Polyamory’s Not Your Vacation Villa

The problem with polyamory is that it’s often sold like a vacation getaway. “CAN’T GET YOUR KINKY SEX AT HOME?” the advertisements thunder. “THEN COME AWAY TO FANTABULOUS POLYAMORYVILLE, WHERE YOU CAN FIND THE BEATINGS OF YOUR DREAMS!”

It doesn’t have to be kinky sex, of course, and often it’s not. Sometimes the poly-billboards are as innocuous as “Hey, you like going out to flower shows, and your wife doesn’t! So let’s sweep you off to this Relationship Getaway, where you sniff roses with a person who likes the things your partner doesn’t!”

And you’ll see that Vacation Villa model of polyamory a lot: you’re a dynamic fun person with many interests, and no one person can fulfill all those interests, amiright? So when your partner gives the big shrug to doing something fun with you, find someone else who is interested! And fuck them! Fuck the shit out of ’em and Do The Thing!

Problem is, that often backfires subtly in poly models that have a primary center to them.

While on the surface, it seems logical – “Hey, my partner doesn’t like going to Magic tournaments, why drag them along?” – what happens in practice is that, well, you treat the new partners like WHOO VACATIONTIME LET’S POP SOME MARGARITAS.

Like any vacation, it’s great at first. You’ve got these new partners to go have all the exciting adventures your old partner didn’t want to do! He didn’t want to windsurf? Hey, you’ve got a windsurfer in your boudoir! She doesn’t want to try fireplay? You’ve got someone to stoke the flames with!

But slowly, if you’re not careful, you start thinking that Old Partner is the one you do Old Things with, and New Partners are where you do all your growth. It doesn’t help that Old Partner may be reluctant to try the new things that you’re evolving into, and so what you get at home is a stammering hesitance – “I dunno if I want to go on a road trip” – whereas new partners are all like “FUCK YEAH LET’S DO THE ROAD TRIP THING.”

Sometimes, it’s not even a refusal. It’s just a natural, stupid uncertainty. I know Gini and I have had these incredibly stupid moments where, fifteen minutes after we’ve decided we’re going to settle in for the evening and watch CLONE WARS reruns, someone comes running into the house with an amazing party we could attend with fireworks and ponies and otters.

And stupidly, we have a surly reaction: “We had plans! They weren’t good plans, but… now we have to put on a hat. Man, that hat seems like effort…”

Usually we shrug it off, because what we realize is that for a lot of people, “Change” takes a bit to acclimate to. There are those free spirits of you out there who are up for any adventure even if they’re flipping you out of bed at four in the morning – but for most of us, you gotta give us a minute to wipe the sleep out of our eyes.

So what happens starts to look like this:

“Hey, I wanna fly to Hawaii on a kite-string, whaddaya think?”

“Huh. I’m not sure if – ”

“Okay, fine, g’bye!” And they’re off sailing to foreign lands.

Eventually, you forget to even ask your partner, because you know what That Partner does, and that’s not the fun stuff, and so you quietly compartmentalize your life into WHEE WITH FUN PEOPLE and Oh Yeah, That Guy, and….

…it doesn’t work out so well. Your lives splinter apart, because you’re no longer sharing experiences. You evolve in different directions, because in the worst of cases they may even stop telling you what they love.

And when their love mutates and you don’t even understand what’s getting them off, it’s hard to keep it together.

What you gotta remember is that in a quote-unquote “primary” poly model, it’s perfectly fine to go off and do other stuff – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! But never forget to give your partner the right of refusal. (Not the first right of refusal – that way leads to the abuse of quote-unquote “secondaries” – but a right.) If you decide you wanna take up target-shooting, or nipple torture, or the Paleo diet, ask them if they wanna come along. Give them space to decide, too, time to work past that initial reticence of STRANGE AND SCARY and possibly into lands of “Okay, so…”

And if it turns out you really really love something, even if they refused doing it with you the first time, tell ’em how important this is becoming to you, and ask ’em to give it a shot. The goal’s not to rope them into being joined at the hip with you – if they try target-shooting and it leaves ’em cold, great – but rather, to say, “This is a window to what I love right now. You may not enjoy it the same way I do, but can you see it? I want you to know me, even the parts you don’t fathom.”

Because the real danger with poly-as-vacation is that you start treating your old partner like the job. You condition yourself that the good times happen elsewhere. And when you start thinking of your partner as the thing you do in between the happy times, well, you’re doomed.

Any good relationship involves a set of shared experiences. You don’t have to – and in fact, probably shouldn’t be – doing everything together. But you should let ’em know what you’re doing, and what jazzes you, and even though they may say no ninety-nine times, maybe that hundredth time they’ll come along and you’ll find something neither of you thought you could love doing, and deepen the relationship instead of shrugging it off.

That ancient sage Snoopy once said that “Dogs don’t eat dinner, but we like to be asked.” And that act of asking can be powerful in letting your partner know that they’re welcome, and loved, and even if they sit on the couch while you’re off whapping each other with foam swords in a medieval reenactment, they’re still a part of your good times.

Even if those good times are as simple as “When I get home, I am gonna have so much to tell them.”

1 Comment

  1. Ruby Ryder
    Mar 2, 2017

    I am still in the phase of conjecture regarding polyamory. Thank you for the excellent information. I love everything about this piece!

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