PQ 3.3 — Does my decision impose obligations or expectations on others without their input or consent?
That distinction between setting a personal boundary and controlling behavior? It’s a paradox. In some ways, it’s so simple. Asserting boundaries is about establishing what you are or are not okay with. Whereas controlling people? Is about trying to dictate what others are doing. Or, as Chelsey Dagger put it, “I will” (boundaries) vs. “You won’t” (controlling).
And yet, in other ways? It’s a lot more complicated than that.
Take, for example, a controversial phenomenon in open relationships (polyamorous and otherwise): the veto.
Veto power is something that many (but not all) couples have when they open up their relationship to other people. Essentially, veto power means that each member of the couple can unilaterally insist that the other partner end an outside relationship. At any time. In the most powerful veto agreements, they don’t have to have a compelling reason. Or even to give one.
“Stop it.” And it’s done.
It can be scary and difficult opening up an existing relationship to new partners. The idea behind the veto is to protect that relationship. The ability for anybody to tap out any time is reassuring.
Vetoes seem like such a helpful idea, in theory. Especially when you’re a couple about to open up. And there are no other loved ones (or sexy friends) in the picture yet.
But I’ll tell you what — once you get into situations where people are involved and no longer hypotheticals with no feelings, if you have a heart? If you actually care about other people? It’s miserable actually issuing a veto. For everyone.
Issuing a Veto is a Lot Like Being a Strict Parent
Consider this: How would you feel if someone else ordered you to break up with a person you loved? For no reason. Or at least one you didn’t believe in or respect.
Even if you’ve never gone through this as a polyamorous person, some of you who had strict parents might understand this.
“You’re never seeing him again!”
“You’re breaking up with her, and that’s final!”
Maybe your folks were moving. Maybe they didn’t like who you were dating. And maybe you were gay, and they thought they could punish you straight.
It felt profoundly unfair. You might be angry. Sad. And some of you? I bet you would find some way around it. Rebel. Because fuck injustice!
I look at my own case. I wasn’t “supposed” to date until college. But you know what? I sure did. A bit of formal dating. And plenty of messing around.
As a young woman, I had more same-sex lovers because we were less supervised. Parents never suspected. But as the years wore on and I found more opportunities, I was also able to see boys (although it was very confusing when I discovered I preferred the “practice” with girls that I’d been doing to my time with boys, what I’d been told was “the real thing”).
Ask Yourself: Am I Being a Partner or a Parent?
Any time I wonder if I’m doing the right things by my partners, metamours, telemours by setting a particular boundary– I ask myself, “Am I being a partner here? Or a parent?”
It’s a crucial distinction.
Partners and parents. I know the words are close, although not quite anagrams (“partner” has an extra “r”). But I firmly believe that any time that one of us is behaving more like a parent than a partner to someone we love? Something has gone terribly wrong. On one or both sides.
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.