The Start Of The Veto Is Not The End

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“The Veto” is one of those auto-debate topics in polyamory, like abortion or religion or Billy Mitchell, where merely mentioning it to the polyamorous causes a hive-like breakout of debate. Those who have veto power in their relationships feel that it’s the only sane method and view everyone without a veto as some sort of Darwinian poaching ground where slavering fuck-chickens knock you down and mount your partner, whereas those without a veto see the vetoers as Relationship Stalin, executing potential lovers with a single word.
Full disclosure: I am a Stalinist. My wife has a veto, as do I. I personally don’t recommend the veto system for every poly relationship, as like most parliamentary procedures the veto becomes a disaster without the proper frameworks to support it.
Yet I wanted to talk about what the veto is not: an end to conversation.
For me and Gini, the veto power is of such a devastating potency, like nuclear weapons, we’re loath to use it. The only reason we’ve given each other such power is that we know neither of us would ever use it without having tried every other recourse: talking, begging, negotiating, smoke signals, operant conditioning, feng shui, late-night infomercials touting the merits of dating someone else.
The veto is our bond of trust: “I know that you would never use this power unless you felt you had no other way of being heard – and so when you use it, I know it is because you are hurting so badly that we need to stop right now.”
As such, in all our years of marriage, we have never vetoed anyone.**
But if Gini or I did veto a partner, shutting down that relationship, that would not be the final word.
Too many people view the veto as a trump card – you slam it to the table, yell “VETO! NO BACKSIES!” and then your partner can only give a Swiper-like “Aw, man!” and dutifully slink away. There is no further discussion, just a sullen obedience.
Whereas if I ever vetoed one of Gini’s partners, Gini would indeed stop dating (or perhaps even talking) to that person. That would be Gini, showing me her understanding of how badly this relationship is hurting me.
But then I would have to explain all the reasons how her behavior with this guy is causing me so much pain that I felt I had to thumb the big red “NO” button.
And then we have a big discussion of a) what’s acceptable and not acceptable in our relationship, and b) how she could alter her behaviors to both make me feel loved and date this guy.
Because I want Gini dating other guys. (And girls.) I want Gini dating other guys and girls who I’m not necessarily involved with. I want Gini to not be dating other people, if she’s in the mood to. I want Gini to be happy.
If I’ve just shut down her relationship, obviously neither of us are happy.
And I think that’s why the veto gets a bad rap: too many partners use the veto as a way of walling off the things that make them uncomfortable. “I don’t like that guy,” they say, yanking the big “Veto” ripcord and then walking away without a word of explanation.
Except that for me, Gini obviously gets pleasure out of her partners. Maybe she’s so caught up in them, she’s neglecting me in ways that make me feel horrible. Maybe he’s abusive to her in ways I do not wish to tolerate. Maybe he’s better at something than I am, which makes me feel small and scared.
The veto power is not the shutdown, for us. It’s the start of an emergency talking session, and that discussion is entitled, “How can she continue to date this person, and still make me happy?” And my goal is to keep her dating that person, if at all possible.
Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes two people have toxic habits when combined, or one person really is disrespectful in a way that doesn’t fit with your relationship. The veto risks discovering that yes, it’s them or me, and now you have to choose. Which is another reason we try not to push that big red Veto button: it could be them. Maybe I’m acting like a jealous ass. Maybe this discussion is going to reveal that I’m the one at fault. It’s unlikely that Gini’s going to leave me, her husband of well over a decade… but I have just opened up that possibility.
In the end, we love each other, which is why we’ve never vetoed. We’ve managed to negotiate through all the difficulties our other partners have caused, and keep them going.
The reason we’ve managed that is because our primary goal is to make the other person happy. That veto works because of mutual assured respect. And I think a veto given to the wrong person, one who wishes to control or suppress, would be an unmitigated disaster.
In the meantime, we’ve got this Veto button sitting between us. Haven’t needed it yet. But if it gets pressed, we know to listen.
* – If you have not seen this movie, which is the best documentary I have ever seen, then you are missing out on the majesty that is Billy Mitchell, my friends.
** – Full disclosure: There has been one veto from my girlfriend, and that after months of misunderstandings and discussion about the party in question. Which should also put a lie to the idea that vetos are a way of enforcing not-really-poly binary relationships: my girlfriend also has veto power.

1 Comment

  1. trixie hobbit
    Dec 6, 2013

    Well, since you mentioned Dora and Swiper , all I can see in my head is saying “poly, no polying” or “fucker, no fucking” three times before the sullen “oh, man”. So, thank you for that image.

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