The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - You Got Your Monogamy In My Poly, Or: My Awful Corrosion
November 6th, 2012
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You Got Your Monogamy In My Poly, Or: My Awful Corrosion

One of the reasons monogamy is so damned pervasive is that you can win at monogamy.  Every relationship in a monogamous setting has the goal baked right in: Date. Get engaged.  Move in together. Marry. Don’t cheat. Die.

…aaaaand you’ve won at monogamy!  Collect your prize from the funeral director in the form of happy signs from your mourners.  They’ll all praise your legendary love.  Fifty years together and they were still holding hands on their deathbed?  My God, how inspiring.

Me being stupid, I ported that ideology straight into my poly, a subtle corrosion I didn’t notice until about six months ago.

Polyamory’s got a lot of overlap with monogamy, because like Soylent Green, both are made of people.  But once you remove that core assumption that “exclusive sex is what defines us,” then everything else gets kicked strangely, bizarrely, up for play.  How are you supposed to have children?  Can you hold hands with your lover in public?  How does the insurance work?

After a while in polyamory, you start to feel exactly how many aspects in a relationship are actually not fundaments, but rather questions that we assume don’t need to be negotiated. And those unquestioned assumptions are like poisons, leaking into the ground water – a subtle corrosion that can harm you in small ways over time.

My corrosion was approaching long-term poly relationships as though they were monogamous.

Here’s the secret truth of poly: it allows you to successfully date people you could never marry.  You see the pressures of the Great Monogamous Victory crushing otherwise-happy relationships: I think we all know a couple who got along just fine as long as they had separate apartments and just had fun going to movies , but the moment they moved in together they devoured each other.  But that monogamy train, man, it keeps on moving; if you’ve been dating casually for a while, well, eventually you gotta Get Serious.

Getting Serious involves stepping right in the lion cage with their worst faults.  Does she have a temper?  Well, as her boyfriend, you’re gonna be called on to calm her down when she starts getting angry, or at least to stand support as she breathes vitriol upon whatever’s pissing her off.  Is he lazy?  Well, you’re the one who’s going to be trying to pay the bills while his unemployed ass spends the weekend in his underwear playing Halo 4.

Getting Serious means you become, to a large extent, your lover’s primary therapist, because you’re with them 24/7 and you have to learn to deal with all of their moods. You might find his jealousy exasperating, but you can’t really walk away – as the primary, your responsibility to either defuse, reassure, or route around it.  And I know, I know, it doesn’t necessarily have to work like that – but for most of functioning monogamy, if you’re relying on someone else to satisfy your emotional needs, and that someone is someone you can be sexually attracted to, then Bad Things are gonna creep in around the edges.

But with poly, if you hate the way your lover spends her weekends doing nothing but playing Borderlands 2, you can designate that as Not Your Problem.  That laziness does not mean she is a bad person; it means there are certain circumstances under which you shouldn’t be hanging out.  You don’t have to merge your lives.  You can go on dates when your slothful partner feels like rousting themselves, and leave them to their own devices the rest of the time.

In other words, you can maintain light sexual relationships for as long as you’re comfortable with them.  You don’t have to take it to the next level.  There is no next level.  There’s only what you want to have – and if that involves wanting to deal with her temper, then you can do that, too.

Now.  The problem I made was approaching every poly relationship as if they were all going to reach Gini’s level.

My wife is my primary partner, but that term is so weaksauce when it comes to what Gini and I have.  We fit together in every way that really matters, having spent thirteen years in the Pit Of Monogamy wrestling with each other’s issues… and we’ve been victorious because, over time, we’ve come to implicitly trust in each other’s good will.  Which is not to say that Gini doesn’t knife me in the heart occasionally, but when she does I know that there’s no malice in it.  She’s spent so much time trying to be kind and courteous and respectful of me that any bruises I get must, logically, be by accident.

Gini is the great love of my life.

Every woman I date, then, must therefore be on the path to become a similarly great love.

