So I’ve mentioned (at some length) that poly is not a simple way to live your life. It is, in fact, fucking complicated. As soon as you open your relationship to the idea of multiple partners, it can snowball in complexity and without serious conversations and serious rules you can really quickly find that one of you has run roughshod over the emotional needs of the other. During a recent conversation with my girlfriend, I came up with a hard and fast set of tenets for how I feel good polyamory should be set up.
These are not rules, they are the precursors, the ideas upon which you choose to set your rules, and they are as follows:
- Keep me in the loop.
- Be respectful.
- Use protection.
- Never stop talking.
They’re fairly hard and fast, and they’re certainly not complete and they certainly weren’t handed down on a stone tablet by Moses, so let me expand upon them a little and explain what I mean here.
Keep me in the loop
“Keep me in the loop” can mean as little or as much as you and your partner decide.
So our relationship is set up in such a way that we’re able to have relationships with other people, awesome!
But I need to know about the other relationships.
Now, the two of you need to figure out what level of communication you need. Do I tell you when a relationship ends & when a new one starts & we leave it there? Do I tell you every time I go on dates, but skimp on the details? Do I sit down with you after a date and regale you with tales of fine foods, good drinks & cunnilingus?
You choose the level of communication.
I would take special note here to say that yes, there are people who operate on something of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis of communication in their relationships, “I know you sleep with other people, but I never want to know more than that”. I pass no judgment (if it works for you, great!); but in the case of these relationships, “keep me in the loop” still matters, if purely in the sense that your partner cannot be operating under the assumption that they are your only partner. They may choose to insulate themselves from any further information, like how many or how serious those other relationships are. But if they think they’re in a monogamous relationship, and they’re not, then I’m sorry but you’re cheating.
This could also be labelled “Always keep me in mind”.
This basically comes down to the fact that when you’re making decisions about other relationships, you’re no longer just considering the impact for you and your partner. All the metamours are in the picture too. No, you don’t need to consult everyone when deciding what’s going to be “our song”, but if you and a partner do something like consider forgoing condoms, then there may be other people you need to have a conversation with. This neatly leads into…
Again this one is heavily customizable, running from “While we sleep with other people we don’t come into contact with other people’s fluids — dental dams, condoms, and gloves every time for every act” all the way to “it’s cool if you trust them and don’t have a condom at the time”.
I’m not going to get into a discussion about what levels of protection you should stick to — that’s for you and your partners — but once those standards are set, they need to be adhered to. Otherwise, you’re risking the sexual health of many more than just you.
Never stop talking
So we’ve set boundaries and guidelines for how our relationship is going forward.
Awesome! Go us!
But we’re people, and people change, and new relationships make us change faster. There are going to come points when our rules need to shift, or new rules need to appear, or old rules need to go away.
Never stop talking, never stop asking “Are we ok?”, never stop asking “Are you happy?”, and always remember that you’re following the spirit of the law and not the letter. You’re going to have conflicts in spite of your rules. If you have a rule, and it’s worth enforcing, then it’s worth discussing.
Following these guidelines will not automatically shield you and your relationship from strife. There will always be times when there is flux or conflict, and sometimes these guidelines will need to be scrapped completely and a new set drafted. But they’re a good framework for how you treat your partners & how you consider their needs.