It always makes me smile, every time it happens. When I find out from my girlfriend that my metamour has been sitting in the car waiting for our date to end so that he can come inside without interrupting us in the middle of whatever it is we’re doing. He’s been gone all night himself usually, on a date with one of his other partners.
Typically, my girlfriend starts when she realizes there’s a text from him that she hasn’t seen because she hasn’t looked at her phone for a while.
I laugh. “Awww, he can come inside,” I say when she tells me he’s sitting in the car. “Poor thing.”
And it doesn’t matter if it’s been two minutes — or, in one case, an hour and a half — when my metamour comes into their apartment, he’s never bitter or resentful for having to wait. Instead, he’s usually smiling. Gives me a hug. Chats with me.
My metamour’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. A great friend to me. Now, there’s nothing there romantically or sexually on my side of things. I’m generally more attracted to women, and it’s very rare that I’m attracted to men; I tried to force it one time with a close male friend, and it went terribly so now I just shrug and say, “Guess my bisexual brain leans gay. What are you gonna do?”
But my metamour is a fantastic person. And I love that he’s in my life. And there for my girlfriend when she needs him. Because she deserves to have good people in her life.
The two of them have a number of other social commitments. They both work full time. Her career is high pressure, specialized. She does a lot of highly technical work internationally. When he’s not working, he’s often volunteering on the board of a non-profit. My metamour has another two partners that he sees. In addition to me and him, my girlfriend also has a play partner who lives out of state.
There’s, frankly, a lot that needs to be considered scheduling-wise. But they’re both extremely understanding when I have a conflict. If I need to see her on a different night than normal, it’s no big deal. If they want to pack up and go on a road trip that interferes with my usual date night with her, I say, “Yessss, go do it. I’ll see you when you get back, and you can tell me stories.”
My husband is similarly gracious. When I’m frowning due to some conflict on the schedule, he will immediately offer, “Don’t worry about me. If you need to switch nights to see her, do it.” He has a a lot going on, too, with a girlfriend who lives long distance and some connections that would get a monogamous man in trouble but are hard to define. And his work schedule is often nightmarish (he’s literally worked from 8 in the morning until midnight multiple times in the last year).
But he’s incredibly understanding and giving when I need flexibility.
I do similar. If I need to make a compromise to make something work for these people that I love, I’ll do it. “No worries,” I tell my girlfriend when she has to cancel because of hellish work troubles out of her control. “My writing life is a mess. I could use more keyboard time.”
When my husband has to work all day, I try to take care of things to make the day easier for him. I make him food and take care of everything around the house. And I never, ever complain. Because I love him, and I understand how difficult his job gets from time to time. And I know that he wants to spend time with me. This is just adulting. Work is survival.
And I know that because he’s gracious, he’ll make it up to me. I won’t even have to say anything. He just does it. Like the time he spent a month in South Africa for work. His coworkers were amazed that I was “okay with it.” Especially since it meant he’d be in a different time zone on our anniversary. But anniversaries, birthdays, holidays… while they’re good reminders to take a break and celebrate, at the end of the day, they’re just arbitrary dates. We’re in a relationship 365 days a year, not just on any particular day. And true to form, he did make it up to me. We celebrated our anniversary once, before he left the country — by going to see a play. And then we celebrated again, when he returned by going on a cruise to Alaska (the travel pay for a month in South Africa was no joke, and neither were the frequent flyer miles).
I could see him doing similar if the large conflict were due not to work but to another relationship. It’s a give and a take. For all of us, really.
A Full Half of the Problems in Advice Letters I Receive Stem from a Lack of Graciousness
In some polyamorous relationship systems, it’s very easy for things to become zero sum. A zero sum game, simply stated, is one where if one person wins, another loses.
I’ve been in relationship systems like that, where there were one or more people obsessed with how much other people were getting. Out of fear of being forgotten or left behind, they tried to make sure they got as much as possible. They were never or rarely ever willing to compromise.
And they were not gracious about the times when things didn’t go exactly the way they wanted them to. To put it lightly. And when that happened, someone else would end up an overstressed hinge stuck between the competing interests of two or more people, strains which frankly threatened the whole relationship system.
