Please go read this wonderful article by poly old hat Russell on how polyamory is hard, then come back here.
That was kind of disheartening, wasn’t it? I’ve technically been poly since I realized it was possible around 1997-ish. Then really poly, and embracing the term, around 1999. But those experiences pale in comparison to the poly relationship and management I’ve enjoyed and struggled with over the last year and a half. If those early experiences were toe-dips, the situation I’m in now has been a cannonball dive into the deep end… of the Marianas Trench!
I have no regrets. It’s been amazing…and extremely difficult in many ways, from how my wife and I deal with our own relationship, expectations, our wants and needs together and apart… and now, actually living together with my paramour and her husband… it’s been work.
It’s been difficult. And, it’s been exciting and wonderful and goshdarnit, we’re making it work! Yes, it’s not easy and there will be more difficulties to come, with just this dynamic not to mention that other relationships will likely come into play for others of the household.
Everything about Russell’s article rings true and has been something we’ve had to deal with ourselves! Though, something in Russell’s article did jump out at me as bothersome:
Realizing that you can’t ever make everyone happy. Instead, poly is a lifestyle of compromises where everyone doesn’t get exactly what they want: there’s only so much time, so much space, and so much of you to go around.
That’s pretty true, really. I mean, while we’re capable of infinite love, we have very finite time and energy. Compromises do have to be made. But, I can’t quite put my finger on it, something I read or heard a few years ago wants to come to the front of my mind and even as I write this I’m struggling to recall what it was….
Compromise involves everyone involved losing out in some way. If compromise is necessary, that means someone needs or wants something from another who can’t give everything the other is asking for. So, the asker is required to not get all they want so that they can get some of it, and the giver has to parse out their time and energy and attention in “fair” blocks. Compromise implies, focuses on, features, what people aren’t getting. Sure, being capable of compromise implies maturity, emotional and mental, and that’s a good thing. But you don’t have to be selfish or “needy” to recognize that compromise means less than what you really want.
I think the alternative I heard, and I need to try to find, is not to focus on compromise, but rather, cooperation. Maybe this is the message that lost book, podcast, article, posited, or maybe I’m making this up as I go along… but compromise begins with the premise that you can and should get everything you want and need, but something is keeping you from it. That you’re forced to settle for less than you deserve, want, need, because of someone else.
Cooperation, on the other hand, begins with the premise that you have nothing and must build up to something. That you and someone(s) else work together for mutual benefit.
Compromise implies competition and settlement.
Cooperation implies shared responsibility and shared benefits.
Perhaps it’s simply a fuzzy and self-helpy way of looking at the same situation… but I don’t know. Imagine how conversations can, would go, when instead of starting with, “I want all of this, but I guess I can’t have it, so what do I get instead? What are you willing to part with?” but rather, “I would like to have some of this, and would like to help you get some of that. What can we do to work together so that both of us can win?”
When poly needs (or any, really) begin from a view of cooperation toward mutual gain, as opposed to compromise toward managed loss, I think the difference is far more than semantic. I really think it affects the way decisions are made, time is used, approaches are taken, reactions to actions are made.
It’s difficult, I’m sure, to change a situation from compromise to cooperation, especially when you’re starting from the middle, relationship’s already in progress.
The other thing that jumped out at me in Russell’s article, is that many, if not all, of the things that make polyamory hard, makes monogamy hard as well! Compromise (or, cooperation) is necessary for any relationship. Constant communication, scheduling time, managing expectations… these things are vital in any relationship. Polyamory is hard, oh hells yeah it’s hard. But, it’s a different hard that’s really just a trade-off with why monogamy is hard.
Monogamy is hard (judging by the fact divorce rates still hang around 50%) because of the reasons poly is hard, plus, societal expectations. When you are monogamous (either because that’s the default way you’re raised to be and haven’t questioned it, or, you have questioned it but have decided for yourself it’s the way you want to be), you’re automatically enrolled in the social mono expectation machine.
Congratulations! Everything is society will make you think there’s only one way to do relationships and if yours isn’t like it, you’re doing it wrong. You are expected to meet your soulmate, fall madly in love, be everything your partner needs of you and vise versa, and survive all hardships through the years and then grow old and die together. Movies, TV, songs, everyone around you, inundates you with the myth of the perfect fairytale relationship. Any relationship is difficult, and monogamy has to work against the fairytale expectation to survive.
The thing polyamory has over monogamy is that when you accept you’re poly, you’re immunized against the overriding and overbearing cultural assumptions regarding what your relationship(s) is/are supposed to look like. You’re free to make your relationships look like you want them to without having to measure up with society’s unfair and largely improbable standards.
…theoretically. In practice, polyamorists often still have to fight ingrained expectations and images of what love is supposed to look like and be like — but accepting non-monogamy is still a step up against those pitfalls.
And so, I think, polyamory more readily allows people to come together with blank slates and freer expectations, allowing for relationships built on cooperation as opposed to compromise.
Although, let’s be honest, things in theory often are harder to realize in practice.