And the problem is that when you uncork that kind of sweeping romance at someone, it’s hard to say no; I’m passionate and poetic, so when I’d mutter yes, we’re meant to be together in their ears, they’d reply yes, this is special, it’s so amazing, isn’t it? And we’d start dating, and subconsciously what I’d be trying to do was groom them to be as intense and critical in my life as Gini is.  Because hey, Gini was the best thing in my life, and therefore all paths must lead to something very like Gini.

But that’s the Monogamous Victory speaking.  I’d swapped out “Get married, die” for “Have someone else as wonderful for me as Gini is,” but the victory condition was there all the same. And as such, I had to Get Serious with every woman I dated, as soon as possible, or I was losing.

Which led to tons of dysfunction.  When we had a disagreement, it was critical not just to resolve the disagreement, but to approach this as a primary relationship and to ask all the followup questions that sprung from that: why did you think that poorly of me?  What assumptions were we both making that led to this?  Do you understand how exactly that hurt, and why, and grasp every reason why you must never do that again?

I believe in open communication.  But there are also times when too much communication can smother a relationship.  And all the while, I was having these Great Loves that I thought were the Next Big Thing, each of which evaporated in less than a year.  And my poor, poor partners had to deal with a string of ridiculous NRE, followed by ridiculously strained conversations as I tried to turn what was a pretty good LDR into ZOMG THIS MUST BE CRITICAL TO OUR LIVES TOGETHER FOREVER.

Which is ridiculous.  Gini is the best thing that ever happened to me, a lucky lightning strike, and cultivating every relationship as though eternal beauty was the goal led to, ironically, premature collapse.  If I’d just been able to go, “Hey, that’s pretty cool, can we have a good time when we’re together?” I’d probably still be dating half of them. As it was, I was inadvertently slighting Gini (as if every relationship could become what we had made!) and applying a constant, hideous pressure to relationships that didn’t need them.

They crumbled.  As they must.

But that’s the thing about poly: you have so many opinions that you’ve inhaled from monogamy, unwittingly taking it into your system, that you don’t realize how it’s affecting your life.  For me, I carried this subliminal concern that every relationship had to go somewhere.  But they don’t.  Sometimes, they can just be what they are, hanging about.  Stasis is not necessarily a bad thing, in polyamory.

Relationships are not Pokemon, man.  They don’t need to evolve.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/260791.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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(56 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

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From:funwithrage
Date:November 6th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
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Yes! Oh my God, yes. Er. Sorry, but: seriously, yeah.

Similarly,I don't have or want a primary partner--I like a lot of FWBs, an apartment to myself, and only one set of crazy relatives to avoid at the holidays--and that's fine, but wow was it ever a surprise and a relief to figure that out.

It's weird, also. Even if you know you don't want the default model, there are so many things about not wanting that which kind of surprise you.
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From:earthdotprime
Date:November 8th, 2012 09:50 am (UTC)

Threadjack

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Er. Not to burden you with my just-turning-30 crisis or anything, or to threadjack, but could I ask you to talk a little more about that Even if you know you don't want the default model, there are so many things about not wanting that which kind of surprise you. thing?

I'm just starting to maybe consider that the whole PRIMARY PARTNER, MONOGAMY TIL YOU DIE thing might not be something I actually want (what I actually want might be closer to what you seem to have figured out works best for you), and... yeah. It's huge and scary and I'm kind've lacking resources in the "exploring these thought-paths" department.

(Of course, not wanting to shoulder the crisis-burden of an internet stranger is also totally cool.)
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From:aiela
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
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I do think poly relationships can grow and evolve, but it's important to realize that they're moving along a totally different path.

(Of course, all of this implies that one follows hierarchal poly, which I know some people don't. I happen to, and obviously only date people who are okay with the fact that my husband and my kid are going to come before anyone else in my life, ever.)
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From:theferrett
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
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I think that's the important bit, really. Evolution isn't always quote-unquote "up."
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From:ravenblack
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC)
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Relationships are not Pokemon, man. They don’t need to evolve.

