Saturday, August 16, 2014

Polyamory is Hard

I was talking to my therapist the other day.

Actually, it was couples therapy.

And, actually, I brought this up twice because, in all honesty, I have two sets of therapists: one I see with my partner/girlfriend and the other I see with my wife.

Polyamory is hard ...

... which, I think, should be pretty obvious in that I'm seeing two therapists but that's not the point.

I opted for this lifestyle because it offered such a range of possibility. It challenges conventional thoughts about love and marriages, pushes my boundaries, and forces me to routinely think about feminism and masculinity, commitment, and love in a myriad of ways. I chose this lifestyle and I'm fully committed to it.

Still, it's damn hard.

Sure, open relationships and sex with multiple people - right on, sounds pretty cool to you, right? - until you have to sit down and do the work.

There's the routine stuff:

  • Constant (endless) communication
  • Questioning assumptions that you have about love and relationships
  • Calendaring and scheduling
  • Expectations management
  • Emotional processing - sex, love, jealousy, guilt, regret, etc.

I mean, all of that takes a great deal of energy amongst multiple partners but these are just the surface, the most obvious things.

Then there's the long-term, extended stuff:

  • The legal differentiation between partners (example: a "wife" affords a legal distinction over a "partner"), leading to a whole rats nest of issues concerning wills/probate, medical care, rights over your assets, etc.
  • Re-thinking the roles of "husband, wife, partner" - and the promises those titles imply - in the context of multiple people.
  • Break-ups and ending/transitioning relationships that've lasted for years.
  • Challenges surrounding space, distance, travel, and cohabitation. Not everyone wants to live together; not everyone likes the same kinds of personal space. Those are some tough compromises.
  • Embracing inequity. Poly's inherently unfair. My wife has made sacrifices that enable me to spend time, energy, and resources on my partner, which often excludes her. Meanwhile, my partner isn't around me as often as my wife, and, doesn't attend family travel, and I'm not always around, which excludes her, creating her own set of sacrifices. Resolving those inequities is a full-time preoccupation.
  • Retirement and security. Our social systems are setup to benefit a spouse. I worry about guaranteeing financial peace-of-mind to my partner and helping build her own security, nest-egg, medical and insurance and investment portfolio, etc. 
  • Combining or separating the finances of multiple people, how to communicate and work with cash flow shortages, new financial expectations, etc.
  • Realizing that you can't ever make everyone happy. Instead, poly is a lifestyle of compromises where everyone doesn't get exactly what they want: there's only so much time, so much space, and so much of you to go around.
  • Getting along with extended connections (metamours, partners of partners) and intentional family for long periods of time.

So poly is hard. Personally, it hurts that I can't give everything to both of my partners and make both of them 100-percent happy at the same time. It's a constant process of compromise, learning, re-tooling my skillets, and managing expectations.

And I think anyone just getting into polyamory should know that it's hard. In fact, just last week, I was at a bar on Mississippi Avenue just last week with a bunch of enthusiastic poly-newcomers. I was kind of a Debbie-downer in that crowd, but I think it's real. Poly looks pretty good on paper, especially if perceived in the context of short-run but everyone should be prepared for the long-game, and what that means in their lives.

R
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