PQ 23.7 — What will I do if I don’t get along well with a partner’s partner? What do I do if one of my partners doesn’t get along well with another of my partners?
One of the hardest part about polyamory can be that you will often find yourself in situations that you never saw people navigating. Not your parents. Not your friends’ parents. No one on TV.
You never tuned in to a sitcom to watch two girlfriends who know about one another and want to get along figure out how to do that when they don’t naturally. The Odd Metamours. Nope.
There were virtually no healthy models of non-monogamy in the news or in fictional stories. Most of the depictions of non-monogamy at all were love triangles where metamours hated one another, didn’t consent to the non-monogamy, and resented one another’s existence.
Practicing polyamory for the first time with internalized scripts like those can be mind blowing. Especially if you happen to be in a relationship system where most of the members are fairly experienced and comfortable with managing polyamorous relationships (one doesn’t lead to the other necessarily, like most things, not all who have been doing it for a while are good at it).
You may very well find yourself surrounded by people who in spite of having romantic partners in common don’t seem to resent one another’s existence at all. In fact, some folks really enjoy having metamours (I’m one of them).
When Your First Polyamorous Experience Is Utopian…Until It’s Not
Speaking from personal experience, it can seem awfully Utopian and surreal the first time you’re part of a relationship system like this. Where it’s collaborative rather than competitive. Or in gaming terms, where you’re suddenly playing co-op instead of versus.
It personally took me a couple of tries to be part of one like this. But sometimes newer folks will hit the jackpot and enter one of those relationship systems on their first go (lucky dogs!) and have the world’s most beautiful honeymoon with polyamory, without realizing that it’s not always like this.
I’ve seen more than a few newer polyamorists become evangelical when that happens. Start professing polyamory as a cure for every relationship ill in the world (I really like polyamory, but it’s certainly not a cure-all). And perhaps most damaging, they’re often the ones visiting support groups and telling other people who are encountering problems, “Oh polyamory’s really easy! We just all get along. I don’t know what you’re doing wrong.” Giggling at the munch when other people are saying sad things.
They’re the ones who feel like they have all the answers, even though they don’t even know what the questions are yet.
I’ve heard about them from time to time as various group leaders have opened up to me about their frustrations. How detrimental these new folks crying, “Oh it’s easy!” are to the rest of the membership of the groups they lead. The actors change, but the roles stay basically the same.
They’re flying high, telling everyone how easy it is. But then the honeymoon ends. And when it does, they have no idea what to do. Because they were too busy telling everyone how easy it was to learn how to deal with it if it ever got hard. Or if they ran into something even vaguely non-Utopian. Which they inevitably do. Because life’s like that regardless of your relationship orientation (poly, mono, ambi, etc.).
I’ve seen this play out quite often in cases where they’ve experienced their own cast change: A new metamour showing up in their existing web that they don’t get along with.
It’s not a classic love triangle per se because everyone involved has agreed to the polyamorous setup. But there are still tensions. And it’s deeply confusing. And it makes it easy for them to start acting like it is a love triangle — since that mental model is still easily accessible in their brain, after years of it being burned in there by the stories we all grew up reading and watching.
And before they know it, a personality conflict has bloomed into a situation where it is a classic love triangle. They not only resent their metamour but their metamour’s very existence.
They’re no longer saying, “Polyamory’s really easy! We just all get along.” And instead, they’re usually having a much quieter personal crisis.
This Sounds Like a Job for the Friend Hat!
Here’s the good news: We do have plenty of cultural models for how to share the time and attention of a person we care deeply about with a third party that… well, we aren’t crazy about.
Those models just aren’t romantic.
We share friends with others all the time. Even our best friends sometimes will have a second best friend.
So one really helpful tool I have in my polyamory toolbox is the Friend Hat. Please feel free to look at that post for more information, but briefly, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself, “What would I do if this was not a lover I was talking about, but a friend?”
In this case, this means that I look at times when a close friend of mine had another friend that I really didn’t care for in order to find guidance for how to manage a strained metamour relationship.
Looking over the past, I often wouldn’t go out of my way to spend much one-on-one time with that other friend of a friend. I could be around them in social settings, even do the occasional group hangout. If I really disliked the person deeply, I would definitely limit my time with them.
I might say to my friend, “I don’t really get along with [NAME],” so they’d understand why if I kept my distance. But I never said to my friend, “Man, you really shouldn’t hang out with [NAME]. They suck,” if it really seemed like they enjoyed one another’s company. Because it wasn’t really nice. And they clearly saw something in them I didn’t.
The only time I’d intervene in their friendship is if I saw something unsafe going on that my friend maybe didn’t notice. Or if I worried they were being taken advantage of. And more of just a “heads up about this.” Less of a “thou shalt not.”
And looking at my polyamorous life, that’s roughly how I seem to manage it, too.
I love when a metamour and I have great personal chemistry and become close friends. These days my partners tend to have great taste in people, and I do find that they often date very cool people that I naturally get along with. But it doesn’t always happen. Every now and then, there’s someone I can’t stand dating someone I love.
And that’s okay. I’ve made peace with that. You don’t have to be kumbaya with every person in your web to be polyamorous.
And the second question in today’s prompt can be addressed as well. I tend to manage personality conflicts between two lovers I have as though they’re happening between two friends I have that don’t like one another. What that looks like varies depending on what exactly is going on and why they don’t get along. But the Friend Hat gives me a head start, a social model to build off and to modify to fit the current problem space, rather than starting completely from scratch.
Here’s a past post I wrote a while back called “Help, I Don’t Like My Metamour!: What to Do When You Don’t Like Who Your Partner Dates.”
That article mentions an upcoming followup post about difficult metamour behaviors and how to deal with them. I did try to write that followup article, and a funny thing happened… it turned into a book. It’s called Dealing with Difficult Metamours, and it goes into much greater depth than any one blog post (or even a series of them) will. My editor and I are putting the final touches on it. It’ll be coming soon, and I’ll be yelling about it from every rooftop then.
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.