Willy Wonka And The Polyamory Factory

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Here’s a common mistake I see among newbie poly couples: Charlie has just gotten a Golden Ticket to see Willy Wonka’s Magical Chocolate Factory, which in this case is defined as “the really cute girl who does all of the freaky things that his current partner is not interested in.”
And the partner says this:
“Yes!  I’m so glad!  You can totally go to the factory!  Just… don’t eat the caramel.  And if he wants to show you the room where he beats the chocolate, don’t eat the grass.  Or the candy flowers.  And don’t go in the tunnel, I’m not cool with that.  And if he wants to give you the factory, that’s crazy responsibility, say no.”
Now, it could be argued that hey, at least this way Charlie gets to see some of the factory – but realistically, he’s going to spend so much time worrying about whether he’s going to partner his wife off if he hugs an Oompa-Loompa that honestly, he’s going to either hate the factory or hate her.
(Obligatory note: this is not gender-specific, Charlie could be a woman, overprotective spouses come in all genders, thankyouverymuch.)
What’s usually happening when you get the Great Golden Ticket Disclaimers is that the wife doesn’t want to tell her husband, “No, you can’t go to the factory” because she knows Charlie is actually Augustus Gloop and he’s going to fall in the damn candy river.  But she doesn’t want to say that, because then she’ll be a Bad Poly Partner and Charlie will be all mad… so instead, she comes up with a list of a few, uh, provisos, a couple of quid pro quos, until she’s essentially walled off all the best parts of the candy factory.
And you know what?
Charlie usually falls in the damn candy river anyway.
Sex/love/affection has an uncanny way of seeping around protective clauses.  The goal with a a poly relationship should be to find someone everyone is comfortable with, not to take someone and rules-lawyer them into a semi-acceptable form.  If you have to do that much work to make the candy factory safe to travel through, then you should just condemn the fucker and not let Charlie go.
And Charlie will be mad.  Charlie may actually be pretty stupid, because people tend not to learn from reading essays or being given advice by friends.  No, people learn from grabbing the special Three-Course-Dinner gum off the table and cramming it in their mouth and blowing up into a big purple mess when the dessert portion doesn’t work quite right, and only after they’re squooshed back down into somewhat normal size by Willy Wonka’s extremely painful machines do they say, “Wow, I probably should listen to Willy Wonka when he tells me no!”
Which leaves you with an uncomfortable choice, when the Golden Ticket appears: do you say “no,” and let them seethe for the rest of their lives about what a gloriously perfect experience the Chocolate Factory would have been… or do you let them go, watch them fall in the chocolate river, and hope they learn? Or do you let them go and discover that indeed your partner is Charlie Bucket, and gets the factory, and deal with the stress of being a lucrative candy magnate?
There’s never a good answer there.  And I’m not saying, though people will doubtlessly misinterpret me, that restrictions are bad.  (“Safe sex” is a pretty darned good restriction, f’rex.)   What I am saying is that raising fifty million provisos because you’re too afraid to say “no” is often way more harmful than the flat “no” – because if, by some magnificent chance, Charlie follows all your guidelines and emerges from the candy factory whole, chances are good he won’t think, “Wow, all those guidelines protected me from danger!”  He’ll think, “I could have had so much more fun if I wasn’t held back by all these stupid rules!”
But it really is okay to say “no.”  It’s tough, when those golden gates are opening.  You may even find Charlie running off, alone.  But if you never wanted to own a candy factory, or deal with the unique form of PTSD one only gets when you’ve been sucked through the garbage chutes of a chocolate factory and are barely saved from the incinerator, then maybe letting him go off is the wiser choice.

7 Comments

  1. ewinbee
    Mar 20, 2014

    This metaphor was stretched as hard as Mike Teevee was in the novel.

  2. moonless
    Mar 20, 2014

    This is probably the best article I’ve seen on this problem with “Polly couples” I’ve ever seen. Bravo!!

  3. snowfatale
    Mar 20, 2014

    This is all fine and good except the ticket is not a ticket but a person with feelings of his or her own.

  4. LegallyBinding
    Mar 21, 2014

    Agreed about the metaphor being stretched really thin. Just say what you’re trying to say without being so cute. Just my opinion.
    Anywho…as you’re writing this blog post from the perspective of an expert, I think you’re a bit in error here.
    The main idea of the post makes some sense. Don’t oppress someone with rules passive-aggressively if you’re going to agree to letting your partner see other people.
    The corollaries, however, “make sure that your partners get a long” and “make sure you apply rules evenly”, are very couple centric. There are lots of poly people who have metamours who don’t know each other, like each other or even interact. The idea that it has to be this big open family vee is just one way of doing things.
    I know from experience because I’m not involved with the other people my partner sees, other than making sure she’s safe and sound wherever she goes. Even that I do through her and at her comfort level.

    • TheFerrett
      Mar 21, 2014

      The corollaries, however, “make sure that your partners get a long” and “make sure you apply rules evenly”, are very couple centric. There are lots of poly people who have metamours who don’t know each other, like each other or even interact. The idea that it has to be this big open family vee is just one way of doing things.
      I don’t see “making sure your partners get along” as couple-centric. If your partners get along by not knowing each other, not liking each other, or not interacting, that’s still getting along. It’s when they start creating friction between each other that it becomes a huge deal.

      • LegallyBinding
        Mar 21, 2014

        “If your partners get along by not knowing each other, not liking each other, or not interacting, that’s still getting along. “
        To say that a lack of conflict is the same as getting along is stretching more than a bit.
        “The goal with a a poly relationship should be to find someone everyone is comfortable with”
        I have to take issue with this. There are many different poly styles and more than one includes a situation where the Hinge dates people who aren’t comfortable with each other.
        I agree with your main point, of course. Don’t passive-aggressively manipulate your newly poly partner out of really experiencing the poly lifestyle. It’s dishonest.
        But to me, it is couple-centric for the original two partners to set up rules that the new partner must then abide by or live up to.

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