PQ 3.1 — Have I disclosed all relevant information to everyone affected by my decision? (Chapter 3 questions are all asked in the context of ones to ask to evaluate whether your choices are ethical.)
“You can’t just add on another relationship without consulting anybody. That’s not how poly fucking works!” Michelle yelled at me.
I stood there, stunned. When she said it like that, it sounded horrible. But I knew I wasn’t like that. How had we gotten here? How had we gotten to this point?
Rob had the kind of voice where everything he said sounded vaguely like a question. Rising up at the end. It was one of the things I liked about him the most. It sounded like he was laughing at the world. And it made me want to join him.
Rob and Michelle had been poly for 8 years when he and I were introduced by my girlfriend Tina (who was play partners with Rob). I’d only been practicing polyamory a year with my husband. It had been a busy year, full of lots of ups and downs, adventures and misadventures. I had learned a lot but felt I had a lot more left to learn.
Rob fell for me. Fast. We were two hours into our first online Skype chat when Rob said that it might sound crazy but that he already knew he loved me. Because I was refreshing. I was someone who didn’t accept the status quo.
And it did sound crazy, but I didn’t run away. Partly because I wanted to make a good impression on him. He was my metamour, after all. I loved Tina, and what her other partners thought of me mattered. A lot.
And partly because no one had ever told me that about myself, and I liked the way it sounded.
Over time, I fell for him, too.
Rob had a way of saying things that were so unlike the way that I spoke and I thought he was pretty refreshing, too. My heart took this as the best kind of sign. But in reality? We were very different communicators. And instead of realizing that, we each read between the lines when the other spoke and heard our own understanding reflected back to us. Not what was actually there.
When I got involved with Rob, I assumed that he and Michelle must know what they were doing. After all, they had been poly for 8 years. I extrapolated their expertise by taking what I had learned in the past year and multiplying it by 8. I figured they’d be secure and excellent with communication.
Instead of taking my usual great pains to make sure I was understood and meticulously negotiate, I communicated my needs and presumed they would reciprocate in turn. When I spoke with Rob, one half of the couple, he assured me that X, Y, and Z things would be alright by both of them. I believed him, without checking in with Michelle to confirm the veracity of what he told me.
Rob said he had only one rule: “If you’re fucking someone new, I want to know about it beforehand.”
I was stunned by this. I had just finished a long explanation of my risk assessment for STIs, as well as telling him that I didn’t object to things on emotional grounds and that I expected the same freedom in return. That I felt there was a fundamental difference between not liking something a lover was doing and needing it to stop. People only grew when challenged. And what I very much believed at the time: That my emotional inner life was my own business, and it really only became other partners’ business what else was going on in my love life if and when higher-risk sexual activities were involved.
It was a lot to tell someone. A very tall order. And yet, the only thing he asked was pre-notification of those higher-risk sexual activities. Not veto, not even permission. Not notification of smaller things. I was impressed by his trust in me. And his emotional security.
I asked him if Michelle operated the same way.
“Oh yes, she has some trust issues from a previous relationship,” Rob said, “But we are very much on the same page regarding rules.”
As it turned out, Rob and Michelle didn’t communicate well either.
Michelle first became upset when I made friends with Skyspook. He was her friend. Didn’t I know? And you could say that it was because she feared it would turn into more, except that she also got upset with me for trying to make friends with lots of other people, including ones she and I both agreed I had no attraction to.
I should have heeded this warning sign. But at the time, it was so ridiculous. So inconsistent with the way I viewed acceptable behavior. Such a territorial overreaction that I didn’t take it seriously. Flipping out because I made friends (in a new state, no less, where I had just moved to be with her and Rob). I laughed it off as absurdity. A one-off. I figured time and trust-building would smooth out her rough edges.
I wasn’t going to change a single thing, I resolved. Polyamory had up until to that point been a continual self-challenge, a series of situations that forced me to deal with my own insecurities. The one upside? The freedom I had. I wasn’t about to let a partner tell me who I could and couldn’t be friends with. For me, that defeated the whole purpose of polyamory.
A year after I first told Rob and Michelle that I was interested in Skyspook, I started dating him.
Michelle was livid. “You can’t just add on another relationship without consulting anybody. That’s not how poly fucking works!”
We fought for weeks, neither of us giving up ground.
When I spent the night at Skyspook’s, Michelle accused me of breaking my agreement with Rob, to pre-notify him:
“If you’re not fucking him, then what the hell are you doing over there all night?”
The web burning that unfolded was a shit show, a disaster.
Regardless of how Michelle or I handled ourselves (or didn’t), once the difference in our expectations became clear, I learned two vital lessons regarding relationship agreements:
- Do not assume the other person has understood you. Dig. Confirm. If something seems a bit off, don’t bridge the distance in your brain. Challenge it.
- Never, ever, ever rely on a third party’s assurance that someone else will be fine with an agreement. Speak directly to the source. If you neglect this step, it is at your peril. It is hard enough to ensure you’re being understood when communicating directly with someone else. When you’re playing telephone with a third party in the middle? Holy monkeys.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.