PQ 10.5 — What happens if the agreement doesn’t work for my partners, or my partners’ partners?
“If Your Calendar Shows That You’re Available, I Expect You to Be Here”
“I looked at your calendar. There wasn’t anything on it,” Michelle said.
“Ah,” I said, not sure where she was going. She was right of course. But this observation hardly seemed noteworthy.
She sighed, and the tension in that sigh was unmistakable. “I went up to your room because I wanted to talk to you, and you weren’t there.”
“I got asked last minute to go hang out with a group of people. It sounded fun,” I said.
“Why wasn’t it on your calendar?” she said.
I stared at her. “Because it was last minute,” I said.
Michelle rolled her eyes.
“It wasn’t a date,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “If your calendar shows that you’re available, I expect you to be here.”
Polyamory Led Me to Prize My Autonomy
That moment sticks with me now because of how surreal it felt. I’d spent considerable effort overcoming my insecurities, honing my communication skills, and adapting to polyamory only to be confronted with these kinds of demands.
As time wore on, it became more and more evident that Michelle, my boyfriend Rob’s wife, didn’t just want a heads up for potential new romantic entanglements, or even to always have a sense of where I was on any given evening, but a say in who I could and couldn’t be friends with.
It struck me as bizarre. Polyamory had been a rough adjustment for me, but I did the work because I loved the benefits that came with it: An increased sense of autonomy and a fun life.
Michelle was supposedly polyamorous. Had even had a serious boyfriend of several years. And I was far from the first woman Rob had been involved with since their marriage had opened.
And yet, here Michelle was trying to control me in ways that I would never accept in a monogamous relationship or a friend. It felt like being parented.
When I first 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, much longer than I had at that point. I extrapolated their level of 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.”
“I Just Wish You’d Own What You’re Doing”
And yet there I was. “You knew I had abandonment issues, and here you are making a bunch of other friends,” she said.
“I moved across the country to live with you guys and don’t know anybody else here, really. I need to make other friends. It’s not healthy to have you be my whole support system.”
“I just wish you’d own what you’re doing,” she said.
The more I tried to talk it out, the angrier she got. Until one day, she removed me on Fetlife and changed her profile to reflect that she was seeking someone who “owns your own shit” and doesn’t “like to meddle in other people’s affairs.”
Passive-aggressive, to be sure. and I wondered at that moment if it meant that Rob and I were now technically cheating.
The resolution of all of this wasn’t pretty (the full story is in Poly Land), but I did learn a lot of valuable things in the process:
- Agreements affect a whole system, not just individual relationships.
- There are many ways to do polyamory, and not all of them are ones that you’re necessarily going to want to be bound by, even if everyone involved identifies as polyamorous.
- If possible, it’s important to confirm with everyone involved that they accept your agreement since third-party assurances can be misleading (the picture Rob drew for me of Michelle’s comfort level was quite different from the reality).