Successful solo polyamory and control

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 nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to columns and podcast 5 days before they are posted.

Lack of polyamorous family role models?

Hi there! I am a 31 year old that identifies as female, bisexual, and kinky. I have a primary partner, as well as a secondary partner and a play partner that I see very occasionally.

My dilemma is this — I really want to start a family in the next 1–2 years. As in, make babies and raise them into adult humans. I get mad anxiety and uncomfortable feels around my primary partner and his other partners. I don’t get this with my secondary. I’ve been puzzling over why.

One thing I am starting to suspect is that, well, I go to future mind often re: my primary — I can see raising humans with him, building a home and a family with him. When I imagine this, I feel good — we can be amazing parents. At the same time — how the actual fuck does family building work in a non-monogamous/polyamorous context?

I have no role models, and a lot of folks in our local polyamorous community are in the childfree camp and so haven’t considered this challenge before. When I’ve asked folk I know, they often say, well, I’m childfree and don’t want kids, so I’ll leave the answering of that to people that have done it. So far, I can’t find people that have done it, unless they were mono — married — made babies and then opened things up.

In my case, my primary and I have been open from the beginning. I think this might be fuelling some of my discomfort — I have no idea, no blueprint of how family building happens in the non-mono world. In mono life, I know what kind of steps I’d take to progress in that direction.

Also — I guess I worry a little as I think there are some power imbalances inherent in the non-mono world — my primary is a white cis male with more money than me. I’ve read what you’ve written, about how in the non-mono community there’s such a focus on total independence, not needing anyone, and how this favours those that have more privilege, money, and time.

It’s like, if we have kids, well, I’d need to know that there was a commitment to the family building and that the time and resources needed for raising humans would be available, and that I wouldn’t be seen as ‘dramatic’ for these needs, especially if I were at home with the children for a while, or doing a larger share of the emotional labour that gets done in the home (I know how these things work — women almost always wind up with the largest share of this labour, not matter the best of intentions or how feminist a cis hetero male partner aspires to be).

So, short version — any advice about family building as a non-mono person — resources, things to watch out for, how to negotiate family building without the help of all of the inbuilt assumptions that come along with cis hetero relationship escalator relationship?

There are a few things I want to address with this question:

  • The ‘lack’ of role models
  • Imbalances of power
  • Anxiety about other partners

All three of these are kind of combining to create this issue.

‘Lack’ of polyamorous role models

Honestly, the belief that there are no ‘role models’ for polyamorous families isn’t accurate. I’m going to make the assumption from what you’ve written that the below information might either be new or something you’ve not thought of before and if I’m wrong about that, I apologise.

Blended and differing families are not new, it’s just that white middle class polyamorous people are looking for models in the places they look for models of other white middle class people. Loads of people have lived in families made up of aunts, uncles, and other people who contribute to childcare in ways that are ‘non-traditional’, they just either tend not to be middle class or wealthy or tend not to be white.

The 50s in the US reignited this focus on getting women out of the factories and back into the home so that men returning from war would have their own jobs back. And with it came this mis-comprehension of the ‘nuclear’ family as a ‘tradition’. But it’s not traditional at all. It’s good for capitalism, no doubt. If two people families are struggling among/against one another to each own their house with a picket fence and 2.5 children and pet, then it’s good for capitalism because people aren’t sharing resources. In fact, the rise of the idea of the nuclear family was not always seen as positive:

Not so long ago, family scholars labored under the assumption, half-Marxist, half-“functionalist,” that before the Industrial Revolution, the extended family was the norm in the Western world. There was more than a little romanticism associated with this view: extended families were imagined to have lived in warm, cohesive rural communities where men and women worked together on farms or in small cottage industries. That way of life, went the thinking, ended when industrialization wrenched rural folk away from their cottages and villages into the teeming, anonymous city, sent men into the factories, and consigned women to domestic drudgery. Worse, by upending the household economy, the Industrial Revolution seriously weakened the family. The nuclear family, it was believed, was evidence of family decline. — The Real Roots of the Nuclear Family

But actually, the two parent ‘traditional’ family is not traditional. Human beings have been raising children as groups for ages. I would encourage you to look beyond the current circles you’re in because the white middle class is really where this ‘traditional’ model has sold and taken effect — because those people have had the privilege of being able to actually do ‘nuclear’ to the effect that it’s become their norm. And thanks to a combination of factors even the nuclear family ideal is in decline. If you look at the World Family Map from 2015, a good deal of children around the world may have two parents (adoptive, step, and biological) but also live with extended family members and others.

