Rules for myself: What makes solo polyamory work for me


January 10, 2013 by aggiesez

Earlier today I was chiming in on a forum thread about rules in polyamorous relationships. As a solo person, personal autonomy and responsibility are crucial to all aspects of my life. So I’m averse to being in relationships where partners make hard rules to control or limit each other — which is a big reason why conventional monogamy doesn’t work for me.

But I have developed some pretty important rules for myself.

I'm writing a book about non-standard approaches to relationships. Want to help? Take this survey to share your views and experiences of relationships that aren't on society's standard relationship escalator.

I’M WRITING A BOOK about non-standard approaches to relationships.
Want to help? Take this survey to share your views and experiences of relationships that aren’t on society’s standard relationship escalator.

All of my rules for myself stem from my four core values in relationships:

  1. Mutual respect and consideration (how we treat each other)
  2. Autonomy and self responsibility (how we each take care of ourselves)
  3. Integrity (be honest and walk your talk)
  4. Joy (because otherwise, what’s the point?)


These values yield my relationship goals: things that my set of rules collectively seeks to achieve:

  • Maintaining integrity: being the kind of person I want to be.
  • Managing risk: keeping myself safe
  • Connecting with others in ways that are meaningful, deep, and constructive
  • Supporting, considering and respecting others
  • Feeling satisfied, happy and fulfilled
  • Personal development: continuing to learn and grow
  • Enhancing my strength and resilience
  • Maintaining balance and managing stress, pain and chaos in my life


Before I get into my list of rules, let me explain why I have them.

I’ve learned, through experience, that they help me be the best person I can be. They help ensure that I keep living a life that’s good for me, without coming at the expense of others, which in turn helps me be there better for others when they need me. They help me figure out when a given situation or relationship may or may not be a foolish risk.

Every one of these rules is based on my own personal experience with relationships and life, especially as a polyamorous and solo person. There’s a ton of faceplants, frustration, heartbreak, errors, miscommunication, and missed opportunities behind every one of these rules. All of it is very personal and relevant to me — your mileage, as always, may vary.

The key to these rules is that they apply to me, not to my partners. Ultimately they’re about how I make decisions regarding how to pursue, conduct, or continue a relationship.

I don’t demand that my partners or metamours live up to my standards, or do things my way; but I do want them to understand up front how I make decisions about my relationships. That’s only fair.

These rules apply whether or not I’m in a significant relationship. And they help me make sure — when I do start to get into relationships that involve significant investments of emotion, time, logistical considerations, etc. — that these connections stand a good chance of being mutually beneficial and not unduly risky or frustrating.

So: These are my rules only; your mileage may vary. I offer these as an example of the kinds of personal rules or standards that might be useful for anyone — but especially for solo people, and especially for solo poly people.

Aggie’s rules for Aggie:

  1. Respect and consideration. I don’t maintain connections with people who treat me inconsiderately or disrespectfully, or who indicate a clear willingness or propensity to do so. If people do this, I’ll let them know it’s a problem. I’ll probably give them a couple chances as long as they’re not egregiously rude. But if a bad pattern (intentional or not) emerges in their behavior, I’ll distance myself. Similarly, I strive to always respect and consider my partners and metamours. When they tell me what they need, I try to listen, negotiate and give them what I can (or be honest if I can’t).

  3. Clear communication. I choose not to get very emotionally invested or otherwise deeply involved with people who can’t or won’t communicate clearly, honestly and forthrightly about their needs, wants, boundaries, feelings, sex, and sexual health. Or who can’t find a way to listen openly to me when I need to communicate these things. When I ask important questions, I need clear answers — and I will keep asking until I get that clarity.

  5. I don’t do lukewarm or ambivalent. I only stay sexually, romantically, or emotionally interested in lovers who act like they are attracted to me, appreciate me, and enjoy my company enough to put forth some effort to spend time with me or otherwise connect with me. And who don’t appear to be significantly conflicted or ambivalent about their involvement with me. This applies for casual and occasional connections as well as deeper ongoing relationships. I don’t need (or want) nonstop intense attention; but too much ambivalence, diffidence or passivity turn me off big time. This also applies to situations where a potential lover can’t seem to voice an opinion, make plans, or make a decision without always checking with someone else first for permission; ambivalence rooted in a lack of autonomy turns me off as much as ambivalence rooted in a lack of interest or initiative.

  7. Safer sex. I thoroughly enjoy safer sex, with condoms and other techniques as appropriate. Unbarriered penetrative sex (“fluid bonding“) does not greatly increase my physical pleasure or emotional satisfaction, nor does it denote anything special about my relationships. I’ve found my relationships are simpler, safer and less drama-prone when I’m consistent with all partners about safer sex. Discussing sexual likes, desires, and health is an important (and fun!) part of that process. Also, when I don’t feel I need to surveil or micromanage my partners’ (and their partners’) sex lives, that helps us all relax– and thus have better sex. Consequently I usually choose to use condoms for vaginal and anal intercourse (the activities that would represent the greatest risk to me), and I communicate with partners to evaluate other risks/circumstances and adapt as needed.

