“When you draw a line in the sand, be careful it is not low tide.” – Dixie Waters
Note: Due to the nature of this article it will be rife with Polyamory terms. I have included the definition I use for each term below, rather than stopping to explain them in the article.
Every relationship is unique, and is defined by the people involved. In most monogamous relationships this definition comes from the individuals forming the couple, and may include influences from their culture, their family, or their friends. In polyamorous relationships there are more factors influencing how a relationship is defined; the type of polyamory you are practising, if there is a polycule involved, the configuration of the polycule, and the needs and feelings of any metamours in that polycule. All of these factors can make it very difficult to define what you are, both to each other and to the world. And it can make it even more difficult to grow and change into something new, as most relationships do.
What does defining your relationship mean, anyway? It is more than just the titles you chose for each other, if you decide to use titles at all. It’s how you interact with each other, both in private and in public; how much, or how little, of your lives you choose to share with one another; how much of your feelings and time you are investing in one another; and how much you decide to let this relationship impact all the other ones you have. It’s about who you want to be as a couple, and how much of a role this relationship will play in your life. It can be flexible, and will likely change over time, but it is an essential part of understanding where you belong with your other person, and with their other people.
I started my polyamory journey practising solo polyamory, but since that time I have found a person who has become my nesting and primary partner. We came to that decision over time, with much discussion and testing of boundaries, and it is where we are now, but that does not mean it can’t or won’t change in the future. We both understand that relationships are fluid, and require growth, and adaptation. We also both realise that practising polyamory may mean that one day one or both of us may find another partner that fits as well or better than we currently fit each other. It doesn’t seem likely right now, but anything is possible, and part of the way we are practising polyamory is accepting that.
Now that we both have experience having other partners, who have other partners of their own, I am struggling with new questions. How big of a role do your metamours have in defining the relationships you are having with your partners? How much influence do they or should they have on who you want to be as a couple? How much consideration should you give them in the decisions you make as a couple, and how much consideration should they give you? Is it reasonable to expect them to consider you when they make decisions that could affect your relationships? And does the existence of a hierarchical relationship in the polycule mean that any other partners’ feelings, wants, or needs are less important, or can be ignored?
One of the most important things I try to remind myself of is that my metamours have feelings and wants and needs that they are hoping to have met, and that they deserve compassion and respect, no matter what their relationship is to me or to my partner. Whether it’s a one night fling, an ongoing casual meetup, a deeper longer lasting relationship, or my partner’s primary partner, my metamours have a connection to my partners, and my partner has that connection to them, and those relationships and sets of boundaries and needs deserve my respect.
My primary partner and I communicate very well, and have chosen to share our relationships with any other partners with each other. Whenever possible we plan our schedules around what works for our other partners. We discuss what is happening in our other relationships with each other, how activities or feelings are developing with those partners, if we are having concerns or doubts about those relationships, and if we have discovered anything new about ourselves from them. When needed we help each other out by talking out issues or giving advice on how to navigate any difficult conversations or situations with our other partners. This is not always easy, and has certainly resulted in some strong emotional reactions that we then have to work through, but it is how we have chosen to approach polyamory. And we always inform our other partners that this is what we do, so that no one is caught by surprise.
This does not mean that this is how I expect to practise polyamory with my other partners. Would I like it to be? Of course. In my perfect world our full polycule would be in place where we could achieve something like Kitchen Table Polyamory, where any combination of partners and metamours could be spending time together at a party, game night, or other outing. Where we could all give each other advice or tips and tricks on how to make our relationships a little better, and our partners a little happier. Where we can work with our schedules to make sure everyone gets the time they need to grow their relationships. And where everyone involved is comfortable with this. Do I actually expect that to happen? Probably not. Because my wants and needs aren’t the only ones involved here, and because not everyone wants or needs what I do. Some people prefer to keep their worlds separate, to keep one or more relationships separate from the others. Some people do not desire the level of sharing that I do. Some people prefer to work things out for themselves rather than as a group. Some couples prefer to keep their relationship between them, and not share the details of it with others. All of these choices are valid, and deserve the same level of respect that my choices do.
So how do I define my relationships with my partners? Mostly by asking a lot of questions. I need to know what their wants and needs are, if there are any restrictions on the energy they have to give our relationship, if I should expect sudden changes in schedules or time available, if there are other relationships that will take priority over ours, if there are other demands in their lives that need to be met, what the comfort level is of any metamours involved,etc. I also need to be clear with what my wants, needs, and availability are, and any ways I expect my other relationships to affect this one. When it comes to polyamourous relationships, it’s less about waiting to see how things shake out and more about discussing as much as possible so everyone is going into things with their eyes wide open.
Polycule: A network of people who are involved in non-platonic relationships and their metamours.
Metamour: One’s partner’s partner, with whom one is not directly involved
Solo Polyamory: An approach to polyamory that emphasises autonomy and the freedom to form relationships without seeking permission from other partners.
Nesting Partner(s): The partnership(s) that live(s) together, could include 2 or more, and may share financial responsibility of the home.
Hierarchical relationship: A polycule configuration in which there is a primary partnership which takes priority over one or more secondary arrangements.
Primary Partner: In a hierarchical relationship, the partnership with the most involvement, or sometimes the person accorded the most importance.
Secondary Partner(s): In a hierarchical relationship, the partnership(s) in which either by intent or circumstance, are given less in terms of time, energy, commitment and priority than a primary relationship.
Tertiary Partners(s): In a hierarchical relationship, the partnership(s) that are generally quite casual, and/or limited with respect to time, energy, or priority.
Kitchen Table Polyamory: everyone in the polycule is comfortable sitting together at the kitchen table, talking or spending time together, and including each other and possibly children in special events such as birthdays.