There’s a saying in polyamorous circles that has been around for a very long time — longer than I’ve been in them, that’s for sure.
It’s “relationship broken, add more people.” It’s a recipe for disaster, something that’s said with a laugh about a certain kind of couple that might find themselves either exploring polyamory or opening up some other way (swinging, hallpass, don’t ask/don’t tell, etc.)
The saying is around for a reason. It’s an uncomfortable reality that a lot of people find consensual non-monogamy that way. Not everyone of course.
But there are a lot of people who show up with a broken relationship, hoping that seeing more people will fix it.
Most of the time this doesn’t go well — at least not for the original relationship that was broken. But sometimes this is a different kind of happy ending — one that the couple never envisioned. I wrote about this in a previous piece, but a friend of mine once said, “Polyamory has a way of demonstrating who you should really be with. And it’s not always who you think you should be with going in.”
Sometimes people open up and end up breaking up — but finding people they’re more compatible with, sometimes just one (with someone who switches partners and becomes and stays monogamous, either just functionally while polyamorous or ambiamorous in spirit, or completely monogamous) and sometimes with more than one (for those who find entire polycules).
Sometimes the big win is realizing that one or both of you benefit from being polyamorous — even if the relationship that got you there isn’t working, open or closed.
I know. It’s uncomfy. It’s the truth but not one that’s easy to explain and undermines a lot of the advocacy aims, that things are messy sometimes.
But it doesn’t grind my gears the way that the corollary does when taken the other way around. I will explain.
I Hate How People Assume “If Adding More People, Relationship Is Broken”
The reverse corollary to “relationship broken, add more people” is “if adding more people, relationship is broken.”
And look, if you’ve been polyamorous and told pretty much anyone who isn’t polyamorous, I’m sure you’re familiar with this reaction.
If you open up a relationship that’s previously been monogamous/closed, a lot of people’s instinctive response is to worry. To assume something is wrong with it.
I hate this. It never gets less annoying.
I understand why people default to that position. Not only is monogamy presented as the default relationship structure (and lots of folks erroneously believe it’s the only possible healthy one), but frankly, as discussed above, there are people who open up broken relationships as a Hail Mary pass to salvage them.
That reflex is based on something that actually happens.
So even if it doesn’t apply to you, lots of folks will default to assuming it does.
Anyway, definitely a pet peeve of mine. Activists have been working on this misconception for decades. Not going away overnight. And I don’t have the magic answer. But I think about it a lot.