Friday, March 20, 2009

Poly catch-22


So, you've "self identified" as being polyamorous, you're ready to start wading into the waters of multiple relationships with all the richness and complexities contained therein. You approach a poly person that is attractive to you, and get shot down. Why? You lack experience! Yes, it's fairly common to find that experienced poly-folk aren't interested in dating newbies, precisely because they lack the experience base to draw from, haven't made all the basic mistakes yet, and thus are seen as drama magnets for those who are the first to blaze that trail.

Enter one of the basic catch-22's of polydom: How do you get experience _being_ poly when other poly people won't date you because you lack experience? Well, of course there is the option to "convert" a previously monogamous person, to enlighten them to the joys of polyness and travel the path simultaneously. This generally leads to all sorts of entertaining scenarios where the blind are leading the blind, but it's a time-honored way to get the experience you are seeking! Many couples who open their relationships do things this way, learning together and figuring out what boundaries and communication within poly relationships look like. Of course, this also leads to dissolution of the relationship a not-insignificant portion of the time. Singles often take that route as well, bringing a potential partner on board the poly love boat and hoping that they aren't on the Titanic.

It'd be awfully nice if the learning curve wasn't quite so steep, or at least if there were some hiking boots to be had... But wait, there are! Books, online forums, discussion groups, communications classes, therapists and counselors, poly friends and mentors, oh my! Even if they aren't willing to date you for a while, many experienced poly folk are happy to lend you their hard-learned lessons, especially if they can see you are implementing and trying the things out that they share with you. They'll hold your hand and toss you the tissue box when it's needed. We've all been there. We'd just like to not revisit that same space again personally.

For those that have been living poly for a while, we tend to like community, a healthy and strong community, so it's to our advantage to feed the newbies (someone I know likes the term "polywogs") so that they grow into fantastic potential dating partners and friends that add tensile strength to our networks. A newer person who is eager to learn, asking questions and applying new-found skills, *even on their own*, shows that they have great potential, perhaps even to the point of being (wait for it!) DATE-WORTHY right now!

S was totally inexperienced in poly when we started dating, but he dove in and immersed himself as fully as he possibly could. He read, he talked, he questioned, he listened when we shared things we had learned, he applied and kept refining until it fit well. He was very motivated on personal, intellectual, and emotional levels to figure this out and do it well. It helped that there was a pre-existing friendship to draw off of. We shared as much support as possible, but he still had to do a lot of work on his own. Despite the occasional bobble, we've all done very well so far. There was a risk (a pretty big one that I was deeply afraid of) that he would freak and try to unsee and unlearn what he'd been exposed to. Fortunately, this didn't materialize, and I have a great functional poly partner now!

Commit to the process of learning what _your_ version of poly looks like. Even if there are some spectacular incidents that are painful in the extreme, learn from them and move forward. Polyamory is not a "success only" journey, but you can still choose to focus and build on the successes, and not allow the failures to define your path forward. This is how you get the experience that brings you to the place where you are poly in fact, and not just on paper. It's also how you get good dates! ;)
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