The PolyBureau
by Alan Wexelblat

Answer Readers' Questions, Part VI

The Basic Incompatibility

"L P" of writes:

I have a question regarding my live-in boyfriend, who is polyamorous, and me, the monogamous one. Both of us are rather adamant about our beliefs. Both of us want very much to stay together and not lose the wonderful relationship we have. My question is this: Is there a way that a monogamous person and a polyamorous person can come to some kind of agreement that can give both people a feeling of openness and commitment without threatening either set of beliefs?

Been there, done that. Got the scars. In my case, it was a relationship with a woman who started off poly but came to want to be monogamous during our relationship. We always referred to this as the "Basic Incompatibility" in our relationship. And, in case you were wondering, I couldn't make it work in that instance.

That said, I know people who do make it work. In every case, the critical factor seems to be the monogamous person's acceptance and self-assurance. As a monogamous person, you have a natural instinct saying that time and attention given by your boyfriend to others is cheating. If you two can work to overcome those feelings, if you can be assured of his love and willingness to keep his promises to you, then yes you can make it work.

Some of that reassurance has to come with time and experience. Some of it can come from making promises and commitments explicit. Some of it can come from his being willing to give you some degree of control over the ways, or degrees, or amount of poly in his life.

The question, at base, is what do you need in order to feel treated fairly? Every relationship is an ongoing set of compromises. The Basic Incompatibility is just a very big compromise space and the question is whether you can find a compromise that works for you two.

All in the Family

"B I " of writes:

I have strong poly feelings that include my first cousin. She feels the same way, but my wife is slow to accept polyamory, especially if it involves family. Am I crazy for even thinking I'll ever experience polyamory in all its beauty?

I'm going to assume that by "poly feelings" you mean sexual and/or emotional attraction. This is major taboo territory and, by extension, also major fantasy space. It makes many people uncomfortable, for reasons too complex to go into here. So I'm in sympathy with your wife's feelings.

Yes, you can make it work, but should you? Is it really worth the trouble and risk? You'll have to answer that for yourself. It may be worth trying to separate the two issues and work through each separately.

Before Living Together

"A" of writes:

We (3) are now considering living together and combining our businesses which, looked at logically, should work well. I just have some doubt about the emotional side. I am leaving the gradual evolution of truth to my love as she knows her partner best, but do feel that it would be better to be totally honest before we all live together.

There is nothing logical about moving in with someone you love. In particular, moving in with two other people when the three of you are not being honest about how you feel towards each other is a recipe for disaster in my book.

Combining money, living arrangements and all that entails is complex enough. Doing so with what might be seen as a hidden agenda is sowing the seeds of resentment. I'm a very territorial person and being comfortable in my home is very important to me. If someone was to make me uncomfortable in my home I would feel fairly resentful toward that person. It's possible your lover's partner is more understanding than I am, but I wouldn't stake my place to live and my livelihood on it.

Sooner or later you and he are going to have to find your own relationship space - you can't just relate through your shared partner. I feel that it's best if that relationship can develop in its own shape and time. If you're living together and seeing each other daily for business then there's no separate space for retreat and reflection.

How Much Time is Enough Time?

"A W" of writes:

I expressed an expectation about amounts of time we would spend together in the future. He thought I was being possessive and he felt like I was making demands. I carefully explained that this was not jealousy or possessiveness, but rather what is necessary to building, nourish and maintain a relationship between any two people. He seemed to accept this explanation, but I'm very uncomfortable accused of being possessive or clingy.

I'm loathe to say that anything is "necessary" to build a relationship between two people. I think what's important here is that you are stating what you find necessary. That's what's important, after all, since he wants to build a relationship with you, not with some abstract other person.

As I've said elsewhere, all relationship is about compromise. You state what you want, he states what he wants, then you see if there's a middle ground. If he's going to start off claiming that your time desires are possessive and clingy then that's going to make compromise that much harder.

I think the key here is putting your needs in context. There's a vast difference between I absolutely require two or three days a week from a primary partner and If we're going to work on building a primary relationship, I'd like to spend two or three days a week with you.

Make sure he understands what your requirements are, what you're willing to be flexible about, and what not. Help him understand why you see things that way. Admit that he may see things differently and that neither of you is necessarily right or wrong to begin with. One of the difficulties of poly is that experiences from past relationships don't necessarily translate to new ones. Each one requires us to build anew and take into account the new needs of new partners.

The good part is that your past experience can be a good guide to what you really do need versus what you like. For example, I know that I like having overnight dates with my lovers and it has been great when I've been able to do that, but past experience has shown that I don't have to do this in order to have happy, healthy relationships.

Open-minded but Jealous

"S" of writes:

My first love is still one of my best friends. We've talked about how we're still in a relationship. Now I'm with someone new; he's very open-minded, but this 'friendship' still makes him a bit jealous. I don't intend to bring up poly unless things start happening, but the possibility exists. My question is, do you have any advice on discussing or practicing polyamory with people who are open-minded but still a bit jealous?

It sounds to me like your someone new may be right to feel a bit jealous. You talk about your first love as if you never broke up with him; does your new beau know that? Did he know that when he started dating you?

If the two of you went into the relationship with different expectations, it's natural for him to react negatively. That he is willing to be open-minded is a major point in his favor. So my first piece of advice is to build on that. Let your new partner know you appreciate his willingness to speak his mind but be open to possibilities. Let him know that you're not upset or frightened off by his being jealous and that it's important for him to remain aware of his feelings.

See if he's willing to talk about what it is that makes him feel jealous. Is there something you can avoid doing or saying that will help? Does he just need time to adjust to the idea?

Finally, I'd say that before things actually do happen is a much better time to bring up poly and explore the issue. Although imagination can be much worse than reality - people may think things will be much more horrible than they actually end up being - it's also a good space to explore feelings and thoughts before being forced to confront actuality.

It sounds like you have a fine pair of guys there; what's required now is work on your part to build on what you've been given.

Return to Index

Got a question about polyamory? Ask The Poly Column Author <>

Copyright © 2001 Alan Wexelblat
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

Last modified: Wed Jan 15 06:52:32 2003