Dear Monogamous People Dating Polyamorous People: Don’t Go Camping.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So I hate camping – for me, the outside is largely a space I endure to get to new air-conditioned places. I hate sleeping in things that aren’t beds, I hate the bugs, I dislike weather.

But let’s say I like my partner. And my partner loves camping. Can’t function without regular doses of sunshine and campfires. And the only way to really spend time with my partner is to go camping with him and his friends.

So I tell him, “I’ll go camping with you, but you’ve gotta do all the camping work for me because otherwise I won’t bother.”

And because he loves me and is just happy I’m along for the ride, he agrees to take on the additional work.

So he chooses everything in my camping backpack and packs it neatly for me. When it comes time to set up the tents, I don’t bother to learn how it works: that’s his job, and maybe his friends too. I’ll grudgingly eat what food they make at the campfire – it’s not as nice as going out to a restaurant – but if there’s a way I’m supposed to get rid of the trash, that’s not my job.

I don’t like camping, and I came along. I’ve made my sacrifice by just arriving.

Everyone else should just accommodate me.

Yet here’s the weird thing: as long as I hold the repellent idea of camping at arm’s length, it’s highly unlikely that I will ever have any positive camping experiences.

I won’t learn what kinds of sleeping bags maximize my comfort, because I’m too busy complaining that these aren’t beds. I won’t find a favorite camping food that my boyfriend didn’t think to mention, because this isn’t something I’m investing time in and so why should I put in the effort to research anything? I won’t get the satisfaction of knowing I learned to survive in the wilderness, because I’m so upset by having to be out here that I’m forcing my boyfriend – and everyone who goes camping with him – to simulate a non-camping experience.

I mean, I’m probably never going to adore camping. But I’ll have a much better experience if I say, “Okay, I don’t like this, but what aspects of this camping trip can I make work for me?” And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll find some camping tricks that make the experience tolerable, and even on a good day I might find it kinda nice, even if honestly I’d rather stay at home binge-playing the new God of War.

Now.

If you’re a monogamous person who’s dating a polyamorous person because that’s the only way you can get intimacy with this amazing person you found, I sympathize. Polyamory’s hard enough on those of us who chose it organically, and I can’t imagine how painful it must be for you to date someone who’s got other lovers aside from you.

But don’t go camping.

As someone who’s seen a lot of polyamorous dynamics, one of the most consistently dysfunctional is, unfortunately, “the monogamous partner who feels resentful that they had to choose this lifestyle, and feels they’ve made enough of an effort by simply tolerating this weirdo situation, so they’re gonna make him do the rest of the work.”

That usually manifests in terms of things like “Please ensure your other lovers aren’t anywhere I can see them, even if they live in town and are friends with our friends,” leading to frantic campaigns where they’re asking Frankie please, don’t come to this party or Lois will get upset. Or concepts like “All my jealousy is your fault because this wouldn’t be happening if you just gave up this open relationship, so whenever I’m sad for any reason you have to drop everything and rush back home.” Or reactions like “You do what you want on the side, but I’m just going to pretend this is monogamy and walk around all the ugly bits until I’m literally forced to acknowledge that you have anyone else in your life.”

That’s camping behavior.

And look. I’m not saying that you have to go out of your way to be besties with all of your partner’s other partners, or to date seventeen people you’re not interested in just to balance the scales. Monogamy is a perfectly valid relationship choice, even if that choice gets complex when you’re dating a poly person.

But what I am saying is that too many mono-poly relationships crumble because the monogamous partner never bothers to explore the potential advantages of polyamory. They spend so much time trying to change their partner’s and their partner’s partners behavior that they never wind up developing their own coping mechanisms for jealousy.

And it falls apart.

What I’m saying is, I know camping sucks. (I really do loathe the outdoors.) But if you’re gonna be polyamorous, seek whatever advantages you can. It’s definitely weird being friends with your partner’s other lover, but if you make that connection they can give you insights into your relationship – or just occasionally be more generous in handling the inevitable scheduling snafus. Learning how to tolerate your partner’s other sweeties at parties can help assure you that they’re not some perfect seductor, poised to snatch your lover away from you. And treating your jealousy as something that you have to learn to handle instead of demanding everyone else do the heavy lifting will help you learn self-sufficiency on the days your partner may be too distracted or upset to properly soothe you.

It’s not what you might have chosen. But you love this person. And honestly, as long as you’re demanding they do all the camping work for you, they’re gonna spend a lot of stressful time setting up the campground to your satisfaction and will spend less time with you, actually enjoying the outdoors in your presence.

It’s not ideal. But learn to set up the tent anyway.

You’re here. Might as well make the best of it.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous Alex
    May 30, 2018

    Or you could do what I did with a former partner: Don’t go camping. (Not a metaphor; camping was a significant factor in our breakup.)

    -Alex

  2. bonerici
    May 30, 2018

    Wait I want to know more about that camping trip you took. Did you really just sit around and do nothing? I would still take you camping and not make you do anything I love camping!

  3. Yet Another Laura H
    Jun 2, 2018

    I dunno. My best friend was involved in a “camping” situation. It looked less like “I am NOT going to try to enjoy this camping thing,” and more like the amusement park when my kid said: “We are going on this ride! It will be fun!” I said, “I really think this is a bad idea, but for you, I will try. I warn you, I will probably feel terrible all afternoon after riding that thing. Can I skip this?” And the kid said, “You are being silly! Don’t you love me? You’re going to make me ride ALONE? This ride is FUN.” (Not even massaging the story, here.) And I ended up being violently ill, spattering my fellow riders, and traumatizing my kid, because how could I say no and make my kid feel unloved. Except I should have just set good boundaries and known my limits.

    I mean, yeah, some people COULD have had fun on that ride, and if I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have known for sure. But I bet a lot of other people would have preferred that I sat that out.

    Look… I’m naturally disinclined to monogamy, myself. (Caught a bad case of it in the 90’s, and thank the Great Goddess Fuck that I’m over that shit, because it sucked urethra hickies.) And I love Bill and his ex-wife with all of my shriveled excuse for a heart. And I think that… well, sometimes it’s camping and the monogamooses could have tried harder to find the good in the situation, and sometimes it’s the Condor, and no amount of finding advantages will keep you from ending up on your knees, weeping and vomiting.

    Just saying.

  4. Dave L
    Jun 2, 2018

    Or maybe you go camping and find, to your own surprise, that you actually like it

    I can think of more than one experience I thought I would hate, but enjoyed after all

    It may be rare, but don’t close yourself off to new experiences. You never know

  5. Marie
    Jun 4, 2018

    Most of us know our own limitations. Manipulating situations to the benifit off a few and not the all is not the answer. Broaden your horizons is one thing ignoring the fact that your going to be violently ill ” to further the metaphor” for the sole purpose of making effort for another is wrong . Boundaries are important and appropriate. Perhaps a better analogy would be; If I give youa flower you give me a flower.

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