I went through 2 poly openings of previously closed relationships, one in 2015 and one in 2009. They were very different in character. I’ve talked extensively (e.g., here, here, and here) about the differences that were brought about because I had different primaries each time, Seth in 2009 and Skyspook in 2015, but honestly, that was only part of it.
Just as pivotal was the fact that I was working different jobs. A catastrophic industry-wide failure meant I had to reboot my career in 2012. And despite having years of professional experience, in 2014 I was treated by employers as a “new grad.”
In 2009, I worked from home at a straightforward, low-stress job that I excelled at and made excellent money for, considering how much I enjoyed it.
In 2015, I was an underpaid manager with a monstrous commute working for a place with a terrible company culture. Even after going back to school and earning a degree, I made 61% of what I earned in 2009. Without accounting for inflation, which makes it worse. Or subtracting out the commute and unpaid overtime, which makes it even worse (round about 31%).
In 2009, I moved from task to task in sequential fashion. Able to focus in the moment on whatever work I was presently doing, and once it was completed, I could put it behind me.
In 2015, I had an average of 2 dozen projects at any given time I was juggling in various stages. There was something always hanging over my head, always something in limbo.
In short, my baseline level of work stress in 2015 was significantly higher than in 2009.
And it showed. The first 6 months of the 2015 opening were brutal.
Because my work life was extremely stressful. And this stress bled into other areas as well.
My home life was also stressful, as Skyspook and I navigated new roles. Strained by work and increased emotional processing, my already tenuous grasp of housework floated further into incompetence. And Skyspook’s corrections to my admittedly slacktastic behaviors had a fresh sting to them. I didn’t know whether the sting was tacked on by sender (him) or receiver (me, I’m a softie), but the corrections hurt nonetheless. Honestly, I still don’t know. I suspect it was a little of both of us.
In any event, I felt like Skyspook was quite done with me most days of the week.
Powerless to stop myself, I sashayed around the house, tossing shredded cheese like confetti at a mouse parade. A slob.
Sometimes I would catch myself in the act of being messy and gape in horror at what I almost didn’t notice. A film of grease on the counter. A dark stain on the kitchen tile. Piles of clothing were strewn about the house haphazardly, as though I were whipping up an art installation featuring folks who spontaneously melted en place.
And always, it was impossible to pull apart how much of what we fought about was chores and how much was our fears, our insecurities, and our stress adjusting to new lovers and tests to our relationship.
But seriously. I got even messier and more scatterbrained than normal.
And of course my love life was stressful. A lot of people who hear about polyamory get really excited and say, “I’d love to date multiple people, but there’s no way I could share my lover. I’d get too jealous.”
The funny thing is that in practice I really do tend to have the opposite problem. The hardest part of polyamory for me is not sharing lovers but the actual stress of dating more people.
For starters, being vulnerable with people is really stressful for me.
And I inevitably am the person who initiates breakups, and you would think after all this time that I’d be a decent judge beforehand of compatibility before the fact but no. I am really not. It doesn’t help that people can act wildly unpredictably when hurt or rejected.
Skyspook laughed when I told him that dating people was more stressful for me than my partner dating others. Until he watched it happen. “I thought you were exaggerating,” he said. “It just sounded so weird. But it turns out you’re actually like that.”
In any event, in 2015 I found dating as terrifying and as obnoxious as I remembered it being. A few moments stick out. From one jilted suitor:
But without any rancor or hidden agenda, it’s worth noting that I was totally above board with you about everything. Feelings, attraction, personal detail. You weren’t. I make great efforts to avoid people’s triggers and meet them where they are, however you lied to yourself about what was going on and to me in turn. And instead of correcting it you bail.
And thousands of other words fired off to me at work after I told this man after 3 weeks of dating that I didn’t want to continue doing so. He unleashed an intensity of ire that I hadn’t experienced since my divorce. My divorce. From a partner I was with for 10 years.
It took 5 days, all told, to break up with this guy… and we weren’t even a Thing. We went on dates for 3 weeks!
Legit, that experience scared the shit out of me. He seemed like a pretty good dude before it happened.
It All Polysaturates You
The bad news was that there was stress everywhere I turned. Rather than being separate entities, work stress made home stress worse which made love stress worse which made work stress worse, in a daisy chain of aggravation and burnout. It was hellish.
The good news is that I made it through that first rough patch! Skyspook and I are still kicking it. I’ve (mostly) cleaned up my act with chores and the like. And I am still gainfully employed.
Trouble is, however, I’ve identified that an inordinate amount of bandwidth in my life is taken up by my job. Don’t get me wrong. I love working. I love being productive. But when I look at my availability and level of saturation re: life stress, my current job is equivalent to being in 2 abusive relationships.
I start out polysaturated.
As long as I continue to work where I do, I’ll be able to manage the very occasional casual encounter and a party makeout or two, and that’s pretty much it.
Effectively, my job has suspended me in a state of near-mono/poly.
Now I don’t view polyamory as a RIGHT. But this situation has dramatically underscored to me exactly how quickly a non-romantic obligation polysaturates a person. And I’m not a parent or trying to take care of an elderly parent. I’m also lucky to have a spouse who is remarkably self-sufficient, used to living on his own, and needs very little from me.
Managing Unequal Resources
I’m sure one day I’ll again work a job that is easier to balance with my personal life. But until then, I accept any sacrifices made in the present to be responsible and fulfill my obligations to my family (Skyspook and me).
And most importantly, I’ll do my best not to let it affect my relationship with Skyspook. It does help that he also has a professional position and works full time (although his current fit with work and company culture is far better than mine).
Oftentimes, couples will enter into an open arrangement used to being treated as a single unit, a household. Because of this, they’ll find they have unequal access to resources in ways that were never really an issue prior to opening up.
This was certainly the case with Seth and me. For the last few 4 years of our marriage, Seth was a part-time college student who didn’t work over breaks. I hadn’t even noticed the difference in the amount of free time we had until we formed a triad with Megan. When Seth wanted to go out to Megan’s several nights a week for our dates (a 40-minute drive each way), I initially agreed but grew tired of that frequency much more quickly than he did.
We kept going out to see her that often, but I started to dread it and feel on some level that it was an obligation. Not fair to me. Not fair to Megan.
In hindsight, it seems obvious that feeling of dread may have contributed to our split (which officially was due to Megan not feeling a strong connection to me). But at the time, I didn’t have much insight into it.
The best I can do is work towards a saner work-life balance and not let my unhappiness obstruct Skyspook’s.
I can absolutely see how someone might be like “No fair! My job makes it so I don’t have time or energy to date anybody else, so neither should you!” And there’s a kind of perverse logic there that sounds true until you really consider it.
Limiting the potential happiness of someone you love just because yours is limited by other factors? It’s a lot like laying on your high beams when oncoming traffic is blinding you. Sure, you might get the satisfaction of making things “equal.” But now you’re both in a world of hurt, and you risk getting into a nasty crash.
Especially unfortunate since it probably wasn’t your partner who limited you in the first place.
The other thing to keep in mind is that life has an ebb and a flow — you might find that circumstances change and your partner becomes the one with limited bandwidth for un-fun reasons. Do you really want them limiting you when the pendulum swings back the other way?
The standard poly saying goes, “Love is infinite. Time and energy are not.”
And that time and energy? Can get eaten up by plenty of things other than romantic relationships.