Potentially Perilous Poly Patterns: The Catalyst

(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.)

You’re polyamorous, so you’re able to date anyone you want. That’s good!

Except the person you’ve fallen in love with is married, and they’re not polyamorous. That’s bad!

EXCEPT that after some awkward discussions, the married couple decides that they’ve been wanting to expand their horizons for some time – and since you’re right there and waiting, they’ll open up their relationship, starting with you. That’s good!

If you’re thinking “Isn’t there a hidden ‘That’s bad’ coming?”, well, you’re way ahead of the curve.

Because I’ve written before about how first-timer couples have a habit of treating their new polyamorous partners more like an experiment than an actual love. (Insert hashtag #notallcouples.) They tend not to see this new lover as a person with needs, but rather as some exciting adjunct to their existing relationship – they get more sex, they get more excitement, they get the fascinating experience of handling jealousy and attractions in a different way –

And that pattern often works for the third party, right up until that person has a need that conflicts with the needs of the couple.

Classically speaking, the trigger point that causes the break is one of two things:

  • The other partner is “okay” with polyamory as long as they also get to boink the outside partner at the same time, which usually leads to a couple of uncomfortable threesomes and a discussion of “No, I just want to date this person, not both of you”;
  • One of the two couple-partners gets way more into the external partner than the other half was expecting, at which point the reins get yanked and yanked back hard.

At which point there’s an awkward discussion about Oh, sorry, we weren’t ready for this and the new person gets tossed out on their ear.

Basically: We like you, but we’re not willing to accommodate you.

Now, that’s all a known danger, Khaleesi. Being people’s firsts runs the obvious risk of becoming someone’s last when they discover this is not for them. I’m not saying never to do starter poly – even though, full revelation, I don’t – but I am saying that if you’re attracted to anyone who’s in flux, you need to be prepared for the very real concept that this might not evolve the way you thought it would.

Yet there’s an ugly kicker to all of this:

Sometimes, it turns out that you were not only an experiment for this couple, but you were a successful one.

What often happens afterwards is that the couple has been on autopilot for so long that you’ve woken them up again – your new and sexy hotness has gotten them to talk about sex more and started up all those old kinky negotiations they stopped having, and the threat you posed to their happiness actually forced them into talking more and hashing out issues they’d quietly buried.

You see them around. They’re lovey-dovey in ways they weren’t before, their spark flaring ever-hotter, maybe even dating quietly on the side in better-defined polyamorous relationships. And one of the partners – the one you were into – will look at you and give a little sigh-smile that goes Oh you kid but that part’s over because they’ve prioritized themselves properly and you didn’t fit.

Which can be a heartbreak if you’re still single and looking. Or even just still not over that person.

But you gotta ask yourself when you’re getting into a relationship with inexperienced folks: Am I an actual priority, or just a potential catalyst? And keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with being a catalyst if you want to. It can be super-fun being someone’s gateway to a new world.

Just… keep your heart properly protected. Because if you think this is A True Relationship and it turns out that you were a nice-to-have, you can damage yourself in ways you don’t want to. And you’re worth keeping safe.


  1. Anonymous Alex
    Oct 7, 2019

    “The toppings contain potassium benzoate… That’s bad.”


  2. Anonymous Alex
    Oct 7, 2019

    “The toppings contain potassium benzoate… That’s bad.”


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