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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What have I stepped in?

Today I would like to tackle something conceptually a bit more difficult for a lot of people to grasp. The thought that just because you can enter into a relationship, should you?

I frequently hear people talking about new or potential new, partners and questioning either the satisfaction they expect to derive from the relationship, or the durability. Often there are other factors involved such as SO's, privacy, or even lifestyle. The conversations usually end with the person saying something like "I don't have anything to lose, right?" or "Why not, it couldn't hurt to try, right?” While I can't argue with those sentiments, because I do believe very strongly in taking chances and following your heart, I believe there is a fine line that many don't recognize. That line is drawn between putting yourself out there, taking a chance on love, and entering into a relationship you are fairly certain will end in failure or flames.

Another aspect to the question, and one that may help explain the concept, is ethics. Just because you can screw that hot chick (or hot stud), should you? The same question applies without the sexual aspect; just because you can have a relationship with someone, who may or may not be viewing the relationship from a different perspective, should you?

Let me give you an example. Recently I found myself in an intimate situation with a friend. We enjoyed ourselves and had a good time. I found afterwards that our physical interaction had ignited better conversations and a connection we hadn't experienced before. My friend also began dropping hints that she may be interested in more than just a friendship going forward. It was clear to me that we could easily try to have more than a friendship so I sat down to think about it for a minute. What I realized was that although I enjoy our friendship, and had enjoyed the "play-time" we had experienced, I didn't feel enough for my friend to explore a more emotional relationship, let alone was I feeling "love" in the context of a romantic relationship. I ask myself, "Why not?” Maybe I could develop those feelings; maybe the relationship could be great. I then ask myself; would taking the chance be ethical? My friend is obviously looking for a romantic relationship but if I was just "taking a chance" would we be on the same page with our intentions? I don't think so which for me doesn't feel ethical. In the end although I could have the relationship, or try to have it, I don't feel it would be fair to her since we would be looking at the relationship from different perspectives.

This is where things can get a bit sticky and controversial. I could have sat down with my friend and explained my position. We could have talked about how we may be approaching a relationship from different directions. And we may have agreed to try anyway. Assuming my friend was honest, and didn't let emotion cloud her thoughts, we might have found a workable path for us both. And honestly, there is nothing wrong with that. What I did at that point was consider the possibilities if we could find a workable path. The feeling that remained for me was that even if we could give it a try I honestly didn't see myself loving her the way she was hoping I would. Final answer; it didn't feel like it would be fair to her.

Another aspect of the question that I mentioned above are outside factors such as SO's. Let's try another example. I have a friend who fell quickly in love with a married man she knows. (His marriage is openly polyamorous by the way). Their relationship went well until my friend began to integrate more deeply into her new SO's marriage and create a relationship with the wife. That is when my friend found out, to be blunt, the wife is a loon. (I know the wife personally and have been the focus of her loony behavior so this isn't conjecture or second-hand information). My friend quickly began to struggle with how her SO was treated by his wife. She wanted to interject herself and help her new SO stand up for himself against his loony wife. Her feelings opened a big can of worms to be sure. Was it her place to intercede in their relationship? Would it be ethical for her to do so? The question I posed to my friend was this; Poly people enjoy the variety of multiple relationships. It sounds as if you are imparting your morality and ethics on your new SO. If he is happy with his marriage what right do you have to interfere? And if you can't be involved with him without interfering, should you be involved with him?

For me the answer to that question is No. If I can't have a relationship with someone and accept how differently their other relationships function then I shouldn't be in a relationship with that person. To do so would create a lot of stress for both of us and in reality, I would want to change them. Always a dangerous proposal in my opinion. Could I remain in a relationship with that design? Sure. I could work on "fixing" what I see as problems. But does it really make sense? Not at all.

Polyamory inherently includes the possibility of multiple relationships. Freedom to be involved with others is awesome and can be heady so say the least. But with that freedom comes the need to act responsibly, both to you and to others. I believe that Polyamory opens us up to multiple relationship possibilities which require us to take a deeper look at those possibilities and realistically determine if they make sense. The flip side is that dismissing a potential relationship because it isn't a great fit doesn't diminish the ability to still have multiple relationships. Maybe a better, simpler way, to say it is this; quality is more satisfying than quantity. Which would you rather have, 1 or 2 awesome relationships or 4-5 mediocre relationships? Personally I would rather have the awesome relationships which still allow me time to explore other awesome relationships whereas overloading myself with mediocre relationships is a time suck that ends up limiting me to those mediocre relationships.

