Note to the polyamorous: Stop dating the monogamous

A recent experience has reminded me of something I really already knew.

When polys date monos, generally what happens is, the poly gets his/her heart broken.

Monogamists by definition always seek a monogamous relationship. But monogamous relationships often start with people they don’t know all that well, with whom not much depth or seriousness is possible at first. Frequently these relationships start out non-exclusively. Most of us call that “dating”. It has nothing to do with polyamory, and tells us nothing about how the person feels about polyamory.

Monogamists often enter non-monogamous relationships, always with the expectation – stated or unstated, conscious or unconscious – that if/when the relationship gets serious it will somehow automatically transform into a monogamous one. When it doesn’t, the mono often reacts by lashing out at the poly, sometimes seeking out another person to start a new relationship with while dumping the poly or, worse, doing so as a way of trying to manipulate the poly with jealousy. (which of course, since polys by nature tend to be not very jealous about the physical but place an extremely high value on honesty, often has the opposite of the intended effect).

This is often accompanied by a lot of emotional abuse triggered by your failure to magically -and without any previous discussion- transform into something you’re not. To add to the fun, since polys not only do not make up the majority, but are not even an established, well-understood minority with clear boundaries and support structures, this is often accompanied by vociferous disapproval and finger-waggling from most any bystanders, family members, etc – even people you would have thought knew better..

This sudden-dumping-often-with-hate-speech-and-sometimes-a-witch-hunt usually happens right at or soon after the time at which the mono and poly are forming serious bonds with each other, so, by definition, it happens at the time when the poly is most emotionally vulnerable. Good times..

I have watched this pattern repeat so many times, in my own life and in that of many people close to me, that I have come to see it as pretty much the inevitable end result of polys dating monos.

Tired of banging your head – and heart – against a brick wall? The answer is not easy, but it is simple:

Stop dating the monogamous.

This is very similar to the lesson that most mature folks in the gay community have learned: Leave those closet-cases alone. They’re nothing but heartache. This is one reason that gays have their own bars and hangouts. Not because they hate everyone else, but because they want to have a place to go where they have some idea that people they meet are playing by roughly the same rules.

Its a pretty good reason.

Polys need their own centers of community. and not just online..

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8 Responses to “Note to the polyamorous: Stop dating the monogamous”

  1. compost john Says:

    I am poly. My wife is mono. We accept and love each other unconditionally. It can work well, all couples are different and generalisations may not cover all possibilities. We’ve been together 14 years and married for 9, and have children.
    John

  2. anni Says:

    Hey, i fully understand what you’re saying, but you seem to ignore the possibility that mono people can evolve into poly. Do you think that’s ever possible?

  3. jvol Says:

    Anni, thanks for the thoughts, and sorry if i gave that impression.

    I think nearly anything is possible, although some things are far less likely than others. Adult humans generally change very little and very slowly. Nevertheless, people do have a remarkable well of possibility and with a *lot* of work some do manage to pull off major transformations.

    As far as the idea of monos evolving into polys – vs the idea of closeted polys realizing that the lifestyle they’d always been told was impossible – but always wished it was possible – really *is* possible:
    I am aware that no one can truly know a 100% definitive answer to this kind of question, as with so many others (straight-to-gay “evolution” questions come to mind). My own feeling is that poly tendencies can be found in some folks, and not in others – and for the most part we’re wasting our time (or worse) on the ‘others’. We can learn to look for certain cues – a bit like “gaydar”.

    “Polydar”, I guess you could call it.

    I also believe that, even among those with a given latent tendency, profound personal transformations tend to come in long painful stages – usually too much so to happen within the context of a single relationship. A person who is already 80% of the way might take that last step (or some middle step) within the context of a single relationship, but these steps are often so wrenching that they destroy the relationship that triggered them. Relationships strong enough to weather storms of this magnitude exist, but are *extremely* rare (especially in America, where we literally pride ourselves on being incompetent communicators – and train ourselves accordingly).

    So, my purpose in writing this opinion piece was to point out that we should approach these situations with great care and eyes very much open, and that hard personal work and profound transformations are things that are much more practical in the context of a supportive community, with its broader well of resources, than in the context of a single relationship – a lesson many in the gay community have already learned (and have the scars to prove it). This practical principle is why we have community centers and 12-step programs and churches/spiritual/meditation centers and self-actualization seminars/retreats and other useful tools (yep, even bars and barber-shops have their moments). They can provide a less fragile (and also less personal-agenda-driven) framework for change than a single relationship can.

    In short:

    Don’t Try this At Home. Get back-up.

  4. Fox Says:

    I realize this article was posted last October, but I see comments activity as late as July. Whether this post goes unnoticed or not:

    My wife and I are polyamorous. We discovered this over five to six years of our relationship beginning with my wife realizing she was attracted to women. She then developed a relationship with another woman, through that realizing that she could love more than one person at a time. I didn’t become involved until a girlfriend she had last year. Her girlfriend and I began to like each other, and about the same time, my wife suggested “sharing” me since her girlfriend was bi and didn’t have a boyfriend.

    Unfortunately, it worked better for us, than it did for her. Rather… we were okay and happy with the situation, while our girlfriend was lying about seeing and sleeping with other men. We told her we were fine if she wanted an open relationship, but she had to be honest with us about it. We were dating someone who claimed to be polyamorous but couldn’t be honest with us.

    I guess the reason I am responding to this article and bringing this up is that the result was very similar to what you described happens when the polyamorous date the monogamous.

