The PolyBureau
by Alan Wexelblat

Answer Readers' Questions, Part III

There are several good questions this time, some of which could be the subject of entire columns in response. I'll try to do them at least passing justice here. If anyone feels like they're getting the brushoff, please write and let me know. This column appears too infrequently for us to engage in real dialog, but followup questions are definitely fair game and if it seems like I haven't answered the question, try asking it slightly differently please.

A Change of Heart

"D R" of shore.net writes:

Ever met a guy who wanted to be poly and then once you got used to it, changed his mind and wanted to be monogamous?

Yes, except in my case it was a 'gal,' not a 'guy.' As I described in the previous column, there are lots of people in the world who equate polyamory with not-serious. For them, it's possible to start dating someone casually and then, as the relationship deepens, feel like they want to or ought to be monogamous.

This can be handled a number of different ways. In some cases it's possible to teach the person that you two can continue getting more serious without necessarily discarding other relationships. In other cases, they may want some kind of reassurance that you also feel serious about them. This reassurance can take a number of different forms, one of which can be an agreed-upon period of monogamy if everyone involved is comfortable with that.

Other people just get scared. They see polyamory or openness in a relationship as a source of insecurity or they may worry that you see things that way. They may be misinterpreting cues you are giving them and trying to reassure you, albeit in an inappropriate way.

Finally, they may in fact really be monogamous people, regardless of what they have said or done in the past. While I'm sure it would be a more comfortable world if everyone was completely secure and unchanging in his or her sexual identity, the fact is that we're not. People change, peoples' attitudes change and sometimes, unfortunately, we can't be in relationships with people after they've made certain changes.

Finding the "Right" Third

"J B" of aol.com writes:

We have twice had a third for a time and then careers tore us apart. We do not seem to have any luck finding the right third party.

Melding family and careers is a challenge which most modern adults face, not just polyamorous ones. Of course we have it worse, since we're often trying to adapt three or more careers instead of just two. My sympathies on your past lack of success.

In my opinion, the key to this is for the people involved in the family to decide where their priorities lie and act on that basis. For some, that may mean passing up a great job opportunity in another state. For some, that may mean not taking another job until all the people involved have a chance to job hunt. The bottom line question is what is more important; why, for example, did you not move with your third when their careers took them elsewhere?

Answering that question is not easy, particularly in an American culture which pretty exclusively defines people by what job(s) they hold. In many ways it is also a novel situation for men, who are often raised to believe that career comes ahead of family; women are often raised to believe the opposite -- that they must sacrifice their careers for their families.

I'm sorry I don't have any good answers for you. All I can suggest is that it's less a matter of finding the "right" third party than it is of negotiating the right commitments.

Meeting the Third

A common question I see runs something like:

We have a nice home and fantastic environment for the right third party but do not know how to meet them. Any ideas?

This is might be the most common problem for people interested in the idea of multi-adult households. Back in the dark ages of the net, a list which is now about all forms of poly was called "triples" and a lot of the discussion on the list was about ways to meet or attract the right third person.

Unfortunately, I don't have any better answers today than I did ten years ago. Being the third requires a unique set of abilities and character strengths that not many people possess. I can only give you some guidelines and suggestions, based on things which I have seen cause my own and others' attempts to fail.

If you are looking for someone to form the third leg of an equal triangle, it means finding someone who is more or less equally attracted to both of you. That clearly means looking in the bisexual (if you are a M-F couple) or gay (if you are a M-M or F-F couple) communities first. That doesn't necessarily mean cruising the right kinds of bars, but it does mean restricting your interests to certain members of the population. Even if, as is likely, you initially meet through other interests you will at some point have to face the question of who goes to bed with whom. If there is a shared set of attractions, the question can be a lot less difficult.

If you are looking for a situation where there is no sexual interaction between one pairing of the partners (as sometimes happens in F-M-F or M-F-M triads) then your scope can be wider. In some sense, any polyamorous person with whom you share enough interests can be a candidate. Whether those interests are science fiction, folk dancing, mountain biking or whatever, try doing things with the three of you. See how the interaction goes.

Be sensitive to power relationships and to the feeling of being excluded. A dear friend of mine does not like to live with couples (despite being herself poly) because she feels left out. Couples have an enormous amount of shared intimacy which can be daunting to any newcomer. This is one reason why trios of friends tend to break up if two of the trio marry; even with the best of intentions, it is not possible to include the third person in that level of intimacy.

One way of dealing is not to look for a third, but to try to find a like-minded couple and form a four. Although this can definitely complicate the bed-hopping part of the equation, it can also help balance out power and intimacy inequalities.

Another way of dealing is not to look for a third as a couple, but let one partner or another do the looking. This means allowing one person to establish contact and intimacy first with your potential third mate and then bringing the second person into the picture. I can't give you specific guidelines for handling these kinds of negotiations. They'd be useless without knowing the particular people involved, anyway. Be patient, and good luck!

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Copyright © 1996-2001 Alan Wexelblat
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

Last modified: Wed Jan 15 06:36:42 2003