PQ 18.6 — Are there limits on the concessions I will make, either in terms of what I will agree to or the time span of the agreement?

a child in a red jacket and black pants wearing a white, pink, and black bike helmet. The child is sitting on a bike with training wheels cycling down a tree-lined street
Image by MIKI Yoshihito / CC BY

PQ 18.6 — Are there limits on the concessions I will make, either in terms of what I will agree to or the time span of the agreement?

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It’s not at all uncommon when someone is new to polyamory for them to want additional considerations in place, measures that, in effect, act as training wheels.

And ideally as someone gets used to polyamorous relationships, does the emotional work to build up their own personal security, learns to deal with any jealousy they might have in a productive way, and challenges any unhelpful beliefs they may have internalized about relationships, those training wheels become unnecessary and obsolete and are discarded. I’ve actually seen it pan out this way many times.

But unfortunately, sometimes that doesn’t happen. And instead of being able to take off the training wheels, some people end up doubling back down on them. Or, perhaps straining the metaphor, they roll the bike back into the garage and refuse to ride anywhere.

What Happens When the Training Wheels Don’t Come Off…or the Bike Gets Put Back in the Garage

One memorable example I can recall involves fellow polyamorous educators. I took a class from the couple in question (in this case, a man and a woman) at a conference. These teachers both had other romantic partners who they were in fact married to. But it was clear interacting with them that their own bond was quite a strong one in its own right and that they taught well together.

However, one odd thing stuck out in hindsight. While most of the class was devoted to a completely different topic, at one point the male teacher interrupted the lesson to take a random poll from the class: What did we think of time limits?

“What do you mean by time limits?” one workshop participant asked.

Time limits on restrictions, he clarified. Because apparently his wife had been arguing for new limits on his relationship with his girlfriend, the class’s other teacher. And he was thinking that if he did relent that there ought to be some kind of time limit on it.

People chimed in, one after another, with various, conflicting opinions. I sat there thinking how odd of a turn this was for the class to take. And that it was likely a troubling sign for him personally, but none of my business, really. I took a few notes to that effect and waited dutifully for the class to veer back to the main lesson. It did, and then I didn’t think on it too much longer, finishing that class and attending others.

That weekend led me to a few personal epiphanies but related to other things I learned — so I soon forgot about that odd outburst.

Until a few months later when I was reading one of the polyamory forums I frequent and happened upon a heated argument between the two teachers of this class. From the back and forth, I could suss out some developments: Male teacher’s wife had gone through a breakup with her own boyfriend and now even though it had been her idea to open up the relationship in the first place AND after several years of polyamory wanted to be monogamous again with her husband. Which meant she was insisting that he break up with his girlfriend, the female teacher of the class I took.

It was an ugly public fight. One that involved lot of name-calling. Pointing fingers.

Even having just met two of them once (and never having met the wife) and having zero stake in their disagreement, my belly ached with discomfort. Such a painful thing it must be for everyone involved.

The male teacher was, in effect, caught in a sort of double bind, depending on who was judging him: If he relented to his wife’s demands, he could be seen as spineless and discarding his other lover as though she were a toy that was no longer needed. If he resisted the directive, some would label him as a selfish person who was reneging on his commitment to his wife, even if his wife’s demands were arguably quite unfair.

Can Training Wheels Themselves Be Damaging?

Other polyamorous bloggers have argued that it’s possible to do our partners a disservice by making too large a concession out of the gate for comfort, in essence that training wheels themselves can be damaging, depending on the nature of them. One notable example of this was written about by Ferrett Steinmetz in his essay “Be Brutally Polyamorous.” Ferrett writes:

 “I’m polyamorous, but my partner’s new to this. They say they’re okay with what I’ve told them about poly, but… I can tell they’re nervous. So I’m going to damp it down for a while just to be kind to them – I’ll go easy on the side-dating.”

Don’t do that.

Your kindness will rip ’em to shreds.

Because if you give someone an artificial trial period, one where you give them the faux-monogamous experience to make them comfortable, then all you’re doing is lulling them into a sense of “Oh, this is what it’s like.”

And when you start up the dating after a while, they’re going to be *even more* panicky. Because *not only* will they have the usual assortment of jealousies and insecurities that come when you transition into a multi-partner relationship, but also they’ll be thinking, “But… you didn’t date anyone for a year! Now you’re looking for someone else!

What did I do wrong?”

And here’s one of the central truths about relationships: What usually scares people the most is deviations from the established norm.

Giving them a “trial period” and then dropping the big change of “Oh yeah, I date other people now” is going to hurt someone unfamiliar to polyamory more. Often, a lot more. You are doing them zero kindnesses.

Because what’ll happen by then is that you’ll be so much more attached by the time you find out the other person said they’d be okay with poly, but really, turns out they can’t handle it. It’s not like this happened in the first weeks of dating, when you were soppy with NRE but also shallowly attached – no, it’s been months, you’re both emotionally entangled. To discover after a year that whoops, this whole poly thing is actually a dealbreaker for your other partner hurts way more.

If you’re going to be poly, own it….keep dating. Give them as much love as you can. Hug them and let them know that your love for them is a unique thing that’s not touched by other people.

But keep dating.

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How do I see it? I think it’s complicated.

The reality of my current love life is that while I am not polysaturated right now, I probably only have enough space for one new relationship. And if I took that one new relationship, I would almost definitely be immediately polysaturated. So unless things ended with either Justin or Ro (which would surprise me, but I admit is always a possibility, life likes to surprise me, pleasantly or unpleasantly, when I least expect it), in essence, dating someone knew would automatically mean I’d be holding off on dating anyone new for a while. Just because of the sheer logistical burden of it.

But with all of that said, in yesterday’s post, I did identify a clear limit for me when it comes to concessions: That I just won’t make concessions that infringe upon my current relationships. I’m willing to offer as much gentle support as I can — but not if that comes at the expense of someone else.

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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 and answers, please see this indexed list.

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