Why Would A Monogamous Person Date A Polyamorous Person?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“Too many mono-poly relationships crumble because the monogamous partner never bothers to explore the potential advantages of polyamory,” I said in my essay “Dear Monogamous People Dating Polyamorous People: Don’t Go Camping.” And someone asked:

“Could you say more about the potential advantages for a monogamous person dating a polyamorous person? That is precisely what I’m trying to explore right now, and at risk of sounding selfish, it’s been difficult to find the tangible benefits for me, the essentially-monogamous partner.”

I absolutely can. But first, lemme give you four caveats – which, yes, is a lot. Then again, poly is a lot.

The Main Benefit Of You Dating A Polyamorous Person Is Getting To Have The Polyamorous Person In Your Life Romantically.
I mean, that’s absolutely the prime benefit – getting to keep this polyamorous person around. If you want this person in your life and in your bed, you have to accept their sleeping with other people. If you’re monogamous, that can be a tough row to hoe.

So make sure that investment is worth the payoff. If that person makes you insecure all the time, or mistreats you, or is just someone you’re staying with because it’s better than being alone, then maaaaaybe it’s time to think about leaving.

Ideally, that person should bring you joy, caring, and baskets of hot snuggles. And you forget that at your peril – the main benefit is, and will always be, them, so either treasure their presence or ponder whether it’s worth the trouble.

Don’t Think Hostage Situations Are Polyamory.
I have a friend who, whenever she’s had one too many glasses of wine, confesses “I tried polyamory, but it didn’t work.”

Unfortunately, her “polyamory” was her partner coming in and bellowing, “I GET TO FUCK OTHER PEOPLE WHENEVER I WANT OR I’M LEAVING.” Which is not “polyamory” so much as “a hostage situation.” If you got no say in whether your previously-monogamous partner has turned polyamorous, that’s generally a bad sign – because the sort of person who lays down laws and doesn’t give a fuck about how you feel generally will not provide you with a good relationship in any sort of environment.

Now, that’s different from a partner who explains their new-found need and tries to meet you halfway. (I’ll get to that in a second.) And it’s entirely different from someone who was polyamorous when you found them and you thought you could monogamize them – you took yourself hostage there, son.

But the sort of person who lays down a law, telling you how it’s going to be from now on? That’s probably not good. Contemplate leaving.

Don’t Think Comfort Is The Same As Contentment.
If you think “being comfortable” is a tangible benefit in your relationship, polyamory probably won’t bring you much.

Because opening up your relationship opens up all the emotions – all the jealousies, all the simmering conflicts, all the assumptions get flung into the air and recomposed. And just when you think you’ve stabilized, there’s some new breakup or some new relationship and the deck gets shuffled again.

If you do it right, those changes can lead to steady progress – my wife and girlfriend can mark the increasing stability of each relationship I’ve had over the last ten years, and can also mark how those relationships have made me more sensitive to their needs. But it’s not always comfortable. You can go months where everything’s on course, but with more people to deal with, more upheavals will happen.

That said, unsatisfying relationships often prioritize stability over genuine enjoyment – “We’ve been together for seven years, I know her, even if I don’t like her much I’ve learned to work around her.” That “comfort” in substandard relationships often turns out to be the sort of slow rot that undermines a marriage until one day everything tumbles apart without any external help – so one of the benefits that polyamory brings is forcing you to reexamine your fundamentals.

If polyamory is done right – and not just the “I get to fuck anyone anywhere any time” that’s foisted upon people in hostage situations – it ensures that you have to communicate properly. That ensures you don’t take much for granted. And that can encourage a long-term stability that’s hard to beat.

A Lot Of The Benefits Of Actively Investing In Polyamory Are Preventative.
In my “Don’t Go Camping” essay, I said that monogamous partners should try to find the advantages in polyamory, and not just shove everything poly-flavored into a box they never look at. I’ve seen too many relationships that are “Your boyfriend will be at that party, I’m not going there” and “I don’t care about her scheduling, she’s not my problem.”

And you should learn to meet your partner’s partners and get at least a little invested in how and why they come to date them – but mostly, the benefits there are making the polyamory easy on you.

Because if you never sit down for a drink with your partner’s sweetie, chances are good that you’ll either see them as some untouchably beautiful sex-siren who you can’t compete with, or some horrid hag who is nothing but a tick on the ass of humanity. The truth’s in the middle. Learning to garner some level of comfort of the ins and outs of how your partner practices polyamory – and, more importantly, who they choose to do it with – will often not only help reduce your jealousy, but it’ll cushion the inevitable bumps that happen when conflicts arise. You won’t be passively carried down a stream helplessly, you’ll be taking some hand in your combined futures.

You’ll see your partner’s other partners as human beings – and believe me, that helps.

But that’s only a “benefit” in the same way that an aspirin is a benefit when you have a headache – you’d rather just not have the headache, amiright? So let’s look at some of the actual benefits:

Sex Is Not The Exclusive Thing That Defines You As A Couple.
So what does?

