Clueing in poly newbies about solo poly people


January 8, 2013 by aggiesez

I regularly attend the weekly meetups of my local poly community. Here, the first meetup of the month is always “newbie night” — where priority in the discussion is given to questions and topics raised by people new to or curious about polyamory.

I love newbie night. Yeah, it gets a little old hearing the same basic questions. (“How do you cope with jealousy?” Yadda yadda.)  But newbie night is not just a chance to expand awareness of polyamory, dispel stereotypes, help people think beyond the standard relationship escalator, and grow the poly community. It’s also a chance to influence the culture of polyamory.

It’s long bothered me how couple-focused most of the discourse of polyamory is — both because it usually comes from the perspective of, and is intended mainly to serve, couples who open an existing primary relationship. When you don’t know about (and don’t consider, right from the beginning) the perspective and reality of poly people who aren’t part of an existing primary couple, it’s easy to develop some very destructive poly relationship habits.

That’s why newbie night is such a wonderful opportunity to make polyamory better for everyone. When newbies are face to face with experienced poly folk, they seem more willing and able to absorb some information about how to treat additional partners well.

Last night our newbie night attracted two hetero couples, one single guy, and one woman who attended without her spouse — all new to or considering polyamory. I’ve found that with most newbie questions, there are easy ways to clue them in that polyamory isn’t all about primary couples, and that all relationship partners matter and deserve fair treatment.

For instance, this is a great chance to mention that when troubles arise, it’s especially helpful to view new partners as part of the solution — and to invite all partners to participate in discussions and negotiations about matters that affect them. In the big picture it helps to see new partners as potential opportunities, not threats.

It’s a great time to remind them that their new partners are human beings with feelings and needs that matter as much as their own. Treating people as people, not just roles, is essential to the health of any relationship.

It’s a great time to encourage newbies to think clearly about what they want and need, how they’re willing to change and grow, and what it takes to make discomfort useful and eventually beneficial. (Too often, people new to polyamory focus heavily on protective rules, with less consideration given to the positive reasons why they want to make this leap. Both are useful.) Thinking and talking this stuff over helps newcomers to polyamory more clearly communicate their feelings, boundaries, and what they have to offer as individuals and as a couple. In turn, this helps their prospective new partners discern what to expect, and to make informed decisions about getting involved in an intimate relationship.

And it’s also a great time to clue newbies in about couple privilege: what it is, why it exists, how it works, and what can happen because of it. Usually poly newbie couples want to hang on to their couple privilege; it helps them feel safe, at least at first. That’s fine — as long as it’s a conscious choice they can communicate clearly to others, and as long as they are aware of and can recognize the effects this choice can have on their new and existing relationships and partners.

The trick to introducing this particular theme is to reassure newbies that it really is okay for them to manage their relationships however they choose, even with strict hierarchies and lots of rules that may be rooted in couple privilege. But remind them that — whatever approach to polyamory they choose — everything will work better for everyone if they are very honest and forthcoming with themselves and others, if they consider how they will handle unexpected problems, and if they know there are better ways to deal with problems than bailing.

This information often surprises newbies. Often at these gatherings, poly newbie/curious couples often start out by viewing veto power over additional partners and relationships as a kind of fail safe, because it’s mentioned so frequently in books and forums about polyamory. But then once they start talking in person to poly people who’ve had experience with veto power, they see what a double-edged sword and rat’s nest veto power can be for everyone. Many times after these discussions, newbies have thanked me for reassuring them that veto power is only one of several possible options for dealing with inevitable uncertainty, insecurity, or pain.

See, poly newbies really do want to treat they people they love well and fairly! That’s terribly important to most people who are new to or considering polyamory. They’re relieved to learn more about how to accomplish that.

Also, solo people who are new to or considering poly often are especially reassured and empowered to hear how much they matter, and how they can be happy in this type of relationship, despite the presence of couple privilege. Polyamory often looks especially daunting to solos — for good reason.

