Poly Pitfalls: Relationship Scope Creep

someone in a white suit spray foaming into insulation
Image by dunktanktechnician / CC BY

You posted a meme a few weeks back,” he says. “One that made me laugh aloud and then hurt. Because it was so true.”

“I know that feeling,” I say. “Which one was it, just out of curiosity?”

“It had a picture of someone hiding from a bunch of police officers, and it said ‘me hiding from all the relationships I flirted myself into.'”

I laugh. “I know the one.”

He tells me his life has been a bit of a mess lately. Especially his love life. He was already in two serious relationships, and he didn’t have a ton of time to spare between those and his other responsibilities.

But someone new and interesting had sidled up to him and started flirting. Things got heated, and the flirtation turned into a sexy fling.

Even then, it hadn’t seemed so bad. It all seemed manageable. When it was looking like a bit of no strings attached fun — what they’d both agreed it would be starting out. And it wasn’t like he was this new playmate’s only other partner; she was polyamorous and busy, too, seeing two other guys.

But the other lady had caught feels and was now needing more from him. Wanting time he, frankly, didn’t have. But he felt compelled to agree to it, despite not having the resources, not wanting to feel like he’d taken advantage of her.

He tells me he’s now in a difficult position. Where he’s going to have to disappoint someone, maybe even multiple someones, whether it’s his former partners or the new one — or risk going crazy in the process, overburdened by other responsibilities (as he works full time and is a father of three).

“I can’t believe I’m in this position,” he says. “Have you run into anything like this before, Page?”

“Sure have,” I say. “What you’re describing is basically relationship scope creep.”

Relationship Scope Creep

As I discussed in a previous article, scope creep is a phenomenon that occurs when a project continually grows to include more and more work than initially intended. Something that should have been easy to accomplish becomes a monumental undertaking.

Applying that same concept to relationships, a very low-entanglement, low-time relationship — for example, a fling — can similarly find its scope creeping. And something that should have been easy to manage and balance in a very full life can come to monopolize more resources than it was ever intended to.

As I mentioned in an earlier installment of Poly Pitfalls, it’s very common for people (especially those new to polyamory) to confuse saturation with oversaturation. Or to put it another way, many people don’t realize they’re at their dating capacity until they’re over it. Until they’re simply seeing too many people.

There are many reasons why this can happen, but relationship scope creep is a frequent culprit.

When this happens, there really isn’t a solution that doesn’t disappoint someone. If you try to stay stretched beyond your capacity and give everyone else what they want, you’ll end up disappointing yourself.

And of course, if you end certain relationships or deescalate them in an attempt to get back to a reasonable level of saturation, you disappoint any affected individuals.

I have personal experience with this problem. When I discovered I was oversaturated, it was a nightmare.

No, it wasn’t easy to sort out. But I figured it out. And I learned a valuable lesson from the experience: It’s easy to overcommit and regret it.

Moving forward, I strove to not let this happen to me again.

It’s why I’ve tended to underdate for so long. And why I called myself polysaturated recently, while I’m busy but still happy.

Full — but not overfull or regretting my choices.

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This post is part of the Poly Pitfalls series, in which I discuss challenges that are extremely common for polyamorous people (especially new ones). For the entire series, please see this link.

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1 Comment

  1. This has happened to us recently, our paramour became over committed and unfortunately we lost out. No hard feelings just a hard time to reduce our feeling and hopefully remain good friends

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