Parallel Polyamory: Circumstantial & Intentional Types

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Hi Page,

I enjoyed your recent article on kitchen table and parallel styles of polyamory. It was refreshing to see someone talking about parallel polyamory in a non-judgmental way. Thank you. 

Sometimes I get grief from other poly people because my relationships with my two partners are completely separate. Because we are not kitchen table. However, this isn’t something that I’ve planned. My lovers live quite a distance from each other. I travel between both coasts for work. My partners have communicated briefly online. It went okay. But mostly there hasn’t been a lot of contact between them. Obviously the distance makes it tough to meet in-person. The 3-hour time zone difference doesn’t help with the virtual relationship. And neither does the fact that they’re also quite busy. They both have other partners — some I’ve met, some I haven’t. 

What do you think of this style of parallel polyamory? Do you think having a parallel style of polyamory makes a person less polyamorous?

Thank you for your blog and your books. 

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Reading over your letter, it doesn’t sound like there are any interpersonal problems here for me to tackle. However, I wanted to thank you for writing because it does give me the opportunity to draw an important distinction when it comes to parallel polyamorous setups: Circumstantial parallel versus intentional parallel.

Circumstantial Parallel

When polyamorous relationships are in a circumstantial parallel, metamours are kept separate and don’t meet because it’s logistically quite difficult for them to do so.

When my own relationships run in parallel (which frankly has happened), it is because of circumstantial factors. In those cases, it’s not a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell situation. I still inform my partners of the existence of one another (part of giving my partners informed consent in consensual non-monogamy, the larger category of relationships to which polyamory belongs). But are people all sitting down at the kitchen table?

No, probably not.

However, they probably could if those logistical obstacles weren’t in play.

In circumstantial parallel, you’re not keeping your relationships separate on purpose because of discomfort with the existence of other partners and/or with polyamory in general.

It’s just hard to meet up. 

Circumstantial parallel therefore can look an awful lot like intentional parallel, but its emotional reality has much in common with kitchen table polyamory.

Intentional Parallel

Conversely, in intentional parallel polyamory, relationships are kept separate on purpose, usually because one or more members of the web are uncomfortable with the existence of other partners and/or with polyamory in general.

I’m not one of those educators who argue that opting for intentional parallel polyamory somehow makes a person less polyamorous (whatever that means).

That said, there are a number of issues that tend to crop up in intentional parallel:

  • The logistics surrounding pickups/drop-offs/scheduling become more difficult to manage. Since you have to time things so that no one even sees each other. It can be particularly difficult if you live with one of your partners.
  • Often people who don’t want to ever meet your other partners also don’t want to hear about them. My partners are important to me and therefore I talk about them a lot naturally. I’ve found mentally censoring all mentions of them to be extremely exhausting to manage in real time.
  • Sometimes despite your best efforts, you can’t keep everyone 100% parallel. It can be a small world. One person I coached rethought her initial decision for intentional parallel when she ran into her metamour and partner at the movie theater. Another client had no emotional coping mechanisms for when she started to run into her metamour on social media in groups they were both members of.
  • It can send a weird message to your partners, that they’re being treated essentially as triggers and dirty secrets and not people that you’re proud of (even if you don’t feel that way or intend to give that impression, it can happen).
  • If you have something fun that you want to invite people you love to (let’s say you’re performing in a concert or a play or getting an award), it forces you to leave some people out. And that sucks for everyone.

Logistics, Headaches, and Time Sinks — Oh My!

I’ve always found intentional parallel to pose a logistical nightmare. And I’ve found it a big time-saver long term to work on comfort even if it’s difficult in the short term.

That said, intentional parallel is a choice that some people make. And one that can be acceptable, given the right cast of characters and situation. Doesn’t make a person more or less polyamorous (again, whatever that means).

But yes! Very good question. Circumstantial and intentional parallel polyamory are incredibly different critters that can look eerily similar in practice.

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Have a question about a post? Maybe need some advice about a relationship or situation? Write me. I love getting messages from you.

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My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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