Eat my dust, suckers.
Newly poly folks often treat polyamory like it’s the same old game of relationship bingo – they’ve just got more cards. Like one of those old ladies marking up 6 at a time, frittering away her fun money in the parlor.
And in this way, by playing mono x 2 (or 3 or more), the old monogamous paradigms are transported with little or no tweaks into a polyamorous paradigm.
“It’s foolish to expect one person to be your Everything. Different people will meet different needs!” they’ll exclaim. And true, they won’t expect 1 partner to be their Everything.
But they may well expect 2 (or 3 or more) partners to meet all of their emotional and social needs. They hover over their multiple cards with the same spirit of competition and defensiveness that they did when playing a single card game.
Playing by the same rules of toxic monogamy, they sacrifice one of the best parts of polyamory: that you have the opportunity to be social with others and nurture close friendships without the pervasive spectre of cheating. Instead, these poly folks fail to form other friendships and stay connected to people they’re not dating.
And they become profoundly isolated when they suffer a breakup, leaning on their remaining partner(s) in a way that can ripple through and devastate a web.
They might even request a period of monogamy post breakup while they lick their wounds and damn their metamour’s needs.
Because they feel they need to protect and police their relationships, again buying into one of toxic monogamy’s core tents: We must do whatever is needed to protect The Relationship — a simultaneously fragile and all-important entity. If this involves complete isolation and severing second and third degree connections that are meaningful to others, then so be it.
You Don’t Have to Play Bingo
The fact of the matter is that there isn’t just one new game you can play. In fact, there are dozens of new games to try your hand at, hundreds! You get to PICK which one. You can even make up a new one if you’re feeling extra creative.
There isn’t one set of poly rules. There are many ways to do things well.
But trying to shoehorn the old rules for monogamy into a polyamorous environment? I can’t think of a more exhausting and disaster-prone strategy.
And besides, poly isn’t versus mode, it’s co-op. While problem metamours certainly exist, a great many others are fantastic allies. Poly is a multiplayer, sometimes massively multiplayer, environment.
No need to sit in the corner of some bingo hall growing bitter as everyone else’s numbers are called.