Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Polyamory 101: New Relationship Energy (NRE)
I've started writing a number of Poly101 articles for the blog; you may have already read my 101 on Should I Introduce Myself as Poly, Compersion, Jealousy, and Polyamory. In this article, I'll be trying to describe a complex set of emotions often expressed in Polyamory circles called New Relationship Energy.
NRE (New Relationship Energy) is a term used to describe the intense giddiness one feels when falling in love. In poly circles, it's a term used to describe a particular state of mind that may be influencing peculiar or erratic decision-making.
In the grips of NRE, life is seen through proverbial rose-colored glasses. Everything is super-amped-up: birds sing the name of your new love; crowds spontaneously break into choreographed musical numbers with you; flowers form tiny faces and smile at you as you walk by; when you roll the dice, it's always lucky-seven; when you watch clouds form ... well, okay, maybe I'm exaggerating but it feels like this. Everything's just going your way.
Also, in the grips of NRE, you and your lover are all lovebirds and turtledoves: at social events, you will ignore everybody else and stare longingly into each others' eyes; you're seen with each other all the time - you're an "item"; hand-holding can quickly turn into giggly-heavy-petting; and the sex with this person is mind-blowing.
Language that you'll use within NRE may include colorful words like: forever, forever ever and ever, infinity, destiny, The One, The Only One, soulmates, never, always, etc. etc. ad nausium.
NRE can probably be thought of as more an observed state. Your poly friends would observe your behaviors and contribute them to your being in NRE. "Ahh. Jeremy. Right. He and Joni are on an NRE roller coaster. Zoinks." Unless you're truly hypercritical and cognizant of your own emotional states, you wouldn't likely see yourself suffering from NRE ... you're just happy and in love.
Awww. Bliss. Ain't it cute?
Now, NRE presents some troublesome issues in poly.
Firstly, in this emotional and mental state, you're probably not going to make the best decisions. As the Ethical Slut points out, try to avoid long-term legal agreements during this phase of a relationship: buying a house, a car, signing a lease, kids. All of this stuff has long-term ramifications, and you and your blissed-out-butt aren't exactly seeing "long-term ramifications". Hey, I'm guilty on this one: within just a month of our relationship, PF and I were out "looking" at houses together. With our kids. Yikes.
Secondly, your established partners would care to remind you that they're still there. They still love you. They're still important. They may not be the "new shiny" but they've still stuck by you for all this time and deserve just a little more attention, time, love, and respect. I think most poly partners can recognize when one of their partners are in NRE and make suitable allowances, but it can go south very quickly. You can quickly find yourself down a rabbit hole ignoring other partners which can lead to all kinds of bad. At this level, allowances and patience are thrown out the window and your pre-existing partners would insist you've "got your head up your ass". At that point it's time to wake up and start making changes. Pronto, Kemosabe.
Thirdly, there are real emotional and sexual challenges surrounding NRE. I've seen circumstances where male spouses encounter repeated and prolonged performance problems their wives after finding a new shiny. Women can also respond in similar ways - desiring a certain touch from a certain guy and nobody else will do. That kind of contention in the bedroom can be problematic. It takes a lot of talking, negotiation, and processing with all partners involved to work through these issues. It isn't easy for anybody.
Fourth, NRE is an endorphin-fueled altered state. It can be mildly addictive. Some people in poly can be described as NRE-Junkies. Either consciously or unconsciously, these are people who'll enter relationships, burn through an NRE cycle, and then - once the relationship evens-out and they're no longer getting the endorphin rush - they bow out. They dump their partner and move on to another relationship to get that high. More than just a few times will get a person noticed by a poly community and that person may become socially ostracized or, worse, they'll be flagged. Warning, warning: danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
Finally, NRE must eventually fade and transition to more usual life patterns. NRE can't go on forever - the fuel and space for it to burn isn't infinite. Otherwise, that burn will be felt like a radiating heat in other areas of your life: financially, in respect to chores and other obligations to children and household, friendships and acquaintances, co-existing relationships, work. If it doesn't normalize, a relationship can start burning down other established habits, patterns, commitments ... it gets bigger, consuming what it touches. It'll consume. And force a degree of changes you never anticipated making that could be hurtful and damaging to people all around you.
NRE is desirable. It's expected. It's the magic found in love. But in Polyamory, it's something that's seen as both a blessing and a threat. Managing your own actions and recognizing your own compromised emotional state during NRE is a hallmark of poly processing. Working through NRE-exacerbated drama is a common theme in Polyamory communication.