I grew up in a ‘non-traditional’ family at times. I did have the two parents and despite the fact that neither of them had high school diplomas (my mother had a GED and a 2 year degree), thanks to the privilege of my father’s wealthy mother, we had somewhere to stay and didn’t have to live in low income housing. But at times my aunts lived with us. And many of my mother’s relatives have had grandparents living with them at certain points because people can’t afford nursing homes and other solutions. In many families, elders rejoining the household is normal and expected.

So, this ‘problem’ isn’t actually a problem. It’s just that polyamory communities tend to be dominated by white middle class people who have only witnessed one type of family due to their privilege and assume this is not only a default (due to their whiteness) but also that it’s ‘normal’ because of what society tells them.

I’d encourage you to expand your social circle, find polyamorous communities that aren’t dominated by white middle class people and find those connections, if you haven’t already.

Addressing the other issue, I do know of a few polyamorous people who have kids but… truthfully, what I have witnessed are very few men stepping up. A lot of the childcare I see is done by either women or folks read as women. Or most of the discussions about childcare in polyamorous communities is dominated by women or folks read as women discussing strategies. Men tend to be very, very silent.

Initially, I wanted children very much. In fact, I chose non-monogamy because having more than one parent is beneficial, but I was wary. I grew up knowing my parents dated other people and assumed they dated each other and I knew that wasn’t an issue for me as a child — the issue was when people would come into my life and pretend to care for me and be a parent figure to me and then leave and never speak to me again. That was painful.

So I wanted to find multiple co-parents who were ready to give a child what it needs. Especially since as a disabled person, I don’t have very many spoons to give a child. And I thought, given all of the polyamory rhetoric about how commitment is SO important to polyamorous people, I’d surely find multiple people willing to co-parent. Right? Right?

Wrong. To be honest, I can barely find polyamorous people willing to commit to what I consider a relationship. I want to see people more than once a month or at a party when they just want to have sex with me. I want them to speak to me and take an interest in my life. Sure, I can find many ‘partner’s who will gladly have sex with me once in awhile and maybe go out on a date, but no one willing to actually be in what I consider a relationship — let alone raise a child.

Siderants aside, I think you should do three things: look at models of co-parenting that aren’t white and middle class and also consider a model of co-parenting that isn’t centred around romantic relationships. Another avenue I considered before changing my mind about having children was raising a child with a friend I knew I could trust. And many people are doing this. Non-binary and awesome chef Jack Monroe recently shared this article about friends co-parenting.

And the last thing? Trust your gut. If you can’t trust someone you’re in a relationship to follow through on basic things, don’t have a child with that person. I feel like if someone I’m with can’t put forth 100% towards me and is selfish about their own needs, I don’t trust them to be able to put aside their needs to devote to a child. Which leads me to the next issue.

Natural imbalance of power

One of the reasons ‘relationship anarchy’ never seemed like a model I could go with was because, when I did want kids, there was no way in hell my relationships would all be ‘equal’. Fundamentally, there is and SHOULD be a hierarchy when there is a child involved. Barring some extreme circumstances, if you commit to being a parent, your child is your new ‘primary’. Period.

So I firmly believe if you decide to have a child with anyone regardless, that child and their needs must become the primary focus of all of the people choosing to be parents. I don’t believe people can be decent or good parents if they do not put their child first in their life.

That said, life is full of natural imbalances of power. I’m a disabled person. This doesn’t make me inherently less than anyone else in terms of my intrinsic value as a human, but point blank it does mean there are things other people can do that I can’t do. I have a degenerative eye disorder which may cause blindness eventually. Most people with my disorder are blind. When and if I do go blind, my relationships will change. I will become more reliable and dependent upon partners, most likely my primary the most, and that will inherently affect the balance of power across all of our relationships.

Of course, this can be addressed in other ways, but inherently I will have different and more time consuming needs than other people. Approaching having a disability with this ‘relationship anarchy’ style is not going to work for me because I’m going to have feelings about how some people care for me with my disability versus others. To be blunt, what if I develop a problem where I can’t wipe my own butt without help. Soz, but I’m not going to see a random acquaintance as someone who I want to help me wipe my butt as I would someone I have an established relationship with.