Quality not quantity, ethics and morality, and knowledge of self. In my mind those are the things that can make Polyamory not just successful, but satisfyingly beautiful as well.

Love well friends,


  1. Love this column. I have been thinking similar thoughts. If I, as a single woman, begin dating someone who is married or already has a long term committed relationship, how can that end well for me? I suppose it can if I know with absolute certainty that I will not fall in love, that both of us are looking for a more casual play relationship. But if I know that I could fall hard, maybe I should cut and run. If it ends badly for me, it ends badly for him and possibly his SO as well. But then there is the romantic, idealistic side of me that thinks life is short, go for it, no risk=no reward. You're right, because we can, doesn't always mean we should. But sometimes making that choice is extremely painful and difficult.

  2. Hi Walkietalkieooo,

    Thanks for the comment! I was wondering if that one would be a hit or a miss.

    I think I feel a bit differently than you in that I would hope any relationship I have includes falling in love as opposed to being just casual, regardless of other partners involved for either of us. But under your paradigm I agree, you would need to have some assurance your needs would be met and the relationship wouldn't cause you pain in some way.

    Hold on to that romantic side of yourself, it helps make you who you are :)
    And I agree, making the choice between what is right and what sounds right (or what we can have rather than what we want) can be agony.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Nice post. I see many going for the quantity more than anything.

    For me, it has to be the quality. I'm not willing to risk the awesome I have for the mediocre I could have. Time management is already a factor for me, particularly now.

    Truthfully, I don't know if I could be satisfied with the mediocre either. Now to compare relationships but, knowing what one can be, even though different from the one I have, would most likely make me dissatisfied one that isn't awesome in it's own way.

  4. Hi Lovingmorethanone, thanks for the comment as always :)

    Good point about risk being a factor. I would hope that being poly, a new relationship wouldn't cause risk of losing an existing relationship. Yet, a new relationship would give you less time to spend on an existing relationship. If the new one was mediocre, and the existing one was awesome, the diminished time in your awesome relationship would probably leave you even more dissatisfied with the mediocre relationship. From that perspective I totally agree, there is risk involved with the new relationship and maybe waiting for more *awesome* instead of *mediocre* makes sense. Myself, I usually end up taking the chance (on mediocre) to see if it will turn into *awesome*.

    Good to see you here and thanks again for the comment!


  5. Hi PP!
    Thanks for the great post! It brought up a really interesting discussion for my partner and I and reinforced our belief in not pursuing a relationship if it's just not quite right for some reason. Although I do have to say, for myself, that sometimes it does take a little while spending time with a new potential partner to figure out if there it is a mediocre or great relationship, which does take time away from existing awesome relationships.

  6. Hi Sellwood Couple,
    Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the article and it helped stimulate conversation in your relationship!


  7. Regardless of whether the relationship is mediocre or awesome at the moment, it won't always be. The only constant is that it will take time away from existing relationships. I am very curious about your definition of "relationship" and "falling in love". I tend to think more like walkietalkieooo in that what I'm looking for from a relationship can't be fulfilled by someone who already has a primary. How can I be in love with someone to whom I'm only second-best? How can I ever possibly be more to someone who has that committed relationship I want with someone else? What is the point of saying so-and-so is my girlfriend or boyfriend when, really, all they can ever be is a friend I love very much and have a sexual relationship with? That, to me, may be love but it is not a Relationship with a capital R. I never thought that love was limited in monogamy and I struggle to see the difference in polyamoury for myself. It's always been about having a committed partner and a healthy, loving chosen family of friends. I never really considered that monogamy actually means not having sex with others (ethically, my boyfriends always knew), so now that I have an alternative word for a relationship style, nothing much has changed in my mind. I treasure my friendships and have lifelong committed friendships that border on relationships, but they are not the same as having a partner (best described by the word primary). I wonder if it is all semantics and what I call friendship others call romance.