Why It’s Hard To Expect Clear Communication In Beginning Polyamory (Or Beginning Anything, Really)

(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.)

“Relationships are all about communication,” the saying goes – as if you just talk through things enough, you’ll be fine.

But there is a hidden “gotcha” in that: clear communication requires clear concepts. Communicating something you don’t actually understand all that well leads to garbled discussions – like when you’re trying to get a bartender to make your favorite drink when you don’t remember the name or what’s exactly in it, and you’re flailing “You know! With the bourbon! And that flavor!”

(For the record, the world’s perfect drink is the currently-on-pandemic-hiatus Velvet Tango Room’s Bourbon Daisy, a drink with a fifteen-second aftertaste that mutates on the tongue, and yet I digress.)

Now, that’s not to say the bartender might not eventually stumble onto the fact that you want a bourbon daisy – the genius part of communication is that it’s two-way, and sometimes a knowledgeable partner can intuit the part that you’re not saying.

But when you’re starting out? When you have literally the least knowledge that you’ll ever have about what you like and expect in open relationships?

Communication gets rough.

And though the idea of communicating what you need sounds really good, often starter polyamory is mucked up with a lot of things you didn’t actually know you needed until you get there – you don’t know how to be reassured in your insecurity, you don’t know what your partner is supposed to do when they go out on a date with someone else, you may not even know why you’re upset.

Now, constantly communicating can ameliorate some of that damage. If you discover that your partner needs to give you a night-night call before they go to bed at someone else’s house, informing them of that revelation as soon as is conveniently possible is A Good Thing.

But what I find beginning poly folks often do is to expect that communication will clear a path for them – whereas a new relationship is like walking across a strange room in complete darkness, barking your shins on a new piece of furniture every few steps.

A clear, constant communication won’t prevent you banging from your shin. It’ll let your partner know hey there’s a chair here, which is better than nothing, but you’ve still got a bloodied toe and an ouchie to Band-Aid.

And starter poly folk often feel weirdly betrayed by that hurt – We’re open! We discuss things all the time! This shouldn’t happen! – and alas, I’m here to tell you that it’s part of the process.

There will be communication, but it likely won’t be clear. You’ve got some work to put in, exploring the boundaries of your own comfort, discovering what helps you feel safe, learning the surprising intimacies you didn’t even know you had until you see your partner doing those with someone else and feeling that sting of Wait, wasn’t expecting that.

It’s fine. Constant communication should be expected.

Clear communication takes self-knowledge, which takes practice and time, and I promise you that you can mostly get there. But you have to realize that often, communication is what wraps the bandage around the bleeding wound and stops the infection, not what prevents the wound in the first place.

1 Comment

  1. clodia_risa
    Feb 3, 2021

    I needed to read this today, and yesterday, and I’ll probably need to read this again tomorrow too. You have perfectly encapsulated something that I didn’t know I needed to put words to.

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