Having a child is going to create an imbalance of power and that’s the way it is, and almost the way it should be. And people have to respect that if they’re going to not only be parents but also be involved with you. Not to mention, children are a lot of work, to put it mildly. And all of the people parenting involved can lessen that work and make it possible for folks like me with disabilities to parent without exhausting myself. But that’s only if other people pick up the slack.

Children are exhausting, expensive, and are basically another full time job you won’t get paid for. You don’t get privacy. You might barely get sleep let alone sex. And there are all sorts of situations that could end up happening if the people you co-parent with aren’t ready to pick up that slack. I think that if you want to have a family with your primary and you trust he will pick up the slack and understand and respect the readjustment of power and focus, you need to think and talk about:

  • The role of ‘secondaries’ when it comes to the child
  • How childcare will be distributed
  • If there are co-parents
  • How co-parents are involved
  • How disciplining the child works
  • How you are going to handle legalities
  • How you will handle one co-parent leaving
  • When someone new can become a co-parent
  • Financial responsibilities and how they’re divided
  • How you will handle emergencies
  • How you will handle burn-out
  • How you will handle sex drives and lack thereof

and most importantly:

  • How you are going to handle someone not picking up the slack
  • What happens if you break up

Understand as well that things like breastfeeding or legal adoption can sometimes create a natural imbalance of power that can’t be helped, so think about how you’re going to address. Things happen and all of this may go down the gutter. Life, especially when it comes to having a brand new person thrown into the mix, is going to suddenly change. You can make all of the plans you like, but you never know what might happen.

Try your best to identify what assumptions might be made if it were just you and your partner — but don’t kick yourself if you miss something obvious because, again, sometimes you don’t know your boundaries and issues until they’re crossed.

Anxiety around other partners

When you mentioned you have a lot of anxiety around your primary partner and his other partners, but you don’t get this with your secondary partners, you assumed that it’s because you don’t have these models. But you’re not really thinking or at least talking here about what it is about other partners that makes you uncomfortable.

Is it that you are worrying about what role other partners are going to play in your family unit? Or is there something your primary is doing that is making you feel insecure about this situation? You’re talking a lot about your own feelings but not very much about your partner’s actions. You talk about being worried about your needs being seen as ‘dramatic’, doing emotional labour, as well as the fact that your primary has a significant more amount of privilege and thus, freedom, than you do.

It makes me wonder where this primary is in all this. I feel like there’s discussions you’re not having together. All of these anxieties are things he should be able to directly address. Sometimes, as I mentioned in “Thirteen things I wish I’d learned before choosing non-monogamy”, telling someone your wants and fears is terrifying in and of itself. It’s possible you’ve not had this conversation with him because you’re afraid it won’t go well.

But at this point, especially if you’re looking to bring a child into the mix, you’re only delaying the inevitable. Even though you don’t know if someone’s going to have your back sometimes until the fit hits the shan, you still need to have people step up and re-assure you. It’s different to have anxieties that stem from the way we’re treated by the world vs. having anxiety that stems from the way we’re treated by our partners. If your partner has given you any reason to believe asking for what you want is ‘dramatic’… my guess is it wouldn’t be a good idea to have a co-parenting situation with this one.

Getting to the root of your anxiety around your primary partner is going to be crucial. It’s not that you have to have a perfect relationship before you have a child, but it’s that, like adding anything new and stressful to the mix, it’s going to cause stress. And when stress is applied to situations where things aren’t stable, things might break.

In summation

To summarise things, I think you should expand your mind as to different models of co-parenting and family building and look in other places. You should try your best to address the potential pitfalls and ‘what ifs’ and how you’re going to address this as a co-parenting unit, as well as address the source of this anxiety.

When you address all of these, your anxiety and what you plan to do might be a lot easier to see.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: This article was written in 2017, so it’s possible I have gained a new or different perspective on this situation, so feel free to ask a similar question.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to columns 5 days before they are posted.

Stagnating vs. relationship escalator

I’m currently married to a wonderful man and in a relationship with a lovely boyfriend for the last eighteen months. This is my first foray into a serious relationship outside of my primary relationship, although I’ve been open with my husband since the start. I’m struggling a lot lately with not being on the ‘relationship escalator’ with my boyfriend-there’s no joint household, marriage, or family on the horizon for us for many reasons.

