Poly Math: When You, Her, and Me Make Two and a Half

“People tell me ‘Ben, just make up junk and turn it in.’

But I never was alright with turning in a bunch of shit.

Don’t like wasting time on music that won’t make you proud.

But now I’ve found a reason to sit right down and shit some out.”

–Ben Folds, “One Down”

People think creativity is a gift. It’s not. It’s half a gift. Creativity is nothing without motivation. Without motivation, creativity is a curse. It’s a case of artistic blue balls. I can attest that there is nothing more frustrating that having SO MANY amazing ideas rolling around in your head and exactly ZERO motivation to make them happen. Hell isn’t a place, it’s a feeling, and nothing embodies it more than wasted opportunity and regret. When I told my therapist that I needed to keep this blog fresh, I realized that three or more updates a week was going to be a monumental task as it’s 50% more than I ever wrote for the podcast. The last thing I ever want to do is throw spaghetti at a wall and just call whatever sticks a finished product.

So, I’m sitting at my kitchen table this afternoon, crunching a report on call statistics and financial advisor appointments (unlike Batman, my day job is incredibly dull by most standards), when I get a message on my phone. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I am one of the luckiest sons of a bitch you’ll ever meet. In some ways, my life is a case study of “failing up”. Needless to say, “I pulled a Homer” is a phrase I have uttered far too often. Opportunity just keeps showing up at my door for reasons I’ll never understand.

I take a look at my phone and it’s Gwen. Now, Gwen is not her real name. As a condition of me sharing her story, I promised to keep her anonymity. My blog is a lot like an episode of “Fargo”: At the request of those involved, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the community, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred. Anyway, Gwen is a member of our local poly community, and while we’re Facebook friends and we’ve interacted in the comments, we’ve never had a one-on-one conversation. She came to me looking for guidance, as she was reluctant to post her question in the group. As “someone with a lot of experience” (her words), she wanted my input on a problem she had.

I strongly believe that everyone needs someone in their life they can have the “Am I the Asshole” conversation with. For me, that person is Penguin. I call her my “pusher”, because that’s what she does. She pushes me to a better person. Every single day. I come to her with these types of conversations all the time to make sure that my actions and behaviors are appropriate, because having someone you trust who can also be objective is a key component to personal growth.

So Gwen starts telling me her story. She recently had become involved with a man who has an “Anchor Partner”. Now, for the uninitiated, “Anchor Partner’ is often used interchangeably with the term “Nesting Partner” to describe the partner that a polyamorous person cohabitates with. I’m not a fan of the term Anchor Partner for reasons I’ll get to very shortly. Anyway, this man told Gwen that although he was interested in her, he was reluctant to get “too serious” because he and his anchor partner had come to an agreement that any new partners needed a mandatory six-month “waiting period” in an effort to avoid NRE.

I immediately did my best “Disgusted Kristen Ritter” expression and conveyed two points to Gwen. First, I applauded her partner for having the self-awareness and humility to recognize the havoc that NRE can have on existing relationships. NRE, or New Relationship Energy, is the “butterflies in your stomach” feeling you get when meeting a new partner. It can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months and is HIGHLY intoxicating. As someone who has gone through it twice before, I can attest that you will abandon all your worldly responsibilities, including your existing partners, to go play with your shiny new toy. It sounds like fun, but it’s really not. You’re anxious, on edge, and distracted all the time. You can’t focus, you’re incredibly unproductive, and it can be mind-blowingly frustrating. So, kudos to this guy for wanting to put a shield around his anchor partner.

Second, the poly community values autonomy VERY highly. Personally, I take this concept further than most. My partners and I only have one rule: “I don’t own you, and you don’t own me.” I will never tell my partners who they can or cannot see and I expect they would never do the same. Poly, like a sixties hippie commune, is founded on the concept of free love. The last thing you ever want to do is try to control someone else’s behavior.

I told Gwen that this is a classic example of Couple’s Privilege. What is Couples Privilege, you might ask? To understand Couples Privilege, we have to take a step back and understand the societal view of monogamy.

If you really stop to think about it, monogamy is kind of a weird concept. It’s not just the idea that you’re romantically committed to one person for the rest of your life, but the idea that this one person is expected to become THE most important person in your life. You support them above your friends, your family, even your parents. There’s a reason we use the analogy of “My King” or “My Queen”. They are the ruler of your world and they reign supreme.

A polyamorous person, by definition, seeks multiple romantic partners. When we try to apply monogamous thinking, to a polyamorous relationship, a problem quickly becomes apparent. If your partner is your queen, and you have multiple partners, which one is THE Queen? You can’t have multiple people in your life who are all THE MOST important. To quote Syndrome in “The Incredibles”: “When everyone is special, no one is.”

So, how do we resolve this? Well, there’s the healthy way, and the unhealthy way. The healthy way is to recognize that there is no queen. That each partner brings something unique to the table and that you treat them as individuals and value them on their own merits. The unhealthy way is begin delegating and say partner #1 is my queen and partner #2 is my concubine, and if the queen is unhappy, then the concubine needs to take a backseat.

Couple’s privilege is often reinforced by societal expectations. As a married person with a nesting partner, Panda is privilege to certain activities that, at least at this time, my other partners are not. We attend holiday functions together as a couple. She’s the beneficiary of my life insurance. She’s the public face of my romantic life, and because of that, she gets to bask in the spotlight when we’re outside of the poly community. Because of this publicity, as well as our cohabitation status, it becomes very easy to place her on a pedestal and want to protect that relationship.

The other source of couples privilege arises from how poly people enter the community. While some people, like Penguin, were essentially “born poly”, meaning that she’s identified as poly since she was a teenager, it’s more common to meet poly people who started in a pre-existing relationship and decided to “open it up” by dating other people, like Panda and I did. A common and heavily “played out in the media” method is inviting a bisexual woman to join the relationship, referred to as Unicorn Hunting (which will be the topic of my next blog entry), but even when the couple decides to date separately, there’s still this underlying desire to “protect the primary relationship” rooted in the fear that a new partner will play the role of homewrecker and cause a member of the original couple to break-off the primary relationship.

This was was essentially what Gwen was dealing with. She liked this guy, however, the fact that him and his anchor partner didn’t want her to get too involved was a sign they didn’t trust each other, and as I’ve said a thousand times before, if you don’t trust your partner, why are you even in a relationship with them in the first place? The most jaw-dropping part was that the anchor partner wasn’t a nesting partner at all. He wasn’t living with this person. This individual lived two hours away and saw the guy once every two weeks. It’s borderline understandable if you’re protective of someone you share a bed with and see day in and day out. It’s pretty outrageous to be that scared of losing a relationship in which your partner already has an immeasurable degree of freedom.

Bottom line, I assured Gwen she wasn’t the asshole, these people were. More so, because she alluded they were also part of our local community, I encouraged her to get them more involved in the group as exposure to others who are dealing with the same problems you are can help you work through those issues.

As Billy Joel once said, “When you love someone, you’re always insecure”. Honestly, that’s okay. All feelings are valid. I love my partners. I would die for them. Like every emotion, there’s a right way to deal with it an a wrong way to deal with it. Love is not “Pie”. You don’t hand out eight pieces and you’re done. Love is like “Pi”. It’s never ending an irrational. You don’t need to fear it, and you couldn’t stop it even if you tried.

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