PQ 24.3 — Do I understand and agree to any rules that will apply to my relationship?
Here are a few questions I’ve answered in this series that cover very similar territory to today’s:
- 11.5 – Do I clearly understand both the letter and the intent of the rules that will apply to my relationship? Am I comfortable maintaining a relationship within those rules? Am I comfortable with the reasons for the rules?
- 11.6 – Do I know whether the rules that apply to my relationship are subject to change? If so, who may change them, and how? What input will I have into those changes?
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, as I progress further through the questions in More than Two (getting so close to done, there are only 25 Chapters!), there are frequently questions that are very close to ones earlier in the book. And rather than write an essay that says the same thing, when this happens, I instead tend to pivot and take a different approach to the question.
Please see those posts I just linked for more straightforward treatments. Today I’d like to talk about something else.
It’s Virtually Impossible to Understand or Agree to Unspoken, Hidden Rules
For the purposes of this question, I’m going to approach the answer to this post as though I’m dating someone as a newer “secondary” relationship partner dating someone who has a preexisting “primary” partner.
I’ve been in that role a few different times now. I’ve been in situations where I was happily a secondary partner and ones where… well, I was significantly less happy. And the times that I’ve run into problems when I’ve been a secondary partner hasn’t been because I didn’t understand and or agree to the stated rules that apply to my relationship with that person.
No, the times when I’ve run into trouble is when I’ve agreed to one set of terms and conditions as part of that relationship ahead of time, only to have another set altogether sprung on me. Not because I didn’t communicate properly with the people in question or ask appropriate followups and make sure I had clarification– but because they kept important information from me.
The worst situations I’ve walked into have been ones where people had unspoken agreements with their partner, hidden rules and expectations that they kept from me, either because they lacked the awareness that it would be important (i.e., your common variety rookie mistakes) or willfully, because they knew that my having full knowledge of those other limitations would greatly reduce the chance that I would agree to that relationship.
Further, the way that this question is worded — “any rules that will apply to my relationship” (emphasis mine) — leaves the door wide open to future unwanted amendments. New rules that can appear out of nowhere. And the dreaded takebacksies.
Anyway, not to be a downer, but I’ve found that there are people out there who will make it virtually impossible to understand and agree to any rules that will apply to your relationship. And having been in a situation like that, I can tell you that OMG IT’S AWFUL. The worst kind of sign. Hurtful. Just terrible.
And sadly, those situations are not always identifiable at a distance. Hierarchy gets a bad rap in polyamorous circles (especially among those that don’t grasp the difference between prescriptive and descriptive hierarchy), but let me tell you, it’s not always the hierarchical folks that you have to worry about. I’ve met some folks who label themselves completely non-hierarchical, egalitarian polyamorists, even relationship anarchists who talk the talk but when push comes to shove legitimately have secret unspoken vetoes and prescriptive hierarchies.
The good news is that while there are rotten apples out there, not everyone is like this. But still, it’s something to keep in mind — that people are not always what they seem, no matter how sophisticated-sounding the titles are that they’ve etched onto their Polyamory Card.
One tactic I’ve taken to help me guard against this is to move slowly in new relationships and take my time getting to know people before dating them. I’m nearly always friends with the people I date first — because I’ve found that a lot of people put up façades with new people they date that they just don’t when it comes to interactions with their friends.