Poly 101 – Q&A with a Vanilla Friend
by Rita Mann
At 40 something years old, I’ve been poly since before I knew there was a term for it. It has been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember, I’ve never wanted to be tied down to a single relationship. Recently I had a vanilla friend ask me some questions about being poly and I realized that the conversation would make for a good article.
One of the things that she asked was, what exactly a poly relationship looks like. The answer is… it really depends on the people, unlike monogamy it isn’t one-size-fits-all. I have known households that have been together for decades. One, where the women were best friends from childhood and they shared a male partner. Another where the woman was married to one partner legally and married to her other partner without legal documentation. They even sent out wedding invitations with two cats on them in wedding gowns saying “these cats aren’t legally married”. I have seen other situations where a married couple each had an additional partner or two that did not live with them. There are V’s where one person has two partners that are not connected and triads where all three partners are connected and stars where one partner will have multiple partners that are not connected and polycules that extend and connect many people with many others
Regardless of the type of relationship, when the people in the relationship honor, respect, love, and support one another, any kind of relationship combination has as good a chance of being successful as any other.
On the other hand, I have known some people whose relationships were a hot mess, that eventually broke apart and rained chaos over everyone around them. It was not because of the type of relationship, but just because of the people in it. Some people think that opening up a relationship or adding new people will fix an already broken relationship. If you cannot manage harmony between two people, it is not a recipe for success to add more.
“There is a lot of talk about primary partners,” my friend inquired, “How do you decide who is primary?” It really wasn’t anything I’ve ever considered. People in my life either just fell into that primary role or didn’t. So I thought about what one of my sweethearts had said about what primary meant to him and it made a lot of sense to me. In his mind, a “primary” is about who you are the most entangled with. Maybe that means you live, plan vacations, or raise children with them. Maybe that means you’re married to them… or not. I like his definition because it has the flexibility and fluidity to encompass lots of situations and it explains how a person could have two primaries. Say you live with two people, well then you’re probably going to plan vacations and raise a family all together. You are probably equally entangled with both of them, so you have two primaries and you may or may not be married to either of them. Again no right or wrong just what works best for everybody involved.
Another question that frequently comes up when talking about polyamory is jealousy and what you do about it. I have a very hard time with this question because for the most part, I don’t feel jealousy. Really I don’t… However, if I think about jealousy as being insecure in the relationship, then I can relate. The difference here is that I don’t assume that the other person is doing something wrong. They aren’t doing something with intention, rather I am feeling something. These are my feelings that I need to address. This does not give me the right to be nasty to my partners. It shows that I need to take stock of what’s going on in my own head. In fact, I would say the first thing that a person needs to do when they are feeling jealous is take stock of what’s going on within themselves. Why are you feeling jealous? Insecurities are about you, not the other person. Perhaps what your feeling is lonely because they’re out on a date that they’ve been excited about and you’re not on a date. Then do something! Watch a movie, get a massage, take a hot bath, masturbate, or go on a date yourself. Basically, do something that takes your mind off of it. And when your partner comes home or you see them again be excited for them. You’re much more likely to have a great connection with them for your support then you would ever have by starting an argument, whining, crying, or pouting. That being said, be aware of your partner’s feelings when you start seeing someone new. Everyone gets tired of hearing about so-and-so did this or so-and-so is so wonderful, sexy, clever… and what have you. Make sure your existing partners know that you still love them, find them attractive, fun, and interesting even while you are smitten with somebody new. And of course, somebody new isn’t going to have the baggage of years of being with you, of seeing them when they’re sick, or having to walk over their dirty laundry, or all the rest of the everyday annoyances that having a life with someone brings. However, the new person will also not have that comfort and knowledge of you, the shared inside jokes that you and your longtime partners have. Shared history and ease of being around one another are every bit as important in life as the shiny new. One of the wonderful things about poly is that you get to have both.
Being poly isn’t any easier or better or worse than being monogamous, swinging, or being in a hotwife cuckold relationship. Being poly is just a different way to do ethical non-monogamy. It takes a lot of communication and a lot of hard conversations where you have to be an adult which is not always fun. On the other hand, you have more people to help you meet your needs, be those sexual or just maintenance around the house.