Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Big Poly Question

Within the past year, Camille has become a very significant part of Russell's life.  Mine too, to a large degree.  While we aren't direct partners, we have a "Meta-and-more!" sort of connection.  Honestly, it's just a smidgen creepy/cool!.  We pick out the same tea off a 20 page menu, often finish sentences the same, and have some very significant overlap in physical and emotional responses.

The challenge is trying to figure out the Big Poly Question:  How do two things that are so big (each of our individual relationships with Russell) occupy the same space and time without someone ending up downsized, or on the outside?  

We are three high-contact extroverts, and not a one of us would rather be on our own for any significant length of time.  We all value our time as dyads, as well as enjoying shared time, and get along pretty famously.    There are a lot of things that are unique to each relationship, and plenty of shared space in the Venn diagram.  There are a myriad of things going well.  We have strong communication skills, mutual respect, love, shared explicit commitment to the health of each relationship, a supportive and positive attitude with each other, and similar ideas on how we define poly.  Yet, this is still the most terrifying thing I've ever tried to do as a poly person.

Poly is easier when the emotions involved are softer, less encompassing, more amenable to compartmentalization.  What happens when, for any one dyad to get what it needs, someone is left out?

There are several strategies that people employ to work through this.

Get a new partner, or expand an existing relationship.

Sounds good in theory, but isn't likely to be effective if one is using the new relationship as a stop-gap or replacement for the emotional intimacy and time that is desired with a specific person.  Existing and new relationships are at a particular level for many reasons.  Pushing that dial up significantly may be temporarily effective, but isn't likely to stick.   It's an artificial solution to an on-going deficiency. On the other hand, it can be good if there is suddenly space for a new connection to form, or an existing one to expand into!   Be cautious about keeping your emotional landscape clean on this, as using someone to fill a hole (or two...) isn't particularly ethical outside of explicit agreements.

Learn to be more content on your own. 

If only at least one of us was an introvert!  Alas, we are all avowed extroverts, and the best I personally have been able to get to is that time on my own while "everyone else is out on a date" is less like a punishment than it used to be.  It grates against my sensibilities.

I've gotten more solid with practice, but it's still neutral/negative for the most part.  This isn't anything new.  I seem wired this way, and more strongly than I would prefer.  It looks like neediness, but is just a baseline for how much attention and contact I like.

There are people that become poly to create time for themselves.  They want lots of alone time, project space, or less of a sense of responsibility towards their partner by sharing the load.  This isn't me.  I would be happiest with almost no time "alone", even if the ratio were slanted towards shared time doing different things in the same space at the same time.

Downsize the relationship. 

There are points where you begin a new thing that eclipses what has come before.  Your standards raise, and your expectations shift to a level that isn't achievable by the earlier connection.  There isn't a way to bring it along, to lift it up that high.

It may be strictly a "time over target" issue. Sometimes less time equals less relationship. There are a great many reasons this may happen, but it tends to be messier and more hurtful when it is due to a new relationship, rather than a change in life circumstances.

Leave the relationship.

The final stop on the "my needs aren't being met in this relationship any longer" train.  One that may have very little to do with whether the involved parties love each other.  There can come a point where paths have diverged, and the available resources just don't support continuing to call the shared connection a "relationship" any longer.

So, how DO we do this?  I wish I had a nice pat answer to deliver.  For us, at this moment, it looks like lots of patience with each other, forgiveness our own responses, and compassion for when any one, two, or all of us, are feeling way out in the deep end treading water desperately.

We spend a good chunk of time together, and accept that it's part of the relationship landscape we are choosing to inhabit.  

We prioritize time spent within our individual dyads, including the ones we aren't part of.  I can't recall a single date that has been cancelled due to someone having an emotional breakdown, or a mysterious illness that lasts just long enough to throw a wrench in plans.

We share with each other when something is challenging, even when it feels vulnerable or awkward to do so. Especially when it feels vulnerable or awkward to do so.
We try things out, without an expectation that this single event, or month of experimentation, will set a precedent that must continue.  This allows us to be more bold in pushing our boundaries, as the risk of getting locked into something that sounded good on paper, but turned out to be more challenging in reality, is lowered.

We strive towards a high level of collaboration, coordination, and inclusion in activities, plans, and sharing the general stuff of life with each other.

There is no closet.  When we are out together, we are out together.  No excuses.

And we have lots of great sex!  Okay, I'm poly.  I know I'm not supposed to talk about sex, or prioritize it, because it's all about the emotional bonds, but we have awesome sex.  It helps.  Within the dyads, and within the three person dynamic we share, sex is a favored way of relating.  It helps break up all the hours of processing our complex feelings, and reestablishes connection when things have been difficult.

There isn't a map for this.  I don't personally know any poly triads with this personality blend, and level of emotional intensity, that do poly this way, making it work.  We're figuring it out one day at a time, but it feels less scary than it did 6 months ago, largely because I know, soul deep, that we are each putting into the pot to create a shared experience that is as balanced as we can make it, without leaving anyone behind.


Polyfulcrum said...

A special thank you to Dave, who graciously held down the home front while the rest of us were doing practical research into this last weekend!;)

Anonymous said...

Thumbs up - thanks Dave!