    In rare cases I may opt to have unbarriered sex occasionally or regularly with a specific partner — but only if we’ve been using condoms for a while, and I’m satisfied that their STI status/testing, behavior, and character warrant this level of trust. And also if we agree up front that returning to using condoms would not be viewed as downgrading our emotional intimacy or sexual connection. Partners who require no condoms in order to feel emotionally close to me, or to enjoy sex at all, are not sexually compatible with me.


  9. Maintain autonomy. My autonomy is paramount to me. I always try to take partners and metamours into account, and I am often influenced by them, but I will not change myself solely to suit them. Nor will I allow others the power to approve, constrain or veto my decisions, including those involving my relationships with other people. I will not automatically adopt anyone else’s problems, tastes, biases, priorities, fears, or grudges. Nor will I cave in to guilt trips, acting out, manipulation, or other similar pressure aimed at changing or controlling me.

  11. Integrity and responsibility. I don’t help people cheat, and I don’t participate in don’t-ask-don’t tell arrangements. If I’m dating someone who has a primary partner (or existing significant non-primary partners), I’d usually want to confirm with those existing partners that their relationship is indeed honestly open before things get more involved than a few dates. (I prefer to get to know my metamours, anyway.) Also, I will not lie to a metamour in order to protect a partner.

  13. Negotiating in goodwill. I expect to always have a full and equal voice in the conduct of my own relationships. When conflicts or quandaries arise that affect my relationships, I am willing and able to negotiate with partners and metamours to find options and solutions. I am willing to be flexible, as long as I’m not compromising my integrity, well-being or autonomy. In my relationships, no partner’s or metamour’s interests should ever trump my own by default. Partners, lovers and metamours who can’t or won’t negotiate with me directly in goodwill, and who aren’t willing or able to be flexible, are not compatible with me in significant relationships (or relationship networks).

  15. Metamour relations. If metamours are in the picture, I generally choose to only pursue significantly emotional investment in a relationship when I can establish, early on, a base of trust and direct communication with their other significant partners (my metamours). We don’t have to be friends or talk all the time, but in the long run I’ll only be comfortable in that relationship if my metamours and I can interact directly, discuss our relationship network sometimes to ensure mutual respect and harmony, and do so calmly and with goodwill. (And not only during a crisis!) If a metamour avoids or pulls away from direct communication with me or indicates distrust/disdain toward me, and if that seems unlikely to change, I may choose to scale back my investment/involvement with our shared partner.

  17. Other people’s rules/limits. If a partner or metamour has their own rules, limits or boundaries that would affect me or my relationship, I will consider them, but I probably won’t choose to comply with them “as is.” I expect such rules to be explained to me clearly to me up front. I’d need to know not just what those rules are, but their intent (the goals they are intended to achieve). I prefer to get/stay involved only with partners and metamours who are willing and able to negotiate with me about their rules, including honoring my input — and who understand that mutual respect for our relationships does not equal deference on anyone’s part. 

    Where conflicts arise, I choose to remain involved only with partners who demonstrate they are willing and able to stand up for our relationship — even in the face of pressure from their other partners.


  19. I assume, and respect, the personal autonomy of others. Whenever I share mutually consensual intimacy/attraction with others, I assume from the start that those people possess sufficient autonomy to behave with me the way they are behaving. I only need to gain consent from the person I’m involved with — I will not second-guess their autonomy by asking whether something they’ve already consented to is also OK with their other partner(s). To me, that would feel like I’m saying, “I know you want to do this, but did you ask your mommy?” — which is a huge turn-off for me, since I only want to share intimacy with fellow autonomous adults.

    I do prefer to occasionally check in with metamours to maintain the health of our shared relationship network, but I’m not obliged to obtain their permission in order to conduct my own relationships. If it turns out that a partner or lover of mine has been concealing, misrepresenting, or ignoring their agreements with their other partner(s), I will consider that an indication of poor character and may choose to scale back or end that relationship.


  21. Outness. I am out as poly, and I will not step into the closet for anyone. Anyone who hopes to be a significant partner of mine needs to be comfortable with me not concealing our relationship, or otherwise act ashamed or embarrassed about their relationship with me. I’m willing to negotiate on what’s okay to share or mention in which contexts, but I will not abide by a blanket gag rule, and I won’t remain in relationships where I’m treated like a secret. Similarly, I will not refrain from mentioning my other partners simply because one partner is not comfortable with me being poly.

  23. Mutuality and fairness. I won’t stay in relationships where I end up having to do all the work or planning, make all the decisions, do all the compromising, or take all the initiative. Also, I tend to want to get to know and embrace my partners’ world. People who are really only interested in seeing me on their “turf,” who aren’t very interested in getting to know and embrace my world as well, aren’t compatible with me for significant relationships.