So keep this in mind when you encounter poly newbies or poly-curious people seeking context and guidance. Assume that they really do have the best intentions. And realize that they can do the whole poly community a lot of good in the long run, if they develop good habits for thinking things through, being honest with themselves and others, and striving to treat others fairly.

9 thoughts on “Clueing in poly newbies about solo poly people

  1. melanie says:

    Thanks for this post. At so many of our get togethers the new folks hear almost solely from couples who have opened up their relationships. I try and make sure if I don’t get a chance to speak during the meeting, that I approach them after to talk about what it has been like for me as a single lady, entering in to poly as a secondary with absolutely no desire to have a primary partner. It’s nice to see them have a kind of “a ha” moment with their eyes. There are so many different ways to be poly that I just want people to understand there is no one way. I also want them to know they need to do whatever works for them and as long as they are honest and communicative there is no wrong way.

    • aggiesez says:

      Way to go, Melanie!

      I agree with “as long as they are honest and communicative there is no wrong way” — as long as they realize this means that if they have (or might want to implement) options like veto power, expecting partners to be closeted, not including non-primary partners in decisions that affect them, or other stuff that basically could curtail or end a non-primary relationship or not fully take the non-primary partner’s perspective and feelings into consideration, they should disclose this up front. They shouldn’t just presume that these behaviors are okay or just the way things work.

  2. Kitty says:

    I really wish I had known more about solo poly a long, long time ago, and honestly just more about alternative options to riding the standard “relationship escalator.” I think that the worst thing I ever did to one of my partners was hanging onto the idea of marrying him, and hoping that maybe someday he’d come around. I was always very aware that this might never happen, but I don’t think I worked hard enough at being at peace with that possibility, and I didn’t help or encourage him enough to explore the idea of being more of a solo poly type person (we pride ourselves in being positive forces for change and growth in each other’s lives; I did a great job in pretty much every other area). We’re working on evolving the exact nature of our relationship, but I wish we’d built things from the start to better accommodate how life is currently turning out.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks, Kitty

      Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about — the social narrative of couple privilege and the relationship escalator is pretty strong — so strong that it can make it hard to see other options as just as valid, or even as existing at all. That’s a big issue for monogamous solo people, too. Regardless of what type of relationship you prefer, people generally assume that if you’re solo you must really want or need to have a primary partner (or else something’s wrong with you).

      Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting a primary partner (or two, or more…). That can be a great way to live, too. But it’s just not what everyone wants — and lots of other kinds of relationships can be very wonderful, healthy, and positive too. So I like to make sure people who are new to or curious about polyamory at least hear from someone that solo poly people exist, we have great lives and loves, and we matter as much as established primary couples do. There’s room in polyamory for all of us, and we all have much to offer,

  3. Agnes says:

    Aaah, the whole thing about assuming that everyone coming into poly is opening up an existing monogamous relationship drives me crazy. I rarely feel included in that type of discourse, since my primary (I hate the word, but it’s sort of what she is) and I never had a monogamous relationship. We were just two relationship anarchists who joined forces and said: you can call me your girlfriend now (even though that took a while). People somehow have a hard time considering that even a primary relationship might have been poly from the beginning. Gngh. Sorry for the rant, but it really, really bugs me that questionnaires about poly on the internet usually start with the question: “what was the hardest part about opening up your relationship?” Seriously.

    I also want to thank you for giving more of a perspective on solo poly, a lot of what you write resonates with me as a relationship anarchist even though I currently partake of couple privilege (in some ways because I’m not completely out as poly to family). Relationships between people aren’t easy, but that’s also what make them so interesting 😀

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks Agnes!

      I’ve been doing some reading about relationship anarchy. I don’t quite identify that way myself, but I find it interesting and would like to understand it better. If you’d care to do a guest post, I’d love to present to my readers an informed view on what relationship anarchy is, how it overlaps with and differs from polyamory, and anything about it that would be relevant to solo poly people.

      If you feel like it, of course. No pressure 🙂

  4. Very informative. Thank you. We are currently considering poly so it’s good to have real life resources.

  5. Jazz says:

    Reblogged this on Our Poly Thoughts and commented:
    Another outstanding blog we read…

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