From monogamy to solo poly[amory]. How to do this? I’m breaking up with a live in partner to pursue solo polyamory — I don’t want to be part of a couple, and I don’t want my other relationships to be controlled by another person, but I do want to have relationships with multiple people and have my own life. How do I go about separating my life and doing my thing?
There are a few things to address here that have to do with what you’ve chosen and how you go about what you’re hoping to achieve.
What you want out of polyamory
I’m assuming that by choosing to do solo polyamory that you have thought about why polyamory is the right approach for you and what it means for you. In general, I think that’s good advice I’d give to anyone regardless of their approach to polyamory. Knowing what you want out of it and why you’ve chosen it is incredibly important so many people jump into it, especially if they’re dating someone who wants to do it and they go from monogamy to polyamory within that relationship, and they don’t think about why they have actually decided to do this.
You’ve focused a lot here on what you don’t want, but it’s also important to think about what you do want. How do you see relationships playing out in your life and what do you want out of them? I think that’s very important to think about because sometimes the scripts we’re given for how relationships go is from a perspective of monogamy where there is an expectation of two people being the primary source of emotional support for the other.
It’s easy to think about ways you might not be treated as an equal as a ‘secondary’ partner if you’re practicing solo polyamory but you may face the very real situation of dating multiple people who will be the primary source of emotional support for one person they live with and therefore, might not be able to provide as much support for you. It’s possible that’s not something you need, but it’s always worth thinking about why you want these relationships and what they bring to your life rather than just things you want to avoid.
What I think might be worth you thinking about is what it means to have your own life and what aspects of your own life you want to separate. I’m talking about even delineating days where you have your own time and it’s for sure your time. Whenever a relationship is struggling, especially when people live with someone they’re in a relationship with, as I’m sure you know, it’s easy to forget to schedule time together. I would suggest that if you’re worried about relationships creeping into your life and you not having your own time to yourself, schedule it off and make it clear to whoever you date that this is your time and it’s non-negotiable. Treat the relationship you have with yourself as a relationship in its own right, maybe even a ‘primary’ type of relationship.
Owning time responsibility
This brings me to the next point I want to address when you talk about not wanting your relationships ‘controlled by another person’. This is something I see constantly on polyamory forums when people ask for help. And it always comes down to someone saying something like this: “I had to reschedule my time with one partner because my primary partner got upset” and this needs to become the polyamory equivalent of someone in a monogamous relationship saying they haven’t helped out with any house work or other responsibilities because they haven’t been told to. In essence, it’s complete and utter rubbish.
People are forever trying to blame their primary partner for a “secondary” relationship failing but the fact of the matter is that if you date someone who is skiving you off or ignoring your needs, that is *their* responsibility. They might give you the excuse that they can’t do x, y, or z with you because of their primary partner but it just that — an excuse.
Each individual makes their own personal decisions about how to spend their time, or they choose to allow other people to dictate how their time is spent, but either way, it’s their choice and their choice alone. There are too many questions in polyamory forums from secondaries trying to figure out how to improve the relationship with their metamour who is the primary of their partner to try and solve this issue when in fact it is the partner they share who holds the responsibility for delegating time.
Nine times out of ten, this question is always being asked by women and non-men trying to figure out how to improve the relationship they have with their boyfriend’s wife instead of asking why their boyfriend is failing to take responsibility for his time and is just blaming everything on the women and non-men in his life instead of stepping up and taking responsibility for how he chooses to spend his time. He steps out, stays silent and the women are left to do the emotional labour when it’s actually him not taking responsibility for his own life. Not saying women and non-men don’t do this, but most of the questions I’ve seen like this are from women. So if you are dating primarily or only men, be aware of this trend.
Your relationships will not be controlled by anyone other than the people you are in a relationship with. Anyone who gives you a sob story about a primary or anyone else (because, despite what people might say about couple privilege, this type of stuff happens outside of those scenarios) and says that they are the reason you aren’t getting what you need out of a relationship, don’t accept that. It’s one thing if they legitimately have partners who need more focus and they are being stretched — and that’s fine. But what that means then is that they need to do the adult thing and realise that they have bitten off more than they can chew and not have more relationships than they can reasonably manage instead of passing the buck of responsibility off to others.
Can you control your relationships?
Ultimately, though, you cannot control how your relationships will go. You can control communicating your wants and needs very clearly and you can control whether you decide to stay with someone who is not meeting your needs, but do realise that you can make the best choices for you and still end up with someone who disappoints you. Or as Jean-Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.”
In this process of solo polyamory, just as you did when you were starting new relationships in life, you’re going to learn from the things you do and sometimes those experiences will be awesome and sometimes they won’t be. A lot of polyamorous people when starting out feel this pressure to have a good time all of the time when no such requirement is placed on monogamy. In fact, loads of comedians make constant jokes about how monogamy is a miserable time. Polyamorous people sometimes internalise the idea that their relationships not going well means that they’ve somehow failed or can’t do polyamory when really, it’s just a relationship that didn’t work out.
I’d also encourage you to remember if you don’t already know, that the sign of a ‘successful’ relationship doesn’t have to be that you or the other person(s) don’t make it out alive. It’s okay to shoot for a long term relationship or want that, but sometimes I think a lot of the trauma of a breakup comes from the cultural mindset of a breakup representing a personal failure. Sometimes relationships end and it’s the best thing for both people and that isn’t always a ‘failure’ in a complete sense.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Note: I wrote this column in 2017, so it’s possible my perspective has grown or shifted. If you want, please feel free to re-ask this question.
Do you have a question?
If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question will be posted anonymously.