Around this time last year, yangpup, boydenon and I pulled in to Hoi Ann in Vietnam. We’d been on an overnight train from Hanoi so we were a little crumpled, but ready for new adventures. The leather tailors in Hoi Ann are fantastic by the way, should you ever get there.
It was our first trip together, and every minute in Hanoi had been a pleasure, but I hit the reception desk roadblock that poly travellers need to navigate. One king-sized bed just wasn’t going to be enough, they insisted. We needed to upgrade to a room with two queen-sized beds. All of my persuasive prowess wasn’t going to shift them.
THE WORLD ISN’T QUITE READY FOR POLY RELATIONSHIPS
So, here’s a reality of being polyamorous. You’re a kind of square (or perhaps triangular) peg in the world’s round holes. Don’t let me put you off, it has its upsides. And the upsides are oh-so-good. To walk the streets of Vietnam with my boys by my sides was a feeling of happiness I will never forget. Pulling them close in the evenings made me smile all the way from the toes upwards.
But, the world isn’t really built for units of more than two. Restaurants have couples menus for Valentine’s Day, not triples. Hotels give you two towels.
Someone used the term “champagne problems” in conversation with me recently, and I liked it, so I’m going to use it here. Yes, these are champagne problems. Poor us, having to call room service for an extra towel. But, I just mean them as examples of the external reality of poly (and by “external” I mean outside of the family or unit). There are a whole bunch of tiny little moments you’ll need to navigate in a different way when you are together, because the world isn’t expecting you.
There are bigger external realities to navigate, of course. Dealing with family and friends, your workplace, your Facebook status and the fact that all the forms you ever fill in will have space for one spouse, one next of kin, one partner to give benefits to. I can’t give you advice about any of those, because they’re highly personal, but you’ll deal with them time and time and time again.
A VIEW FROM THE INSIDE
Then there are the internal realities, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but a relationship between three or four or five or more people is more complicated than two. It just is. It’s not impossibly complicated, and the way some people handle their poly relationships is far better than the way some others handle their monogamous relationships. Again, it’s personal. But, at any given time there are more variables, more balls in the air (so to speak), so you need to be just a little bit better at what you do in the “healthy relationship” department.
Here’s some solid tips I’ve learned from my own ups and downs or from taking to others. They’re tips, not rules, and I should make it clear that I’m speaking from the viewpoint of a closed D/s relationship. There are many models of polyamory and mine is just one of them. I’ll try to stay universal with words, but if it’s not applicable to what you do then that’s ok too. They’re not commandments from Moses. Also, I’m using the term “household” here not in the sense of living under one roof but as a synonym for family, clan, tribe, polycule, or whatever word you like to use.
1. TRUST: All sustainable, strong, healthy and enjoyable relationships involve trust, be they friendships, conventional romances and marriages, business relationships or poly households. Trust is essential. Trusting each other is the foundation of a healthy poly household. It doesn’t mean you have to share every little thing in your head with any or all, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to know everything that transpires in some kind of miraculously transparent way. It just means being secure in the knowledge that everyone’s best interests are at heart.
2. COMMUNICATION: People have different communication styles, and there can be some shuffling around to accommodate that. Also, not all things are going to be put up on the pinup board for all to read (see point 1: Trust). All relationships, poly or otherwise, need good communication. It’s a given. But, you may need to work a little harder for it in poly. Remember too, communication is a learned behaviour, it’s not like instant noodles, sometimes it takes a little time.
3. JEALOUSY: You can’t dictate a “no jealousy” rule. If it happens, recognise that it is probably signalling that something is off in the relationship that requires attention. Jealousy is often a healthy emotion because it’s instinctual and it’s perfectly natural for many people. Jealousy is an umbrella term for other emotions so try and focus on what emotion that is and why you are feeling it before dismissing it as “bad’. It’s just a feeling. Like many other feelings. And those feelings come from a real, tangible place and they are important. Talk about them. Explore them. Jealousy is not the emotional poly boogey man under the bed.
4. SUPPORT: With a triad there are three of you instead of two. That can be a good thing, because should a member of the household need support the other two are there. But, it doesn’t always have to be a cluster hug. You are not a couple plus 1, you are three individual people and need to form communication patterns which are singular in nature. We’ll deal with our emotional support needs in the way that feels right for us, and that should always be OK.
5. BE PREPARED FOR CHANGE: If it’s going to last you need be prepared for changes in where people are emotionally in regards to intensity or comfort as you work through your relationship. Be prepared for jobs to change, expectations to change, finances to,change. Don’t be surprised when they do, because they will.
6. DEAL WITH DISAPPOINTMENTS: Invariably, over time, every member of your family will be disappointed by something at some juncture, either individually or collectively. Deal with it. Don’t ignore it, don’t let it fester, don’t pretend it doesn’t matter.
7. FIND JOY IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD: You are involved in it for a reason. Remember why you came together in the first place. You’ll sometimes have a bad day at work or a case of the sniffles. I’m not suggesting you need to be up all the time. But if the going gets a bit tough, it can be comforting to remember that you’re in a loving relationship.
• FetLife – Poly & Kinky
• Archer Magazine – The Joy of Polyamory
• Vice – How I Worked Out the Rules of My Three-Way Relationship
• Elephant Journal – Polyamory Isn’t All About F*cking: The Art of Multiple Loves
• More Than Two – Polyamory Resources and Guidelines
• Brian Frederick – How to Make It Work: Tools for Healthy Polyamorous Relationships