The Ferrett's Hard Limits Of Dating

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)
This was an essay I originally posted on FetLife, mostly because it was inspired by an essay on FetLife.  But in retrospect, unlike some of my other more sex-specific essays that I keep over on Teh Fet, there’s no reason I shouldn’t post it here. So if you want to know what I look for in a poly dating relationship, here it is.
(Also, if you want to read a very good essay on why your partner isn’t going to be having better sex with someone else, Jenna writes an extremely good breakdown of why “better” sex is a silly notion here.)
A friend of mine posted a very good list on Red Flags in relationships at – the things you should realistically stop a relationship when they appear. And I think it’s interesting to list my own Red Flags in polyamorous relationships, naming the things that have gotten me into trouble in the past that I should be able to stop at these days.
There’s the obvious lying and trust issues – I mean, if you’re not honest with me, I don’t want to be with you. At all. And [NAME REDACTED]’s list serves as a basic 101 of relationships in general, demanding the usual respect that EVERYONE should have. I mean, it’s a good list, since people DO tend to forget, but it’s right up there with “humans need oxygen, food, and three-dimensional space to survive.”
But there are other subtler polyamorous patterns that don’t work FOR ME. I have a very specific polyamorous pattern with my wife, and we’ve found what does and does not work for us… And there are certain patterns that have popped up again and again to the point where it’s like, “Really, if this is an issue, we shouldn’t be together.”

  • WE ARE YOUR FIRST POLY RELATIONSHIP. Honestly, we’ve done the starter polyamory thing, and it doesn’t work for us; people go in with the best intentions, but usually it winds up being a rocky road as we navigate the usual jealousies and fears that go with it, and poorly. At this point in my life, I need a relatively quiet and stable relationship, and the first time at the rodeo ain’t ever gonna be quiet.
  • YOUR CORE RELATIONSHIP, IF ANY, IS IN TROUBLE. If you can’t find a way to respect your primary partner, it’s going to be extra-difficult to respect me. I’m not saying that if you’re experiencing difficulty with your lover that we can’t make it work later when all is well, and I’ll cheerfully flirt all day long… But a new relationship always adds a fresh layer of stress to any existing relationship, and the danger that I’m going to be the distraction that lets you ignore the center isn’t cool with me. Either you Tarzan-swing to me, which means that you’ll probably be swinging over with all the same problems that contributed to your last relationship, or you eventually come to blame me (in part) for breaking up the old relationship. So if you are dating someone else, make sure it’s good.
  • YOU ARE IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE WHO’S NOT INTERESTED IN POLYAMORY, BUT IS THEORETICALLY COOL WITH WHATEVER YOU DO. It’s hard to diagnose these things remotely, but in my experience those relationships have a higher-than-usual percentage of being dysfunctional; sometimes it works beautifully, sometimes it turns out that the other partner isn’t really poly but is gritting his/her teeth to see if you work it out, sometimes it winds up being a variant on “Whatever I do better be okay with you or I’m outta here.” In any case, it’s usually at least a little awkward.
  • YOU NEED LOTS OF TIME. I’m working full-time, writing at least an hour every night, doing slush-work, and a ton of other things. You’re not a bad person if you need to see me three times a week or get long daily emails from me… but I’m juggling my wife and two lovely girlfriends, in addition to some other flirtations, and if you need a lot of time, then that’s going to be an issue. When I focus on you, you’re the only thing in my life and I will give you concentrated bullets of pure affection… But I’m not going to be a full-time relationship. Can’t be.
  • YOU ARE DISRESPECTFUL OR DISDAINFUL OF MY PARTNERS. You do not always have to like them. I’m in the middle of a fairly complex web that has its own problems; it’s tougher to negotiate things that in some relationships come without question, even when the trade-off is stability. I can see being irritated by having to deal with someone else’s issues, and my Poly Paperwork Patrol.

But I love my partners. I won’t hear of them being insulted, belittled, or disdained. And if you think they’re that useless, then you clearly can’t think all that much of me for wanting to be with them. I won’t be a party to that.

  • YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT I MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON PERCEIVED MERIT. I’ll often say that I won’t do X because it would hurt Gini’s feelings… But that doesn’t mean that I’m held hostage by Gini. It means that I’ve looked at Gini’s feelings, decided that if our positions were reversed I might be hurt, and said, “Well, even though I’d like to do that, it’s not worth taking a chunk out of Gini’s self-esteem.”

Yet for every time that happens, there are three times where I look at Gini’s feelings, go “Okay, sweetie, I think you’re being completely irrational here.” And we’ll have a long discussion, where the most likely outcome is that a) Gini convinces me that she’s right, or b) I convince Gini she’s not, and X happens.
The thing is, if I tell you, “Well, Gini wants X, so I’m doing X” and you respond with, “You’re just saying that because you’ve been married to Gini for eleven years,” then you fail. Hard. I don’t make decisions based on seniority; I make them because I think Gini’s actually CORRECT.
Anything else is a way of saying, “You’re taking her side because you’ve known her longer.” Fuck that; anyone who knows me knows that I’ll argue ANY case I find to be unfair. If I feel any of my partners are out of line, rest assured I’m going to bring it up with them. (And I expect them to do the same with me.)  I’m not the sort of person who takes people’s sides automatically just because they’re my partner – Gini is the love of my life because she has a long history of having good instincts, and I’m with her because I think that she’s a very smart cookie, but I can’t ever imagine being with someone where I give them the right of blind trust.
There may be couples who blindly take each others’ side. That’s fine. I’m not one of them, because they’re fucking stupid. Rest assured that if I think you have a point and one of my partners doesn’t, I’m going to be going hammer and tongs with them to prove your point.

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