Sometimes people surprise you. I’ve been polyamorous for just about my entire life, and a relationship anarchist as well for the last few years. I don’t think I’ve ever been without a few partners or loves, though I only recently connected with my local polya community. As such, I’ve been involved with a lot of people who had been monogamous before and tried polyamory for the first time when getting involved with me. I’ve also been with a lot of people who had few relationships before me at all, but since we are raised in a society that normalizes monogamy, that is how they imagined their first relationships would be structured. There are a lot of pitfalls when getting involved with someone who has absorbed institutionalized monogamous ideals and has not done the work to unpack those. I was one of those people once, despite being polya from pretty much my first dynamics, and only experimenting with a couple mono relationships for a short time in my teenage years. There was a shit ton of work to do and societal brainwashing to unpack, work that took me many years and a lot of heartbreaks to get through. I hit a point where after I had done a lot of that work, I was understanding of what it took and tried to help a number of partners through that as well. I was new once after all, now I could work with others going through similar things and take on a sort of mentor role.
Several shit shows later, maybe a bit more then several, I was ready to wash my hands of all that. I found a boundary, I did not want to get involved with people who had not already gotten to at least somewhere near the point I was at. I would not get involved with monogamous people, or people who had no prior experience with polyamory or relationship anarchy. If someone was monogamous but willing to try polyamory or relationship anarchy, I fully supported that, but I wasn’t the test subject for that experiment because I did not have the energy for another dynamic in which they would find they couldn’t manage it after we’d done a year or more worth of emotional labor trying to make it work. It probably didn’t help the divide that most of the polya people I knew had also studied non-violent communication and developed good emotional intelligence and self-awareness as a necessary part of making polyamory work for them, and most of the monogamous-want-to-try-polya folks I knew were learning those skills along-side with also exploring a whole new way to relationship.
So I made that boundary for myself, and my next couple dynamics were really very smooth in comparison to the ones before. Instead of fighting and yelling and pushing away attempts at control, or getting drawn in and engaging in screaming matches I was later ashamed of, there were a couple years of calm conversations when problems arose, and good beginning talks about what agreements we would have that encouraged a respect for autonomy of all of those involved. It was fucking lovely! In a previous dynamic with a my ex fiancé (a mono oriented person who was willing to “allow” me to be polya but didn’t have interest in being so himself, and never learned to communicate well or unpack a lot of societal mono baggage), when he cheated I found out after months of dishonesty, and couldn’t grok why he had not just told me that he had wanted to see someone else as well. I mean to be honest, I had not created the best environment for honesty, we had a whole bucket full of other problems in our dynamic, but the cheating was a bad situation that exploded and he never communicated well through that, or through the eventual dissolution of our relationship that followed. In contrast, I got involved with Witty, a person who had been looking at and trying polyamory for a while before we got involved, and had spent years figuring it out, along with learning effective communication and interpersonal skills to make it work. He cheated as well, but it was a case of miscommunication, there was no attempt at deception at all following the fact. We discussed it quite calmly, redefined our relationship agreements to prevent future mishaps, and the word was fairly hunky dory after that. I could see pretty clearly the benefits of dating people who understood relationshipping in ways that suited what I was looking for, and had put in time an energy to be effective at it, same as I had after years of mistakes.
I was a happy little polya panda a couple years in to my new easy life, assured that this boundary had significantly lowered the drama level in my relationships and that it was the –right choice-. Then I met Hoffy, who from almost the first conversation, showed me a level of openness and vulnerability I rarely see even from my dearest friends. He was inquisitive, forthright, and asked me a lot about the way I relationship in a frank and non-judgmental way that made it easy to open up. I decided fairly quickly that every rule has an exception. I often feel an extreme amount of hesitancy getting in any new relationship, which I’ve talked about here, but I was more certain I wanted to explore things with him than I had been about any life decision in over a decade. I suppose sometimes you just know, because I am continually amazed at how that dynamic has progressed. The level of openness and honesty has only deepened over time, and thus far there hasn’t been a single roadblock we couldn’t overcome, relating to polyamory or otherwise. Since I’ve begun writing here we’ve often discussed our thoughts on the topics I’ve covered, and I again find myself even more amazed that someone raised in the same culture as me with mononormative structures, who hadn’t had any experience of polya relationships beforehand, could be so functionally excellent at making it work. Thinking about it in more depth, I realize that the things that were lacking in my previous relationships with new-to-polya folks were often not their relationship experience in particular, but the communication skills, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness that often developed after more experience. I fought tooth and nail against myself, against other partners, against societal ideas I had absorbed, to develop those. I told myself that it was okay that I was a work in progress and that it took many years of brutal fuck ups to reach where I was now, and it was also okay to expect a certain standard from others because I no longer had the spoons to teach someone who was starting at the beginning when I was miles along the journey. So what did it mean to find someone who was jogging along right beside me but hadn’t gotten there with a trail of messy broken relationships behind? It raised my standards. I suddenly realized that you know what, it actually is possible for someone to be compassionate, understanding, a gentle communicator, devoted to honesty and openness, from the very beginning. There are people like that, or at least I had found one, and maybe that meant I hadn’t deserved all the shit and abuse heaped on from previous people who didn’t measure up to that. Conversely that meant that I had no excuses for my previous behavior. Being inexperienced wasn’t an excuse, and while I am admittedly very frank about how shitty I used to be, I needed to take even more responsibility for that. I could have gone about everything very differently from the start, and I didn’t, but I knew now that it was possible.
So sometimes people surprise you. I still have that boundary for myself, although I have tweaked it some. I am only willing to get involved with people who show they can express themselves with honesty and in a non-violent way, who are aware of their wants and needs and aren’t smuggling in secret expectations under them, and who are self-aware and emotionally intelligent in ways that fit with the complex nature of the way I relationship. People who also question society and its more harmful messages, who are willing to think outside of the box, those are people who I feel may be able to relationship well with my unconventional way of doing things. I hold myself to higher and higher standards, and I recognize that I deserve to be treated just as well. I can be compassionate to what I went through and why I was a grade A shitbird, and have that compassion for my previous partners, while still living up to higher ideals today and seeing that mirrored in the people in my life now. I’m glad I took the chance that I did, sometimes it is good for even the most important stands you take to have the possibility for exceptions, a little fluidity and wiggle room can lead to the greatest growth.