The Heart of Polyamory: Poly--Unsaturated
By Millie Jackson
Knowing your limits is an important component of any healthy relationship but is especially true for living a successful polyamorous life-style. Compared to the built-in rules associated with monogamy, the individual freedoms afforded in polyamory could lead some people to behave like “kids in a candy store” (which certainly is their prerogative). For me, polyamory is about the quality of relationships more so than the quantity.
Polyamory espouses the idea that love is abundant; but for most of us time, energy and money are not. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and we do have to sleep. Polyamory also espouses the idea that having additional partners enhances existing relationships rather than detracts from them. That can take some prudent time management and often takes dialoging, negotiating and compromising. A team mentality is helpful if not essential. Polyamory doesn’t function well when approached as “every person for themselves”.
Since exploring polyamory may include some trial and error, the better we are at recognizing when we are in over our heads, the better it usually is for everyone involved. We often don’t have a frame of reference for how we will react to certain situations. We may explore new territory only to find that it is not the best path for us. Reestablishing new boundaries regularly may be necessitated in polyamory in ways that monogamy never calls upon us to do. Monogamy definitely simplifies things; regular checks and balances are needed for success with polyamory.
Being an attentive, present lover is important to me. Spinning too many plates increases the odds of breaking some if not all of the plates. If I have too many relationships happening concurrently, I may not be able to keep the quality that I am going for alive. I may get burned out, not have enough alone time, and be unable to meet realistic expectations of my partners.
One of many reasons why a triad appeals to me more so than dating two people independently is the time-management component. Date night can include my boyfriend and my girlfriend, and everyone can be quite chummy while enjoying time together. Although there will still be occasions when only two of us are together, the three of us can regularly hang-out without having to choose time with one but not the other. Some one-on-one time is still important, though, since the health and strength of each dyad will contribute to the overall strength and health of the triad.
Being a solid partner to one or multiple lovers is easier when we are grounded and centered. It’s important to schedule down time for ourselves. It’s the wise survival strategy of “putting our oxygen mask on first”. We can’t give what we don’t have. Trying to tap into an empty well takes a lot of effort and still leaves everyone thirsty. I have had experiences of spending time with a lover who was so exhausted and distracted that our time together was not enjoyable. I would rather be doing something else than adding stress to an already overwhelmed, over-booked partner. It’s problematic being on the giving or receiving end of this dynamic.
Even if the number of relationships a polyamorist has feels balanced for them, it is very important to decompress between time with lovers. While transitioning from spending time with one partner to another, it’s a good idea to shift gears as smoothly as possible. This could be going for a walk alone, taking a shower (especially if you have had sex), exercising, or something as simple as taking some conscious deep breathes if that is all there is time for.
Polyamory can be a very rewarding and fulfilling love/life-style. This often takes a lot of dialoging and processing which takes time and energy but is time well spent. Letting issues build up by avoiding them is not a sustainable strategy in polyamory. Many poly people know this and schedule regular check-ins, perhaps weekly, bi-weekly or monthly (even daily when a new relationship has been added or boundaries have recently changed). Making a commitment to talk “as needed” can work for some, but that can be a challenging strategy. It can cause check-ins to always be “crisis” driven. It may be difficult to take constructive time if feelings are hurt or communication has already broken down. This also misses out on check-ins that are filled with only positive feedback while basking in the joys of polyamorous loving.