If you focus entirely on the lament of “I’m only having sex with them,” then you miss the opportunity to define your relationship with your partner in other, more positive, ways. I mean, people have sex all the time, but how many of them share your obsessive need to stat-point the perfect Fantasy Football team? Or those singular in-jokes where one of you says “They’re making headlines!” and you both collapse into giggles as everyone else stares in puzzlement? Or those little rituals of asking your partner to “Pay the toll” when you accidentally block their path in the hallway, forcing them to kiss you before you proceed?

You have to be careful with those moments, because sometimes they’re too generic to claim as yours – and it’s usually unhealthy to do a land grab, clasping every thing you’ve ever done together as your exclusive. But if you do it organically, you eventually come to realize that you two geek out over the latest “Serial” episode in a way that your partner literally can’t with anyone else, and that intellectual curiosity is what bonds you.

That can be oddly freeing. Because almost anyone can bump uglies. What you’ve done is to define your own relationship’s exclusivity in terms of something that sprung naturally from how you interacted together, and if you choose it right it’s almost impossible for someone else to seriously impinge upon that bond.

I mean, it’s my go-to example, but I met my wife in a Star Wars chat room. We have twenty years of attending Star Wars premieres together, having serious discussions on Death Star trench run strategies, getting Star Wars tattoos. I can discuss Star Wars with other people – and do – but I know one of the reasons we’re together is because we not only like Star Wars, we like it for the same reasons.

My wife will not run off on me with a younger, more knowledgeable, Star Wars nerd. This is who we are. It’s a lot more stable, in many ways, than pure sexuality.

You Get To Learn What Your Partner’s Really Like.
I wrote the other day about how my wife is a slightly different person with everyone she’s ever dated. I like nerd stuff and hate the outdoors – so when she’s with me, she focuses on Star Wars. (LIGHT SIDERS 4 LYFE, BABY.) But her ex-husband hated nerd stuff and loved skiing, so back then she went skiing.

If you watch your poly partner instead of slapping your hands over your eyes whenever they leave your sight, you can get a fuller sense of who they are. Which, in turn, can surprise you in good ways – hey, you didn’t know they wanted someone to hold them when they were sick.

Quite often, you’ll find things you didn’t know they wanted that you can also provide.

Now, you have to be careful – smart readers have already noted the tension between “this nonsexual thing defines us as a couple” and “I will do this nonsexual thing with my partner.” You can step on toes that way, which is why I said it’s best not to try to wrangle something into being a just-you-and-me ritual unless it’s seriously meaningful. But often, what you’ll find by observing in the wild is something as trivial as “My partner likes it when his other partner holds his hand in public.” And if you can do that, you can give them tiny gifts that strengthen your relationship.

You Can Build Stronger Outside Relationships.
A lot of bad forms of monogamy involve shaving everything down to the lowest common denominator – you’re not allowed to have friends who might encroach upon the Sacred Monogamous Couple, and so too many monogamous couples become a self-contained unit. They don’t have buddies they go out with, they just spend time with themselves.

And what will happen in bad mono-poly relationships is that the poly person goes out, dancing and drinking and dalliancing, and the monogamous partner stays at home and soaks in self-pity, patently waiting for the butterfly of their beau to come alight upon them once more.

The good news is, when your partner’s dating, one of the best cures to get over jealousy is to go out with other friends! Or find new things to do with new people! Make all those coffee dates with the people you’ve been meaning to catch up with! Take up that bedazzling kit you wanted! Find a platonic pal to square-dance with!

Your partner may not be around as much as you’d like them. But you can use that time to create a stronger background so you’re not as reliant on your partner for your happiness, which is a total win throughout.

(And if your so-called polyamorous partner, for some reason, feels jealous that you’re not doing the Rapunzel bit for them, then see the first rule: Hey, is the reward of having this person around worth the trouble?)

You Can Get Other Perspectives.
This is advanced poly, but if you get to be good enough acquaintances with your partner’s other partners, you can sometimes huddle for groupthink when they’re in trouble. If Daniella’s depressed and you’re not sure who to turn to, the answer is sometimes “the other people they’re deeply involved with.”

Now, it’s generally unwise to ask them about an argument you’re having, unless you’re a) really good friends with them, and b) have a relationship-spanning understanding that they’re only going to agree with you if they think you’re correct. But you often can suss out difficulties by quietly asking, “Hey, Daniella’s seemed a little slow to initiate intimacy lately – is that something you’ve seen?” And sometimes what you wind up being is a mutual support group, which is absolutely the ideal.

1 Comment

  1. Raven Black
    Dec 5, 2018

    I enjoy how this post doesn’t make it sound very good at all for a mono person to date a poly.

    One possible advantage not mentioned (specific only to a fraction of people though) is if the monogamous person really doesn’t like clingy/dependency sort of things, and likes plenty of time to themself, a poly person can be a good fit to that because they’re likely to be spending at least half of their social-option time with someone else.

    It sounds a bit weird to say “maybe you want to date someone because they won’t be there” but some people like to have an occasional person but not an always person.

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