My feelings for him continue to grow stronger and sweeter, but I feel like I’m cheating him (and myself) out of the opportunity for our relationship to ‘grow’ in the traditional sense. I’ve communicated this with him and he feels the same. Is there any outlet for these feelings? How can I stay happy in a relationship that feels like it’s stagnating and not allowed to follow the ‘normal’ course of a loving relationship?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, the ‘relationship escalator’ refers to the predefined script society establishes for cisgender heterosexual relationships and the process by which one relationship ‘grows’ in commitment. One big struggle of non-monogamous relationships and a huge cause of anxiety is how to perceive a level of commitment with someone without this pre-defined script.

Which brings me to your question! You haven’t specified whether your boyfriend has a ‘primary’ relationship or not, and that’s one of the biggest things I’d say impacting how you go about this. If your boyfriend doesn’t have a primary relationship, it would make sense that you might feel like you’re cheating him out of an opportunity. Does your boyfriend have an interest in having a ‘primary’ partner? Because that may be the easiest solution for this.

However, the only other option I might see is one where your primary relationship and the assumptions you have made with your primary shift, which can happen. Can your live-in partner foresee a situation where you both have other partners that live with you? Is it something that your live-in partner is willing to try? Or are the boundaries and expectations there very fixed? If you’re interested in escalating your second relationship into something that sees more commitment, then that may be a solution. But I think, in fairness, you have to also be open and willing for your husband to have a partner live with him. If you go about this, I would highly recommend a rental situation before going in on a joint purchase for obvious reasons. Liking someone and living with them are different things.

If your boyfriend moving in isn’t an option, then might you consider living some days with him? In many of my relationships which became primaries, ‘moving in’ wasn’t really instant. We sort of started with the person having clothes or a toothbrush where I lived and it grew from there. You may already be doing this, but maybe you should make being in your boyfriend’s house a more regular thing.

Another thing you might do is consider having a ceremony between you two. While you may only be able to legally marry one person at a time, a legal marriage is purely a contract of the state. The marriage ceremony itself has nothing to do with the law. I found that very few people understood that ‘marriage’ in terms of the law is purely a contract having nothing to do with the actual ceremony in many cases when I was young and had same sex parents who were ‘married’ in their eyes but not the eyes of the law. There’s no reason you can’t have a ceremony that means something to both of you and emphasises your commitment.

If housing isn’t a thing you can have in common for whatever reason, it may be possible for you all to get something jointly. I’m not sure what country you’re in or what the state of your finances are, but in some cases in London where I live, you can get allotments of land for gardening and I also share a studio with several friends. It’s possible that you two could find a shared space that you both own separate from your primary, something that could bring the two of you together.

Another option is making relationships with family members. Although I currently don’t have much contact with my own family, my primary partner has a good relationship with his family. He’s told them he’s in an open relationship but I am a partner he’s brought home to meet his family. If your boyfriend has a family that he gets along with and he’s not interested in a ‘primary’ relationship, that is another option for travelling up some sort of ‘escalator’.

If none of these are options, I’m always a fan of making your own traditions between you two. I love traditions myself, and enjoy feeling like X is something I do every year with someone. Because I’m not in contact with my family, I spend every Christmas with a few of my friends and in a way that makes them like chosen family. Maybe you should pick a day that’s special to you that’s not an outright anniversary (maybe the day you first met?) and do something special that you can do every year.

And on the whole, I think what you both should remember is that inherently, your relationships are going to differ from what society decides is the ‘norm’. If both of you are happy in your relationship, then it might be wise to try and remember that you don’t have to mimic the script of what this society says a committed relationship should look like. Try to remember that ‘marriage’ itself only has a short history of being about romantic love.

It wasn’t that long ago that romantic love was often considered a sickness, not a valid feeling. Marriage was about an exchange of property. I mean ‘husband’ comes from animal husbandry. It never used to be about love. There are a lot of things in our society that we assume have been ‘traditional’ and timeless that aren’t. Bathrooms separated by sex for example? That became a way of trying to encourage women to get back into their homes which was their ‘true’ sphere. Monogamous heterosexual marriage for the purposes of love and commitment isn’t as traditional as people assume.

Anyone choosing non-monogamy is inherently choosing a situation where any partner you have doesn’t spend all of their time and romantic energy on you, so regardless of who your partner is outside of your marriage, you’re always going to come to this impasse. The solution is either creating your own ways of bonding and merging your lives together or trying to re-examine what ‘normal’ relationships mean and how they apply to you.

I hope this helped and best of luck.

Note: This article was written in 2016, which may have meant my views on the subject could have changed. If you have a similar question, feel free to re-ask it.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.