Letter Of The Law, Intent, And Instinct

Polyamorous relationships follow all the rules of regular relationships, but they’re faster.  They have to be.  If you’re dating other people, you discover where your boundaries and discomfort zones are a lot sooner, simply because more people are bumping into them.

And I think that there are three basic stages of any relationship when it comes to knowing where your partner’s likely to feel slighted.

There’s that early stage where you’re both letter of the law about what makes you upset.  “She can’t wear my sweater if she stays over at your house.”  “Don’t see Moneyball with him.”

If the rules are stated, you’ll follow them, but you don’t really understand the concepts behind the rules.  Which leads to trouble when it turns out that “Don’t see Moneyball with him” is really a larger subset of a concept that says, “If it’s a movie that you know I want to see, don’t see it with anyone else or I will feel hurt.”

This stage is messy, because like all emotions, the core logic underneath may not be logical at all, and the reasons why she doesn’t want your other girlfriend wearing her sweater may extend to some crazy-weirdo idea of “If I smell her scent on my things, then suddenly I feel like she’s replacing me, and that sets me off in weird ways.”

Which leads to sad, messy conflicts where you did exactly what she said in not letting her wear the sweater, but now you let your girlfriend sleep on her side of the bed, and why are we arguing?  And the truth is it’s nobody’s fault – there’s this gap of improper communication where you don’t understand the infrastructure and she’s frustrated because you broke a rule that she didn’t elucidate properly.

But she’s still hurt.  And you have to find a way to make it better.

Yet if you stay with someone long enough (and care enough about them to try to figure out where their hurt-zones are), eventually you enter into the second stage of intent.  You have a pretty good idea what will hurt your partner even if it’s not been explicitly stated in a prior communication, and work to either avoid it or discuss it in advance.

Which is where you start having strange conversations.  “Hey, I don’t know if this is gonna be an issue,” you say, “But Sarah’s just bought that BPAL you like so much.”  And then maybe Sarah wears the BPAL, maybe you have a deep conversation that addresses her fears of being replaced, but you don’t run headlong into pit of the problem.  You know where it is.  You either fill in that pit or work around it.

That leads to pretty ugly conversations with your other letter-of-the-law partners sometimes, though.  You have to explain that yes, he’s a little weird about seeing movies, and no, he has not specifically said anything about seeing The Lion King in 3D with you, but yes, you are going to check in first, and… No.  No, it’s not okay.  Can we see Dolphin Tale instead?

No, I’m not whipped, I just know him that well…

But if you stay for a long period of time, then you wind up entering the third zone, which is a kind of psychic sense about your partner’s triggers.  There are times when I’m having an email conversation with someone, and a spider-sense goes off in the back of my head where I feel like I should mention this to Gini even though there’s absolutely nothing at all on the books about this one…

…and one time out of three, turns out to be a ghost.  Gini says, “Aww, that’s nothing” and moves on.  But the other two, she gets that nodding, concerned look and says, “Yeah.  Yeah, that’s good to know.”

I know, because she does it to me.  At this point, we’ve internalized each other’s psychic maps so thoroughly that we have an instinctual knowledge of the danger zones, and have learned to trust our guidelines.

This is a good zone, because it means I can really feel safe when she goes out on a date.  I have a real, 100% trust that whatever happens, it’s not going to stomp hard on any of my insecurities by surprise.  If something comes up, I’ll get a call, either asking, “Hey, is this okay?” or “By the way, this is about to happen, be prepared” and I’m cool.

But it’s taken a long time.  And we had to break a lot of the unspoken laws to get to instinct.

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