When I opened up a relationship that had been monogamous for 8 years, I was prepared to feel jealous. But what I wasn’t prepared for? The radical shift in my thinking about that relationship. We both became much more autonomous. And it was a large adjustment getting used to our increased autonomy.
Prior to discovering polyamory, when I had a more traditional marriage, I didn’t give much thought to autonomy. Seth was the center of my social universe. And we acted as a unit. Pretty much always.
But after we opened our marriage, and especially once we started to date on our own, I began to really need to act independently. It was small stuff at first. When he was out on dates with Megan, I’d plan evenings for myself at home. But as time wore on, I made my own friends. And eventually found my own dates.
It had been scary to step out on my own at first. But once I got used to it? Well, it was the thing I most loved about polyamory. Being autonomous. Independent, but not alone (between my friends and loves). And it was something I never wanted to give up, even if I were to find myself monogamous again one day.
But I’ll be the first to admit: It was awkward at first. Part of what can feel daunting when trying to navigate polyamorous relationships is how few cultural models we have for a lot of what happens. How are you supposed to work out a system of living with someone and sharing resources while dating other people separately?
And then one day it occurred to me: I did have good cultural models. They just weren’t romantic.
Roommates run into the same issues that we were facing.
And with that, a really helpful tool was born: The Good Roommate Standard.
The Good Roommate Standard
When I first tried polyamory many years ago, it was because I discovered friends of ours had been discreetly polyamorous for a couple of years. Before them, I’d never even heard the word.
I was really lucky in a lot of ways. It was invaluable to watch those friends and learn and discuss things through them. A few of my earliest rules with Seth were inspired by fights we had witnessed our poly friends having. For example, we developed a convention that when one of us had a guest in the bed we shared (whether for sex or co-sleeping) that we would surrender our side of the bed to the guest and slide over to our partner’s side. This came about because our friends had a giant fight about a guest spending the night in the bed without any heads up.
This fix was one of many Good Roommate Standards that we established. Other examples of the GRS:
- “If your girlfriend or boyfriend is cold, you can lend them a piece of your clothing, not your partner’s.”
- “If you want to lend something to the new flame and it’s your partner‘s, ask first. And drop it if they say no.”
- “If you mess up the kitchen cooking for a date, clean up after yourself. Don’t expect your partner to do it.”
In addition to this, just like the old sock on the doorknob trick, many couples work out a system to prevent the random walk-in on amorous encounters. For some, this might mean a warning text. Or maybe things happen only in a certain room of the house or apartment. Still others sidestep the issue by having a “no one in the house” rule.
Historically, I’ve been known to sexile myself preemptively, send a warning text heralding my return, and/or make a lot of noise when entering the house if I know my partner has someone over.
In any event, the Good Roommate Standard is a simple self-check: Am I being a good roommate to my partner by doing this?
And a good check for others: Is this behavior I’d tolerate from a roommate?
Now, don’t get me wrong. An anchor partner isn’t the same thing as a roommate. We’re not suggesting that seeing other people will turn your sweetie into “just a roommate.” In my experience, the opposite is true: Other partners have a way of thrumming up new relationship energy (as in #6 in this post) in my older relationships.
But the Good Roommate Standard can be really helpful for a simple reason: When you live with someone you love, you should treat them just as well (if not better) than you’d treat a roommate.