Sunday, August 26, 2012

Polyamory: The Scheduling Conundrum

If you're at all familiar with polyamory circles you already know the answer to this question. Well, at least you think you know the answer to this question. The answer is Google Calendar. That's what everyone will tell you. And it's a good answer, yet not necessarily a solution.

There's a couple of ways that I've seen this product used in the context of poly:

1. FIFS (First Come, First Served). 

Consider a female in a polyamorous relationship who shares her calendar with her partners and sets up read/write access to her own Google Calendar. The first one to book her time wins! She simply observes the calendar and shows up where and when she's supposed to.

Under this model power shifts entirely to the participating partners. She's not in control of her time. Her time is for everyone to see. Yeah, sure, I suppose a guy could do this, too, but that's clearly not as interesting. I'm sorry, where were we?

2. Proxy Calendar. 

Right, okay, so imagine setting up a middle-ground calendar used for event suggestions. Multiple partners have read/write access. They place suggestions on the proxy calendars. They're suggestions, ideas, possibilities. Items that become adopted and concrete get adopted into their individual calendars.

This is a collaborative model. Power is distributed between the partners. Each partner has control over their own schedule and their partners are blind to each other's actual commitments. They can negotiate engagements between them.

3. Shared Calendars. 

No mess, no fuss. You see what I see, I see what you see, we submit things to do together. Events are immediately inserted into the target calendar.

And this is a trusting model. You trust me and I trust you. Power is lent to each partner with the ability to schedule each other as they please. Drawbacks: limited control over your own schedule; little or no negotiation; and if there's a third player, seems like it'd ultimate have to revert to a FIFS. Pity.

4. Calendar Invitations.

Calendars aren't shared to partners and invites are sent from one partner to another. Invites that are accepted are inserted into the partner's calendar.

Power is retained. This model provides the greatest degree of control - power stays with the individual; there's no visibility over each other's calendar; each party decides what events to accept or deny.

5. Hybrid.

Okay, sure - you could do one or all of these things at once. Also, Google has a great new feature for scheduling blocks of time for availability - it's a Lab Feature called Appointment Slots.

Communication, Participation, and Negotiation

Still, what if somebody in your circle isn't using Google Calendar at all. Good heavens, what if they habitually rely upon paper and pen?

What if you need to optimize your appointments: avoid appearing at two places at once; incurring an inconvenient drive across town between appointments; you wish to avoid being monopolized by a single partner? What if you have a school play for your kid?

And here's why Google Calendar's the right answer but a poor solution.

Google Calendar isn't a magic pill. We're not programs and we don't exist in a vacuum of other commitments and partners. Google Calendar is an exceptionally efficient tool that doesn't anticipate our inherent inefficiency as sloppy humans. Life happens.

Inevitably, it'll take artful negotiation to get what you want. At some point, you're going to have to talk it through.

How We Do It

1. Polyfulcrum (PF) is my primary partner. She and I sit down together in the same space, same time. Usually it's once every two or three weeks.

2. We pull up our Google Calendars. We use a Shared Calendar model between us.

3. I examine both of our calendars for a hole. I book a tentative placeholder for doing something with her, or, with one of my partners. She does the same.

4. I ask PF, "So, say: Monday August 27, 4:00pm to 11:45pm, this person ... what do you think?"

5. PF checks her schedule. She gives me a thumbs-up or thumbs down.  I'll create an event labeled "Tentative" in my calendar.

6. PF does the same with me. Thumbs up or thumbs down.

7. One thing to note here is that I'm booking for all three of them. I book time with her as much as I book time with my two other partners.

8. Finally, we may look for synergy and conflicts. What could we combine, swap around, find something else more suitable. We might even try to set up tentative time with everyone - a community gathering. We verify kid and work commitments, or promises made to other partners; trip, travel, or sleeping over arrangements that'd work better for all involved. This is the artful negotiation piece I was mentioning.

Okay, a concrete slab of pre-negotiated availability in-hand, we then start the process of booking other partners.

1. One of my partners shared her calendar to me and I can verify her availability Johny-on-the-spot.

2. I open up the tentative calendar event and send her an invitation. If accepted, I change the language and strike "tentative" out of the event. If rejected, I remove the event and start over with PF.

3. My other partner doesn't use Google Calendar. Yup, bummer drag. Scheduling takes texting, emails, , phone calls, or conversation. Again, accepted events are no longer tentative and rejected events create new opportunities to start over with PF.

4. If necessary, counter offers are made and "tentative" calendar events are created again. This time, I get to go back to PF and verify if that'll work.

A couple of observations with this model that you may disagree with:

1. It's Trickle-Down Economics. Primaries set the agenda and secondaries take what's available. Hey, nobody promised a democracy. PF and I have such a level of entwinement that it takes a lot of advanced thinking on commitments. If we let the proverbial balls fall where they may, we'd create a chaotic muddle of our lives and - consequentially - the lives of our partners.

2. Secondaries ... Aren't There. Right. I think in a perfect world we'd all be in the same place, same time, doing this thing all at once, but that's pretty tough too coordinate.

3. It's Slow. Yeah, it takes time. It does offer a reasonable practice that sets up expectations. We avoid mistakes this way.

And a side-note or two on scheduling.

1. PF likes to have extra recuperating time after sleepovers and other events. I'll book her an extra hour after events to give her that extra connectivity time.

2. PF likes to see the calendar objects in my calendar reflect transit time, accurately reflecting when I'll be gone and when I'll be back.

Hey, it works for us. What do you think? How do you do things differently?

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