You’re Not Demanding Things Of The Person, You’re Demanding Them Of The Relationship

(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.)

I said this yesterday:

“Remember: There’s a ton of ways to do polyamory. It’s not wrong to demand what you want out of a relationships; it is wrong to demand that any relationships that don’t do that are somehow flawed.”

To which some folks asked, “Demand? Is it healthy to have a relationship where people are demanding things?”

My reply is that it’s unhealthier to have a relationship where people don’t demand things.

You are, whether you want to use the word “demand” or not, quietly demanding things in your relationships – baseline expectations that you probably don’t even think about, because they’re so non-negotiable you couldn’t consider a relationship without it.

“I demand that my partner doesn’t hurt me nonconsensually” is a big one for a lot of people, as is “I demand they only have sex with people of a legal age.” But even excluding those unthinkables – and you shouldn’t – there’s plenty of other baseline demands like “I demand they treat my job with respect” and “I demand they stay faithful in the ways I define fidelity.”

“But those aren’t demands, Ferrett….”

Really? Are they negotiable for you? Will you look at someone seriously threatening to cut your throat with a knife if you ever go out in that outfit again and go, “Well, maybe if they brandished a paring knife?”

No, there’s certain lines people can’t cross with you, or they don’t get to stay in your life in this way. That’s extremely healthy behavior.

That’s a demand.

The trick is that your baseline needs are not necessarily a demand of the person. There are certainly dysfunctional relationships where people find folks who are utterly not what they need in life and try to warp them to fit, like banging a piece of tin to wrap around an anvil. And that’s a terrible idea.

It’s true that good relationships are built on negotiations.

But good negotiations come from knowing when it’s time to walk away from the table.

As such, it’s good to think about your non-negotiables – and they don’t all have to be life-threatening. These are the things that will absolutely break you if you try to bend the rules on ’em, and they can be both extremely specific and seemingly trivial to other people.

For example, if someone I live with is out late, they have to call to tell me when they’ll be back, or else with each passing hour I can’t stop imagining that they’re dead in a ditch somewhere. I don’t care where they are, I just need to know they’re safe now and when I need to start up my worry-clock again – I panic, and all that panic vanishes the minute they text me “I’m at a party, it’s great, I’ll be back before 4:00 am.”

(Just kidding. My wife and I are elderly. We don’t go out to parties any more.)

But the trick with that is that I’m not necessarily demanding the person I’m living with has to change! (Though it’d be nice.) I’m saying, “This is a thing I require to be in a relationship where we live together, and if you can’t do that, then we can’t be in that type of relationship.”

That relationship can shift! I don’t worry about the people I’m not living with, so maybe that person moves out… or I do.

Likewise, if someone in an intense romantic relationship can’t provide your required level of intimacy or fidelity, maybe you downshift the relationship to FWB or even just F. Maybe your mom won’t stop tromping on your boundaries, so you shift that from “Weekly conversations” to “Monthly texts.”

If the person can change, great! But the demand is on the relationship, not the person.

Which is scary, because in romance, those demands can mean “We can’t date” and no one wants a breakup; it’s easier to try to browbeat someone into changing. And again, if they’re amenable, fine, but often altering a person to suit your needs is an act of harm.

And also… make super-sure that these demands are actually non-negotiable, and not just things you really like having. Would you actually leave if that happened, or would you just gripe a lot? It’s fine to say “My partner and I have to have sex every day,” but if everything else is wonderful and you’re only having (very hot) sex two to three times a week, is that a “demand” so much as “my ideal”?

Ideals are different than demands. Demands are what you need because you will break in fundamental ways without them. Ideals are what you’d want in a vacuum, but it turns out when you balance them out among all the other good qualities a relationship provides, you can kinda slack on one individual point when the rest is eminently satisfying.

And yeah, sometimes demands turn out to be ideals, and vice-versa! I never said this was easy. Learning how you function with other people is a constant process, not an event you graduate from.

Finally, maybe you don’t like the term “demand.” Fine, I don’t care what you call it – a necessity, a dealbreaker, the core stuff. But if you’re healthy, you do have ’em. And learning what those non-negotiable aspects of your relationships are makes you both wiser and more able to change relationships when they become unhealthy for you.

And if you’re angry that someone might require something of you to remain in a relationship with you, well, that might be a sign that there are certain relationships people shouldn’t get into with you. Good people understand that other people have boundaries for a reason. (Great people support and expand other people’s safe boundaries.)

1 Comment

  1. Van
    Mar 4, 2021

    When I was coming out of a bad relationship, my female friends told me to make The List. They originally suggested
    Must Haves
    Never Evers
    Overthinker that I am, I ended up with five categories, as that suited me best:
    Must Have
    Would be nice
    Would rather not
    Never Ever
    And I’ve had relationships work that had one or two things in the Would rather not, when the greatest balance was in Would be nice to Must Have. Depending on what the relationship is/was, from F to FWB to LongTerm Partner

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