With Great Power Comes Great Ambiguity: Towards More Realistic Relationship Agreements

A stoplight for pedestrians that has both the "green walking person" and "red stopped person" lit, sending a message of ambiguity.
Image by barockschloss / CC BY

“Hold on,” he says. “I have to text my wife.”

We’re sitting together on their bed. I stare at the wall, bored. Why text her now? I thought we were having a good conversation.

And then it dawns on me. Their relationship agreement.

“Our one biggest rule is that we let the other know before we’re gonna have sex with someone else,” he’d said, a few weeks back. And after a pause, “We send a text.”

He pushes send with a flourish. Concentrates intently on the screen.

“So like I was saying,” I say.

“One second,” he replies, still staring at the screen.

I sit for what seems like forever in silence.

Finally, his phone sounds. His face lights up. “Okay,” he says. “Now where were we?”

I frown, thrown. I’ve lost my train of thought, sure. But I’m also annoyed that he’s assumed that we’re going to have sex well before the idea has even entered my mind.

Agreements and Ambiguity

As I’ve written before, being poly means more possibilities. This is one of the best things about polyamory — you never know quite where things will lead. And it’s a good feeling knowing you have the freedom to pursue something if a unique connection happens along.

However, in poly, with great power comes great ambiguity.

I run into this when fellow polyamorous people ask me to hang out. After we’ve coordinated our schedules, figured out what time will work out, what we’re doing, I’ll find myself wondering: Wait, are we just hanging out? Or is this a date?

You would think it’s obvious, but it’s not. I’ve gone into what I thought were hangouts only to have them evolve, after the fact, into dates. And I’ve gone into what I thought were dates only to find that, nope, they were hangouts.

I can’t even figure out whether something is a date or not. How am I supposed to unilaterally know beforehand whether we’re going to kiss? Make out? Have sex?

I don’t.

At times like these, I’m grateful that my current relationship agreements don’t require me to prenotify partners of all dates and what will happen on them.

Because frankly, I don’t know.

Whether something is a date or not and what exactly will happen on them is not completely up to me. 

Towards a Fuzzy, More Realistic Prenotification

Instead, I work in the space not of what’s likely to happen on any given date (or hangout), but what sort of risks, generally, my partners are comfortable with. And if and when things with someone new are progressing beyond those comfort zones, I’ll rein it in for a second. Call a time-out. And that’s when further check-ins happen, not a text before sex that I assume is about to happen. A book report written about a novel I haven’t read yet.

And if I’m seriously interested in pursuing someone and see them as a possibility, I try to be open about that, without being definitive (not saying “this will happen”). Declarative.

I’m always suspicious of relationship agreements that hinge on predicting the future. Because I can’t predict a future that someone else has a hand in.

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My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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