Respect For The Ones Who Come After You: A Cool Polyamory Tip

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Hardly anyone who dates me has problems with my wife. I’d like to say that’s because my wife is eminently sweet and reasonable, which she is, but let’s be honest: my wife’s been with me for twenty-plus years now, and our bond is strong. If you had problems with my wife, you probably wouldn’t want to date me.

I also have a girlfriend I’ve been dating for eleven years. She’s less intrusive on anyone I date, partially because she’s a severe introvert and as such is less likely to meet anyone else I’m smooching. So it’s unsurprising that practically nobody’s ever complained about her presence in my life.

…but I have noticed a pattern with the people I’ve been dating for a year or more.

There’s rarely jealousy for the people I’m with when they start dating me. Those relationships are part of the Ferrett Starter Package – you get a Ferrett, you get a Gini, you get Ferrett’s Long-Term Partner and all the comets he’s seeing sporadically. That framework of relationships gets built into how someone interacts with me.

But after we’ve been going out for a while, I’ll notice that when I start dating someone new, it’s A Problem. This person is Unknown. They weren’t standing in line when the person I’m currently dating got here. And this newness often causes upheaval in quiet ways.

It’s not that they’re opposed to me dating other people. But perhaps me dating this person is the wrong decision. Or perhaps they weren’t expecting this relationship to blossom this quickly. Or perhaps they felt they deserve more of my time than this new person, or they’re not entirely sure this new person is good for me, or….

I’m not pointing fingers here; I’ve done it too, where the person I’ve dated picked up a new paramour and suddenly I was all like WOT’S THIS ERE THEN, OO’S NEWWWWW PERSON?

Yet there is a tendency to react to a partner who’s come along after you as though their addition some sort of special upheaval that requires managing, simply because the dynamic’s changed. And yeah, you definitely have to think about the dynamics when you’re dating, but…

What that resistance often is is a subtle statement of “I know my place in this hierarchy, and I don’t want to be budged.” Even if you don’t have a hierarchy.

Which I mostly don’t; my wife comes first because a) I live with her and am financially entangled, but more importantly b) she’s been my best friend for twenty-five years and her advice has led me to being saner and happier than I ever was without her, so her words bear a considerable weight. But in general, I don’t weigh my relationships by the amount of time invested, I weigh them by how fulfilling they are at any given moment.

And my relationship dynamics are continually changing! I’m talking to new people, having old relationships fade or crumble, going to conventions (eventually) and sparking new crushes. All my relationships – and I have a lot of them, on various levels of intensity – are in flux, eternally. It’s not like things were in a fixed position ever.

So what I’m saying is this: often, what people do when a “new” person comes along is to register objections to the new person – sometimes as blunt as “I don’t like them” or as subtle as a vague dislike because something seems off about them. And certainly I’m not telling you to disable your dysfunction radar, but…

Ponder whether it’s the person you’re concerned about, or whether it’s your perception of your place in line that you care about. Because what’s actually happening is often a flurry of “Wasn’t I good enough for them? Why are they seeking out new partners when I should have fulfilled all their dreams? Do I really know my partner well enough to trust them finding new dates?”

Yet what you must remember in these poly-only situations is that at one point they were happy with the “old” partners and yet still saw something in you. It’s a subtle insult to everyone else they’re dating to imply that their falling in love with someone else is a failure in the relationship structure!

(Although, this being poly, let’s be honest: There definitely are people who do swing from partner to partner, feasting on NRE and starving the others. But then again, if you’ve been okay with starving your partner’s old partners as your lover has been spending all their time with you, then perhaps karma may have come a-knockin’?)

Truth is, if someone’s dated steadily, the fact that you’re no longer the newest addition doesn’t mean you’re somehow lesser. Each relationship within poly is unique, and you have to trust that – and I know from personal experience it’s scary when someone else comes along, drawing your partner’s eye with strengths you don’t possess! But you have to be comfortable that you have your own individual charms that New Person, in turn, does not have.

Good poly isn’t about standing in line. It’s about valuing the relationships you have properly. And it’s about being realistic in understanding where your concerns are coming from – you can’t fix your worries about “What do I mean to them?” by ragging, however subtly, on their other partners.

If they’re dating someone new, contemplate the true nature of your objection. Are they really a danger? Or do you just need some reassurance that you’re still fully loved as you can be within the framework of dating multiple people?

Because there is a difference. And wise poly people know it.

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