At a polyamory meeting the other night I heard something interesting from one of the members. They suggested that BDSM and polyamory are more related than a lot of folks think.
Now, I'm not an expert in BDSM, GLBTQ, or any other acronym really so be gentle with me if I don't get this exactly right.
The person talking mentioned how in the BDSM world, and in Master-Slave or Master-Pet relationships particularly, there are often some very specific agreements made between partners. Although they can be verbal, with many there is a specific written contract outlining rules, expectations, and agreements, signed by the involved parties. These contracts seem to be as much for safety and establishing physical boundaries and expectations as they are for defining a relationship.
What interested me is when the speaker suggested these contracts can be ported to other relationships. From a master perspective the person said when they are entering into a new relationship they will present the person with a copy of their existing relationship contracts. This does two things; 1. The new person will know exactly what boundaries exist with their current relationship(s), 2. The contract(s) can be a launching point for writing a contract with the new person.
Their suggestion is that the same contract/agreement method can be used with polyamory. Essentially you would have an agreement written with your current poly partner which could then be used as described above. The expectation is the agreement would serve not only as mentioned above, but also as a way to describe your poly lifestyle to potential new partners. It would also help to specifically show what is allowed in agreements with other partners and how that could affect your relationship with the new partner.
Now, I'm a fairly anal-retentive person. I may not like a lot of rules and restrictions, but when they exist I like them well defined and re-examined on a regular basis for validity. I also enjoy writing quite a bit, both personally and professionally. I truly love documenting processes and procedures and am thrilled when during the writing I can find ways to streamline, better define, or optimize something. That said, I've only used a written contract once and that was by accident. I was writing down a list of wants and desires, some tongue-in-cheek, which I then sent to my lover. She accepted the list as a relationship guideline though we never signed the document or revisited it during our relationship. In the end the list served only to communicate my hopes and desires for the relationship rather than acting as any type of agreement.
I wonder about a few things with a written agreement of this type. First is that it isn't a binding contract of any type and is still susceptible to misunderstanding. Could it create a false sense of security? Could parties to the agreement assume that if something (like communication) wasn't taking place then it didn't need to take place rather than verifying? I've also had several potential partners scared off by the structure of polyamory. Particularly the openness and desired inclusiveness with a preference toward a family model. Would a written contract be overwhelming to someone who had never seen one before? And I wonder about maintenance of a written agreement since relationships seem to be in something of a constant state of flux. Would editing, updating, and approving changes take a lot of time away from the relationship? And finally, would a written agreement limit the spontaneity and dynamic properties of a relationship?
At the same time I can see this type of arrangement having some nice benefits. People tend to remember things differently. Sometimes with huge differences. Putting things down in writing and making them easily available for review could go a long way toward avoiding memory problems. It would also lend some credibility to a relationship design and possibly create a sense of security, much like a legal marriage. And I do like the idea of porting written agreements to new relationships.
I'm interested enough in this concept to give it a try. I think creating an agreement with an existing relationship might be a good way to start. With verbal agreements already in place it would simply be a matter of putting them on paper and having both of us agree to things. Using an already defined relationship for the process would also allow us to try a written agreement while understanding it is a new process and may have some kinks.
Give me some feedback on this one before I try it. Have you ever had a written relationship agreement? How did it work, or not work? What things would you suggest to avoid? What specifically do you think should be required in any written agreement? What about the process of presenting existing agreements to new partners? Or do you think the whole idea is ridiculous and isn't something you would ever try? And finally, from the perspective of a new partner would this be a turn-on or a turn-off?