Something like half of the letters I get seeking advice are ones that describe a stressful situation that has resulted from a lack of graciousness. Sometimes it’s the letter writer who needs to be more gracious. Sometimes it’s one of their partners, sometimes a metamour. And sometimes, it truly seems that everyone could stand to be a little more gracious. To be a little more understanding of the times when things don’t exactly go their way, at least not in the short term.
Modeling Graciousness Yourself and Rewarding the Graciousness of Others
So if a lack of graciousness is the problem, then what do you do about it? It’s a tricky thing: You can’t force other people to be gracious. At the end of the day, you can influence people to a certain extent, but you’re really the one thing you can truly control (well, hopefully you can; people do differ in level of self-control, although it’s a skill that can be worked on). You can only try to be as gracious as you can.
You can’t wave a magic wand and make other people in your relationship system be more gracious.
However, I found a funny thing happened when I started focusing on consciously being more gracious when it came to my partners’ other relationships and obligations (e.g., work, childcare, etc.). New people came into my life who were more gracious, over time crowding out and supplanting some of the less gracious actors (since I grew tired of lopsidedness and stress). And others who were already in my life followed the example: When I began to model graciousness, they began to do it as well. To follow suit. I had to extend that patience and understanding first, but once I did it, they were so appreciative that they reciprocated. And if and when someone did reciprocate, I rewarded the hell out of that graciousness.
People who lacked natural graciousness were incensed by others being rewarded for theirs (because they tended to view benefits as zero sum, and someone else was getting something they wanted). But I held my ground. I continued to be gracious and to reward it in others. And I began to never reward ungracious or selfish behavior that I’d rather not see again. It was okay to have wants and needs — but there were mature and productive ways to go about stating those. And there were also mature and productive ways to cope when things didn’t quite go the way you’d hoped.
Interaction by interaction, I rewarded gracious behavior and didn’t reward ungracious behavior. And it changed everything.
At the end of the day, a large section of the cast of characters in my love life had changed, and the remaining cast had changed their behaviors.
Was all of this easy? No, there were plenty of stressful times on the way to figuring this out. Acting in a more gracious way when I didn’t get what I wanted meant I had work on myself a lot. I had to become more emotionally secure and learn to deal with any jealousy I felt in a productive way.
And it wasn’t always easy to keep from caving to people who were behaving ungraciously. I had to learn the emotional equivalent of closing my mouth and sitting on my hands. And just letting them do their thing, thrashing, kicking up a fuss.
So I can’t tell you that this particular life hack is easy.
But I can tell you — it was worth it. Sooooo worth it. I have the best polyamorous life now. It’s night and day compared to what I dealt with before.
This hack could have been ten times harder, and it still would have been worth it.
You May Have This Dance
“You should have seen it,” my metamour tells me while our mutual partner is in the bathroom. “She was so adorable when she told the waitress, ‘I’m getting this for my girlfriend,‘” he beams, remembering how our shared partner looked. I’m sure it was super cute, I can picture her saying it. And his impersonation of her is spot-on, which amuses me. He has her cadence down pat. After a pause, he adds, “Oh! And when the bill came, the waitress brought us separate checks.”
We laugh at this — how an assumption of monogamy inadvertently made their server think he was her friend and not her husband. “It’s kind of interesting how that is,” I say. “You were in Iowa, and they were totally cool with the idea that she was gay and going out to dinner with her male friend. That never would have happened when I was a kid. Progress.”
My metamour is super into movies, so I strike up a conversation about an anime I’ve seen recently (my husband likes them, and at first I was just trying to learn more about them because I like him, but I got hooked on the epic story lines, and now I’m fairly into it, though haven’t seen nearly as many animes as either of them).
My girlfriend emerges. “Alright,” he says, “Have a good time!” He hugs us both goodbye and goes off to…somewhere? I don’t exactly know. Could be a date. Could be a board meeting.
And at that moment, I think of all of us being engaged in a ballroom dance where there’s no tension when someone else wants to cut in. Most of the time, no one even has to ask. Instead, there’s a knowing look. A bow. A fearlessness at the time it comes for a quick change of partners.
Because everyone trusts that we’ll get our turn. That there will be plenty of time for all of us to dance.