It took us a while for Gini and I to come out as polyamorous, mainly because we were so embarrassed by the drama-hungry yahoos who identified themselves as poly. We didn’t want to stand next to them. All those constant breakups, the weird infighting, the immature dorks constantly whining about their evil exes? Most polyamory was a big stew of ugly drama, and we didn’t wanna be associated with that.
As we’ve talked to more poly couples, though, we’ve learned that polyamorous relationships actually have less drama associated with them than monogamous ones. And that’s because every fight affects not just you, but the entire web of relationships.
Which is to say that if I’m dating Margery exclusively and we have a nasty fight that lasts all night, that affects only us. The reason we’re having the fight is, presumably, because we want to keep this relationship going, and we can spend months involved in daily battles trying to figure out how to make this crumbling twosome work without it exhausting anyone but our friends. Are we compatible? Who cares? We think we could be compatible, and so we have the luxury of going at each other like cats and dogs for years! And who knows? Maybe we’ll find a way to spin our dysfunction into gold! Gini and I certainly had a rough start, but we worked it out.
But in poly, I have limited energy to spend, and how I spend that energy affects my whole web of relationships.
See, if I’m also dating Dani, then she’s going to see how strung out I am by my miserable relationship with Margery. Chances are good if it’s a really angsty relationship that we’ll have a few nice times torpedoed by Margery – maybe it’s as direct as a Margery picking a fight with me in the middle of a date with Dani, maybe it’s as subtle as me being worn out and unable to relax when we’re snuggled up because ZOMG WHAT’S GOING ON WITH MARGERY. And unless we have a handy “I don’t want to know” barrier in place, sometimes Dani will be a friend to bounce thoughts about Margery afterwards, which means too many of our conversations will turn into impromptu therapy sessions on WHY IS SHE BEING SO UNREASONABLE.
Which means if I can’t get it together with Margery, eventually it’s going to tank my relationship with Dani.
That’s a thing I haven’t seen written up a lot on in polyamory; the fact that playing nice is not just a good idea, but often a requirement for long-term multiple relationships. The saying in poly is that love is endless, but time is limited. If I only get one date a week with you, and that date has you constantly seething and distracted because of this other dude, then eventually I’m getting starved of my happiness for factors that aren’t under my control. Which becomes unfair. I’ve broken it off with people not because I didn’t think I could have worked it out with them, but because the amount of energy it would have taken to fix things between us would have stolen needed emotional resources from Gini.
So you have to play fair and be reasonable in poly relationships, or else the problem self-corrects. So many healthy polyamorous relationships hum like a fine-tuned engine, with only a couple of major blowups to get past the things that low-key talk can’t solve.
If you’re into drama – and many people love being the star of their own soap opera – then yeah, poly affords you an endless opportunity to entangle yourself in huge webs of villains and heroes (although today’s heros always seem to become tomorrow’s villains). You don’t have to self-improve – all you have to do is find a new partner who doesn’t know you that well! And so you’ll swing from relationship to relationship, always on the verge of a breakup, always convinced that perfection is around the corner, and became a sort of Drama Generation Unit where nothing you do is really cheating or harmful, hey, it’s poly!
It’s the 80/20 rule. 80% of the people in any given group are nice, quiet, and sane. But 20% are loud and ugly, and they account for 80% of the terrible stuff that the rest of the world overhears. So yeah, in my experience good poly is usually more low-key than good monogamy… and you never notice that because the good poly relationships are nearly invisible. But bad poly? It’s like they want to draw you in, because they need more people to take sides. And that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, because when you’re in a subculture, all you need is one passionately dysfunctional partner who identifies as X to make all Xs seem crazy.
Then there’s the fact that breakups are usually a little bit dramatic. Oh, there are good breakups – the ones where you both go, “It’s time” – but most breakups involve a disproportional hurt because one person’s done and the other isn’t. So even if you’re trying to be very good and noble and kind about it, there’s often going to be little spats of childishness on both sides as one person throws a tantrum because dammit why did they go, and the other sullenly says, well, I made the decision to leave, why can’t they get over it?
And maybe it’s not the biggest drama in the world – but when you have multiple relationships, you’re gonna have multiple breakups, and that leads to a little more poly drama. Maybe not a lot, if you’re good, but even a good breakup involves more angst than many are comfortable with.
Regardless, it’s not a race to see which is better; it’s which you’re more comfortable with. I’m not trying to say that that monogamy is better or worse than poly. Both styles have their strengths and weaknesses – some day, I’ll write about how in my experience, good monogamy usually involves a lot less maintenance time than good polyamory. And I think if you’re fatally drama-allergic, then polyamory may be a model that you struggle in.
But that’s not my real point. The point is that if you’re in a polyamorous relationship, you have to remember that your drama spreads to touch all the other people on the web – unless they’ve specifically blocked you off for that, which leads to its own challenges in interacting. It’s not just your partner you’re having a huge uproar with, it’s everyone within your circle, and as such it’s in your best interests to be as rational, understanding, and reasonable about it. Or, as noted, the problem will self-correct.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.