Which is also true of monogamy if staying in monogamous dating-zone is your thing. Which is to say, relationships are not Pokemon, you don't gotta catch 'em all.
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From:chessdev
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
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So please forgive my ignorance, but does this mean essentially the poly relationships
are "Friends with Benefits"?

I'm trying to understand the difference between your description here and 'Benefits'.
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From:theferrett
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
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Not necessarily, but they can be. There's a whole continuum between "dating but not sexing" and "'til death do we part," and none of them are better or worse than the other.

You can have a very loving couple who are committed, but live separately and have no intent upon marriage. There's a ton of variances that work.
(Suspicious comment)
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From:sezjasaneh
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
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Man, this speaks SO MUCH to me because it is EXACTLY what I am going through now. My partner of 5 years and I finally made the push to move in with each other, and its been utterly disastrous. After 7 months of trying, I finally had to call it quits. We were both so heartbroken because damnit, we love each other very very much - but there are some core differences that make living with each other impossible. We fought every day! Then, as I'm in the process of moving out, about a month or two ago we realised...wait a sec, we're poly. We dont have to break up. Our relationship just needs to 'de-evolve' back to where things were before we moved in. I'm still free to pursue that main partner who I can have kids etc with, but still keep my Love in my life.

Its been difficult trying to explain it to people, but so very very wonderful to realise I can still keep this person in my life, albeit in a different way.
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From:theferrett
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
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Yup. It's a fine line.
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From:cinema_babe
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
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Um, I think I agree, sorta, I'm not sure.

I suspect this is one of those things that's might be all over the map for people who self identify as polyamorous (or maybe even monogamous in some cases for that matter).

I guess I'm not sure how a relationship could go nowhere or maybe I don't understand what you mean by that phrase.

I never realized that anyone would ever get involved with someone they couldn't potentially have a serious relationship with because, well, feelings change and circumstances change. A relationship might never change but then again it might.

For example, several years ago I began seeing a man who it turns out had a temper. Not abusive, but he would flare up occasionally and then it would be over. I don't handle expressive anger like that relationship. Even though he wasn't "my problem" I bailed because unless it was a "come to my house to fuck and then get the hell out" type of relationship, I would have to take all of him, cute smile, ooky temper and all.

I've got to think about this. I realize this is how it works for you but I'm still trying wrap my head around this idea because if you see it this way, I'm sure that means that some other people see it that way as well.....which means I"ll have yet another question to ask potential partners.

**deep sigh** j/k
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From:aiela
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:31 pm (UTC)
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For me, there's a difference between "serious relationship" and "moving in with and marrying." I can recognize that a poly relationship is good for me, brings joy to my life, brings interesting viewpoints and good conversations and love and contentedness - and also recognize that if I lived with/married/whatever that partner, we'd kill each other.

Whereas if I were monogamous and looking for living together/marriage, I'd probably end up ending that relationship once I made that discovery. In poly, I can say "She has annoying habits A, B, and C, but they're not my problem because I don't have to live with her.

(Annoying habits that DO come into play during a poly relationship, well, those have to be dealt with. But I can definitely date someone I'd never live with.)
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From:terriaminute
Date:November 6th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
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Brilliant. Tweeted. It amazes me how long this takes to gel! Monogamous mindset is STICKY.
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From:stormgren
Date:November 6th, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC)
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This is very timely for me. I've had to spend a lot of time lately thinking about what I want to get out of additional relationships. Once again, you've managed to elucidate what I hadn't been able to put words to yet.

Figuring out fairly early on that I was aiming for the mono model has given me a clearer mind of where I'd ideally like to be.
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From:stormgren
Date:November 6th, 2012 04:49 pm (UTC)
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Make that "aiming for the mono model and figuring out that wasn't going to work"
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From:snippy
Date:November 6th, 2012 05:46 pm (UTC)
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I'm always amazed when people think poly is only "eventually we'll all live together as one big happy family," because almost nobody I know that has polyamorous relationships does it that way. Most of the people I know who do poly, do it as a relationship web: Andrea is married to John and has other partners William and Bolly; she sees William once a week (he lives nearby) and Bolly three times a year (zie lives on another continent). John only has one outside partner, Ira, and sees him twice a month. Ira has other partners. William has another partner, Julie, who he lives with. Bolly has two partners in zir home country and lives with both of them (they are married to each other, not Bolly); Bolly's partners each also have other partners they don't live with.

