The Heart of Polyamory: Breaking Up is Hard to View

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By Millie Jackson

Why is it that we refer to relationships as long-term or short-term?  I don’t hear the expression medium-term used even though that probably characterizes most relationships better than saying long or short.  Granted, these are relative terms.  Someone who doesn’t tend to stay in relationships very long might consider one year to be long-term.  Others might be more likely to characterize a one year relationship by saying “we weren’t together for very long” or “we were only together for a year”.

This isn’t meant to be a debate about what constitutes short, medium or long-term. It is a pondering of why we are not taught how to break-up.  Given the reality that most people have several relationships throughout their life-time, it seems that breaking-up is a basic skill that we all need to learn.

There is no shortage of information about how to find the perfect mate, tips for attracting Mr. or Mrs. Right, ways of getting your dream date, etc.  However, there is not a lot of guidance available on how to end relationships.  Most examples that fuel movie and book themes are hardly exemplary.  Plots are often driven by how mean-spirited or otherwise traumatic a break-up can be, and audiences seem to revel in that.

I contend that how people behave during a break-up is telling of aspects of their true character.  Often times, you can learn more about someone in how they end relationships compared to how they begin them.  People tend to be on their best behavior when they are in the courting stage—putting their best foot forward because they are invested in getting something they want, and they desire to be wanted in return.  The exit can get pretty ugly when the desire to impress no longer exists.

I am sure many of us have had experiences of going through break-ups with people who no longer resembled the person whom we thought we had been dating.  In hindsight, there may have been signs but often times we can be left confused and unnecessarily hurt by someone’s behavior.  We may even find our own behavior to have been “uncharacteristic” during a break-up. However, challenging times tend to test our character far more than the pleasant periods.

Obviously, finding out how someone behaves when he or she breaks-up with you or you with them is not going to help you to know whether or not to date that person. It is too late by then. However, there is much insight to be gained by paying attention to how someone talks about people they have dated, how they behaved during past break-ups and/or how they characterize them, and the kind of advice they give to others who are breaking-up.

It seems that in the monogamous realm people often feel threatened when a lover is friends with exes.  I assert that remaining friends can be a good indication of strong character and of desirable traits like kindness and the ability to forgive and/or make amends.

Based on some of my past relationships, both monogamous and polyamorous, and those I have witnessed,  I am left wondering:  How many people really mean it when they say “no matter what, let’s remain friends”?  Are most people incapable of being friends or even simply being kind after a romance has ended?  There are people who do remain friendly, but it doesn’t seem like the vast majority do.

I am perplexed by how many people remain possessive of an ex’s romantic and sexual future long after a relationship has ended.  We see this in the form of them putting limitations on friends, family members, and even co-workers that they may never date any of the ex lovers of that person.  As a polyamorist, I am not a fan of possessiveness while in a relationship, and claiming it after a relationship ends seems way out of anyone’s jurisdiction.  There needs to be a statute of limitation on someone’s “right” to limit someone else’s future dating prospects.

Ending relationships is often painful enough without intentional unkindness.  It is my hope that as more of us develop new and improved ways of relating by moving beyond jealousy, possessiveness and codependence that we will also grow into new and improved ways of ending relationships, should they need to end.


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