Web of the Magi: Cross-Purposes in Polyamorous Relationship Systems

a spider's web
Image by ramfublio / CC BY

6:30 am. The alarm shrieks.

I’ve been half-dozing since 6 am when I woke with a cracked throat and a full bladder. All of the water in my body diverted to the wrong places. But not wanting to stir and wake Skyspook up. Instead, I’ve been willing the bladder heaviness to sink down through the lower half of my body until my toes felt heavy instead. That same kind of mind game that makes you itch when other people mention it. And how you can cause any part of you to hurt if you concentrate on it hard enough.

I stay as still as I can as Skyspook rises to turn off the alarm on the dresser. He stretches in a kind of unintentional Mr. Universe pose. The burly man atop a wrestling trophy.

Satisfied that he’s awake, I sit up.

“Morning,” he says, sitting back down on the bed.

“Morning,” I reply.

I’ve learned over the years we’ve lived together that we wake up very differently. When I’m up, I’m up. I could roll out of bed and go on a talk show (after a sip or two of coffee). Or straight to a workout.

And when I’m particularly exhausted, talking actually helps me wake up. And stay awake. So left to my own devices, I would be a chatterbox in the morning.

But I know that Skyspook needs a bit longer. So I smile and say nothing, even though my mind is going full speed, filled with thoughts. And I have at least a half-dozen things I want to say to him.

Instead, I reach out my arm to touch him… and we awkwardly smack our wrists together. Because he’s doing the same thing. Reaching out to me. Trying to communicate through touch all of the things he would want to say: Here’s another day. I’m still in love with you. You still matter to me. Even if it’s a bit early to say all of that. 

Gift of the Magi

Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to collide in unproductive ways. To get tangled while out-niceing one another.

I think often of O. Henry’s story “Gift of the Magi.” A young married couple is extremely poor but wants to buy Christmas presents for one another. The wife cuts off her long flowing hair in order to buy a stunning watch fob chain for her husband’s prized possession: a gold watch that’s been passed down through is family as an heirloom.

However, while she’s lopping off her hair, he sells off that gold watch in order to buy his gift for her: Combs to put in her long hair.

But even though the Christmas present situation is clearly shitty when they finally do meet up, neither of them cares. They’re both touched by the sacrifice the other made. And the depth of the other’s love.

Polyamorous Web of the Magi

Cross-purposes can happen in a single relationship. But once you have a network of polyamorous relationships? They’re practically guaranteed.

In a dance that complicated, it’s rather easy to step on someone’s toes from time to time.

What differentiates a happy long-term functioning web is not that such collisions never happen. No. It’s inevitable. It happens in monogamous relationships, after all.

The big differentiator is that when collisions occur? The parties involved assume good faith. That they don’t default to suspicion and instead presume positivity. And work forward under that premise.

The trouble is, of course, that we can’t control how other people will react to situations. What they will assume. Maybe they’ll think you’re up to something because of their own baggage, when all you did was step on their toes by accident. But you definitely increase your chances of getting along by starting there. By wanting to. Being the first person to trust, modeling that behavior you want to see back.

The truth is that it can take a lot of time and trial and error to establish a stable happy web. To find and connect with individuals who sync up harmoniously. I’ve found it helpful to look for partners with good self-control who are empathetic and reasonable.  And while I don’t get to pick my metamours, I also pay attention to what my partners seek out in others, and if they tend towards caring and responsible people, that’s a big bonus.

That said, it’s not easy.

But when it works? When it really, really works?

It can be downright amazing.

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My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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