I know one triad (a woman and two men) who live together and have been together upwards of 25 years, but have no relationships outside that one (this is what I think of as polyfidelitous).

I am happily married and have one long-distance partner I see 3 or 4 times a year, with frequent email and IM chats in between; my long distance partner has a primary that he lives with and two other partners that are local to him and he sees each of them about every two weeks. His primary has other partners. One of his other partners lives with a spouse, the other one lives alone and I don't know her well enough yet to know whether she has other partners.
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From:channonyarrow
Date:November 6th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
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*giggles* My current partner's wife is bi (I'm female and also bi) and my partner and I joked a bit (never unkindly) that what he really wanted was for his wife and I to develop a relationship just so no one had to commute. But it would never, ever work; she and I would kill each other within minutes. We're far too different as personality types.

But yes, that's a very silly way of saying I agree with your first sentence: I've heard that assumption a lot, and I've never seen it work or be desired seriously. What I can't figure out is why people would assume that just because I love my partner doesn't mean his wife is a person I could fall for. Do my straight friends assume they're going to adore their partner's BFF?
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From:particle_man6
Date:November 6th, 2012 09:27 pm (UTC)
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I really enjoy the monogamous marriage I am in, but want to avoid the "die" part. Any advice?
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From:pete23
Date:November 6th, 2012 09:51 pm (UTC)
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Cryogenics. Not that we'll unfreeze you, but you'll die believing you won't. IYSWIM. Ahem. I'll get my coat.
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From:shalimar_98
Date:November 6th, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
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I've had thoughts in my head of how I was going to deal with the inevitable questions over the holidays. This post may be the kick in the pants to get my almost solid thoughts into words. Thank you.
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From:theferrett
Date:November 7th, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
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Good luck.
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From:asakiyume
Date:November 7th, 2012 07:24 am (UTC)
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Relationships don't need to evolve, but they *can* evolve, I think. Not in the Pokemon sense of getting bigger and developing more powers/importance, but just--changing.

It seems natural to me that if there's one relationship that's hugely satisfying, you might unconsciously measure other relationships against it and expect that as the relationships grew stronger-better (whatever those things mean), they'd tend toward the pattern of the very satisfying relationship. It takes reflection to realize that other relationships are going to be different (since the people involved are different--at least, one party is!) and ought to be valued for their own good points, and not for the degree to which they resemble the super-satisfying relationship.
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From:theferrett
Date:November 7th, 2012 04:36 pm (UTC)
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They can. But it's like sex. You can have a perfectly great fuck without commitment or even necessarily friendship. It's often better if you do, and there's nothing wrong with wanting more, but you have to realize that what you're looking for is a personal preference, not a universal.
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From:chaos5023
Date:November 7th, 2012 04:27 pm (UTC)
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The communication thing is especially tragicomic. People hear that good communication is important to relationships, so they become data hoses. But it turns out that effective communication isn't a matter of making every internal blip external, it's about crafting a message for a particular audience that best achieves your goals.
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From:theferrett
Date:November 7th, 2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
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Yup. The trick is not saying every last thing that concerns you, but applying a useful filter to see whether it's worth bringing up.

Not every battle is worth fighting. I struggle with that.
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From:earthdotprime
Date:November 8th, 2012 10:00 am (UTC)
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Both this post, and the comments, are fantastic. I've been mulling over why my monogamous relationships keep ending up feeling like burdens... and, yeah, it might be because I've been trying to fit them into a mold I didn't even realize I had (and I don't think I even want.) So, yes. Thank you. Head-things, I'm thinking them.
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From:whyelaborate
Date:November 19th, 2012 12:12 am (UTC)
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Love this too!
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