The Polyamorists Next Door

Exploring the world of consensual non-monogamy

Why I Am Not Polyamorous, But You Might Want to Be, Part 1

How to make cliche mistakes and still think polyamory can work well for others.

I decided to write this blog to both clarify my status for people who comment on my various blogposts and seem to assume that I am polyamorous, and to explain my perspective on the research I use to inform this blog. In this first part I explain why polyamory did not work for me in the past, and the second part explains why I do not identify as polyamorous currently. 

The Poly Debacle

My own brush with polyamory was long (in one way, quite brief in another), slow, and painful, so much so that I am reluctant to try it again. To make a long story short, when I was 22 I fell in love with a man –“Rick”-- who wanted to be non-monogamous. We discussed it for 10 years, with him excitedly detailing how great it could be for us to find another woman to add to our relationship, and me dragging my feet and trying to manipulate us in to a monogamous relationship. There is a lot more detail in chapter four of my book, but for this forum it will suffice to say that we both made mistakes that ultimately destroyed our romantic relationship and damaged our friendship almost beyond repair. Our mistakes are so common as to be cliché in poly circles, so I use them below as examples of some of the mistakes people routinely make in poly relationships.

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A flaming train wreck on a snowy train track.
Our train wreck hurt everyone involved, especially unfairly for Steve.
google images
When we finally tried it after 10 years of dancing around the edges of it, he had a hard time finding available women who wanted to date him and to whom he was attracted. At the same time, I fell for a man – “Steve” -- instead of a woman as Rick had imagined from the beginning, and everything fell apart rather spectacularly. Rick wanted me to break it off with Steve and I was furious. I tried to forgive him but could not get over it and that is the main reason that poly did not work for us. Monogamy did not work for us either, and for the 15 years we were together romantically we were only actively poly for 3 or 4 months. The rest of the time we were de-facto monogamous, meaning that regardless of our agreement to some convoluted path to an open relationship, we were monogamous in practice.

Three Cliché Mistakes

There are a number of ways people commonly mess up in polyamorous relationships, and unfortunately my partner “Rick” and I made many of them.

1. Unicorn Hunting

Our primary mistake is that we were unicorn hunters (a heterosexual man and a bisexual/heteroflexible woman looking for a single bisexual woman to add to their existing relationship) – at least on the surface. He really was a unicorn hunter, the driving force behind the idea of non-monogamy. In truth I was the unicorn saboteur, trying to remain monogamous while giving him the idea that he was in an open relationship but in truth trying to make it difficult to actually get in another relationship by making rules around how, when, who, etc. 

2. Making a Lot of Rules

Because I really didn’t want to do polyamory and it took so long for us to actually try it, we ended up with a lot of rules about what we could and couldn’t do – a cliche mistake for couples who are trying to manage jealousy by making rules that limit what their partner can do with others. I felt very insecure about polyamory but was afraid if I said no that Rick would choose polyamory over me. The myriad rules grew out of my insecurity, an attempt to alleviate my phantom future jealousy and present nervousness.

 

The word Reality in red letters with eyeglasses that make it look fuzzy
Neither of us expected things to work out the way they did.
Google images

3. Expectations Collide with Reality

Our third cliché mistake was thinking that our polyamorous experience would be one way, and then not being able to deal with it very well once it turned out to be something else all together. I thought I would be jealous and insecure so I created rules that I thought/hoped would “protect” me, and it turned out that I was surprisingly comfortable with Rick’s additional relationships. Rick thought he would be secure and loved by two women, and it turned out that he was very jealous when I wanted to establish a romantic relationship with another man. Rick and I found ourselves abruptly switching places, with me wanting to try polyamory with Rick and Steve, and Rick wanting to remain monogamous and enforce the rules I had suggested when we thought I would be the jealous one. I was angry and did not want to live by those rules any more, even though I had negotiated them in the first place. Rick was angry that I was not following the rules that I had created, and he refused to flex to accommodate changing circumstances.

Neither polyamory nor monogamy worked for Rick and me as a relational style – it was not a flaw of poly or monogamy, but a flaw in how we communicated and our unacknowledged power differential. Now Rick and I still co-parent in what is much like a polyaffective relationship, in that we are non-romantic friends who rely on each other as family. Even though we are no longer lovers, we are still dedicated to co-parenting our kids as cooperatively as possible.

In the next portion of this blog, I explain the reasons I do not identify as polyamorous currently.

Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D., is an expert on polyamory and sexual-minority families with children.

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