Ask Jenn Vicious: Polyamorous Perspectives

By: Jenn Vicious

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Jenn Vicious is the radical community’s Agony Aunt, providing life coaching and social etiquette answers for radical cultures.  Need poly, kinky, or queer dating advice, need to to know what to wear to court or a family function (you know, one you have to look “respectable” at),  want to understand what to and not to say in some contexts, ask Jenn Vicious.

I’m long term Poly. I recently met somebody who is married, not coping well with monogamy.  We are both attracted to each other.  They seem to get that they need to talk to their partner (the ideal outcome), but I have no idea whether this is likely to have no idea whether this is likely to happen any time soon.  I don’t want to get involved with somebody in a monogamous relationship.  I would quite like to keep them as a friend, but am worried that I might not stick to my principles should they try to take things further. Any advice? 

-Anonymous

You know what you are talking about. Definitely do not get involved with someone who is in the midst of monogamy.

There’s no reason not to keep them as a friend while they and their partner figure things out, but try not to put yourself in awkward situations that might lead to a slip in your principles. That might mean not hanging out with them as much, balancing your time so that you spend more time with other close friends, not cuddling, things like that. My general feeling on the issue is that if one feels very attracted to someone but has decided not to act on those feelings, then having space is really helpful. Otherwise, your just setting yourself up to do something you said you didn’t want to do.

Can you elucidate on the differences between open and poly?  My wife and I are trying to define rules for seeing other people, and an understanding of differnet models would help me out.  (Ethical Slut is in the mail from Amazon). 

– Anonymous 

My opinion is that the difference between open and poly is not very important. Basically, polyamorous simply means that you have multiple lovers. You could do that with or without a primary relationship.

An open relationship is one in which you and your partner are open to your relationship changing to meet each of your needs. It means that you both are open to having romantic relationships with multiple people. And it means that your relationship is flexible enough to change when it needs to, and that there isn’t an assumption that if something goes wrong, you will just break up.

I recommend not getting to caught up in other people’s models. You have to create your own model and see what works for you both. I also tend to stay away from the word “rules” in my relationships, (maybe I just have an aversion to the word because I’m an anarchist). Who wants to be in a relationship with a bunch of rules? And if you break a rule, does that mean the relationship is over? That doesn’t sound fun to me.

I like to think of the boundaries of my relationships as things that are flexible and that we can discuss when we need to. If we were dating, I would tell you that it would make me feel uncomfortable if you got it on with my best friend. But then if you told me you were feeling attracted to my best friend, maybe I would think about it. And I might say, “well, that makes me uncomfortable, but I’m willing to challenge myself on it” or “hmmm, that is going to make my life way too difficult, I would prefer that you do not act on that attraction.” (Let me just say, do not try to date your wife’s best friend. That is a terrible idea). My point is that healthy, functional open relationships are all about communicating and caring about each other.

What you and your wife are embarking on is a really difficult endeavor, I have to warn you. It is really hard to open up a relationship that started under the assumption of monogamy. It means changing a lot of your expectations about your relationship. So, go slowly with it, talk a lot, try to make each other comfortable, and find support outside of each other. You can totally make it happen as long as you are both committed to caring about each other’s happiness, and committed to working out any problems that might come up.

It’s been a while since I read it, but I recall thinking that Ethical Slut was better for people not already in a primary partnership. I recommend that you check out this other book, Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, which was just recommended by one of my readers (thanks, Justin!) Also, With Open Hands and Redefining Our Relationships would both be really good for you and your wife to read together.

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