    The unfortunate thing is that while America is making progress these days in regards to what is acceptable and what is not, polyamory is still a difficult, lesser known, and even lesser accepted form of relationship than being gay or lesbian. Making things worse are those that think polyamory is an excuse to sleep with whomever they want with impunity. People don’t understand that if you’re not being honest about it, even in a polyamorous relationship, it’s still cheating.

    As for closet cases, and people evolving. The both of us thought we were monogamous when we started out. We evolved to where we are today while not destroying our relationship together. I think the key was to think things through, and make sure what we thought we wanted was really what we wanted. We tried the waters, and were open to the chance that it wouldn’t be okay. Through it all, not once did it endanger our relationship (though money fights have… go figure). We try to keep an open mind, and accept that another person may develop a relationship with one and not both of us or that the relationships may progress at different paces.

    Looking up through my post, I realize I’m now rambling.

    To conclude:
    Your article was a good one, though I fear the area may still be far too gray for it to be simple.

  5. Marla Says:

    I was monogamous as well as my fiance until about 2 years ago, when I started mentioning things like threesomes, or me dating women outside the relationship. We started doing research online and discovered the polyamorous way of life; mutual, honest dating.

    Now, I think I’m pretty well versed and am living a happy life with my fiance here in Indiana, and dating my long time best friend who lives in Cali until school is done. I also seek partners in the area as well, although the dating pool is small, and I get shot down a lot when they find out I’m in a relationship.

    I love my lifestyle now, but I don’t know if I would have seen myself in a relationship like this 5 years ago… maybe, maybe not. All I’m saying is, it’s not unusual for mono to go poly, with some discussion, hard work in jealousy, and love!

  6. Michael Says:

    This is a maturity/security issue. True polyamory requires unconditional love, which in turn requires a person to be mature and secure in themself.

    I am a newly-self-discovered poly. In my new maturity, I have realized that I can find all kinds of love everywhere and get my needs met everywhere–thus I never put expectations on anyone. There is one person I truly feel a divine connection to–but if she walked out of my life, as long as I knew she was happy doing this, I would be happy for her. THIS IS UNCONDITIONAL LOVE–the love that is happy even when letting go.

    It is my opinion that in order to truly break the chains of monogamy, one has to learn to love unconditionally:

    *When confronted with a difference of expectation, LET GO rather than hold on.

    *”I’ll be there for you if you need me” instead of “don’t leave me”

    *”I’m happy however you’re happy” instead of “I’m happy because you’re with me.”

    *No “property relations.” None of this “I’m yours” “you’re mine” business.

    *Do not put the expectation on anyone else but yourself to fulfill your happiness. Nobody is perfect, nobody will do it all for you. You are the only person responsible for making yourself happy.

    *Be sure you can be honest about everything–nothing is taboo. If you can’t do that with the other person–one or both of you ain’t ready.

    I have noticed that I have become more sexually conservative in a way since I went openly poly–because I see how few people really are mature/secure enough to handle it. The minute you feel a pushiness, pleading or compelling vibe from the other person–you know they ain’t there yet. So it’s on you not to lead them on, because the other is not yet mature enough to see his/her own reactions and put on the brakes for their own sake.

    I wouldn’t develop a long-term relationship with/stick my dick in someone with whom I sensed the slightest of other hidden expectations—too much eventual disappointment, too much drama. That’s the last thing I want. That’s the last thing they need, especially if they really do want to feel the joys of the poly life.

    I love this feeling, and I will make sure I am mature/secure enough with myself not to fuck it up. Best way to do this? Find real friends, people to whom you can talk to about anything–ANYTHING. Even if you fall head over heels for someone–don’t obsess about them. When you feel like calling your lover for the fifth time in five nights–call one of your good friends instead.

    Love, but don’t put all your love into one basket. Cultivate love with as many people as possible–unconditional love, love that allows you and these other people to just be yourselves around each other. Once you have this with many people, even if you are romantically involved with only one or two, you will be secure and you will be able to meet your needs anywhere–and you won’t impose the meeting of your needs onto the lover[s] you feel shook up about. Then you can REALLY enjoy it without worry.

    BTW—your lover should at least be thinking along the same lines, not obsessing too much about you. If you’re the only one they can open up to, that is trouble, because all their deepest needs will fall only to you. Introduce them to some of your good friends. If you can trust these friends with your taboo thoughts, you can trust them with the lover[s] you go wild about!

    Keep on loving! No drama here! And by the way, here is a link to a family that puts the power of true, mature polyamory to work! http://polyinthemedia.blogspot.com/2009/02/happy-poly-quint-on-msnbccom.html

  7. starrynightcoach Says:

    Your note about community reminds me of a book I read recently: “”Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”” The answer to that question wasn’t what I’d expected, it was like you were saying, about people needing people who have a shared experience for company.

  8. Sisi Says:

    As someone who just IS poly, who got into a long term monogamous relationship with a guy that really REALLY values monogamy and wants me to value it the same way.

    The poly-mono relationship has not worked for me. I love my partner and I feel that without him, poly would be cold comfort. But its been years of intermittent fighting where he fixates on the fact that I don’t FEEL the same way he does.

    I’m at (yet another) relationship crisis precipitated by the fact that no matter what I say or do, my partner will never trust me and for someone that values trust and honesty that is the worst feeling in the world.

    If this relationship fails me, it will break my heart and I don’t even know if I’ll be emotionally stable enough to pursue poly without being a toxic unstable person entirely. But I will never date the purely monogamous again, it isn’t worth it.

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