  25. Speaking up for what I need or want. I commit to discussing promptly with my partners, lovers, and metamours what I need, want, and don’t want or can’t abide — even when it feels risky to do so, or may hurt their feelings. Also, when I recognize a new or evolving need, desire, challenge, circumstance or limit, I must promptly discuss it with the people who might be affected or able to help. I will try to handle these discussions gently and compassionately. And I trust that no matter how they respond, I will be okay.

  27. There has to be good stuff. If a relationship gets to be all work or stress with little or no fun, sweetness, or comfort, and if this seems unlikely to change, I should probably leave.

  29. Breaking up. When an intimate relationship ends, I am willing and able to remain friends with former lovers partners, and I prefer that. This is easier when a breakup is mutual, gentle and amicable, before problems grow intractable or resentments accumulate. I am willing to initiate a breakup or scale-back if I see major, fundamental incompatibilities — even if I really like that lover very much, because I’d much rather lose someone as a lover than as a friend. However, when a significant or longstanding relationship of mine ends contentiously or suddenly, rather than gently and amicably: If you truly hope to remain my friend we’ll both need to own up to each other about our respective roles in the breakup. Personally, I can’t transition to friendship without such reconciliation.

How I make sure I follow my own rules

First of all, I distinguish for myself between more significant and more casual relationships. For casual relationships (play partners, occasional or new dating, friends-with-benefits, etc.) some of these rules don’t apply as much — such as needing to establish trust and ongoing direct communication with their partners.

For me, if a relationship feels more casual that means I’m not very emotionally invested in it, so I probably would not be very hurt (at least, not for very long) if it were to end suddenly. I have less at stake in casual connections, so I have lower expectations for them. This helps me enjoy more casual connections — and I do greatly enjoy them! They’re wonderful and valuable in their own right, and often really hot!

That said, I don’t tend to take as lovers people I don’t consider friends, or at least potential friends. All my lovers and friends matter to me. I don’t consider any of them disposable or unimportant — regardless of the nature, length, or depth of our connection.

The big trick, for me, is to stay aware of how I’m feeling — and especially when I’m just starting to feel more emotionally invested in someone, or especially vulnerable to them. I’ve been around the block a few times; I know what my earliest glimmers of love or commitment look like and feel like. That’s when I need to knuckle down and do my own due diligence — and also lay my cards on the table about my deepening feelings.

Similarly, if I think a more casual partner might be starting to give me indications of deeper feelings or commitment, we also need to talk about that. If you’re going to spin obliquely worded castles in the air that hint at abiding love or a shared future, we need to figure out how compatible we might really be.

Yeah, those conversations are scary, awkward, unromantic, and risky. They can end a budding relationship, and they need to be handled with care. But I’ve learned that it’s better for me to feel that fear and do it anyway. As I’ve written before, I’ve found it’s it’s better to “spoil” some dates with clear conversation than to leave obvious potential landmines unexamined.

Just because people have strong feelings for each other or stunning sexual chemistry doesn’t mean they’d be good or fair to each other in a significant or even ongoing casual intimate relationship. In fact, when people aren’t really compatible as lovers or partners, flaming love and passion only makes it worse for everyone involved.

The common social narrative talks about love like it’s the weather or a force of nature beyond your control, something that just happens to people out of the blue. Sorry, but in my experience that’s not how it works. If you’re sufficiently self aware to communicate well with others about your feelings and needs (and I am), you can usually tell when you’re starting to feel like your heart is on the line with someone. Or when they’re starting to get emotionally invested in you. Personally, I’ve come to consider this awareness part of Being A Grownup 101.

If a promising new relationship ends up not looking like a good way to invest lots of my love, time, and attention because we’re probably not compatible, I don’t need to break up. Usually, I’m happy to keep things going on a lighter level, and not worry about whether it will “work out,” as long as I don’t see significant incompatibilities for an ongoing casual connection (such as a willingness to suddenly switch to treating me as a non-intimate acquaintance when your friends show up, because you’re ashamed or conflicted about our relationship). That’s the beauty of not riding the standard relationship escalator. As long as it’s good enough for everyone involved, that’s fine.

Scaling back an existing committed, invested relationship when substantial incompatibilities develop or emerge over time is a lot harder, but I’ve done it. Four years after our divorce, my former spouse remains one of my closest friends and confidantes.

If I can see clearly that the best choice is to break up, I’d rather do so early — even though that can really, truly suck. Especially if that means breaking the heart of someone I really care about.

There is always, always risk in relationships. I accept that there will always be some heartbreak in my future. But I’ve lived through enough of it to know that heartbreak is survivable. I have a wonderful, large network of good friends as well as a lot of resilience and coping skills. My autonomy and interdependence are what allow me to dare to love, despite the risk. I just don’t take foolish risks. Even for really, really hot, wonderful lovers.

Underpinning it all: I don’t absolutely need to have any significant intimate relationships at all. I truly am fine and happy on my own, and with my friends. For me, sexually and romantically intimate relationships are ultimately optional. They are a very important option to me and I’d definitely rather have them; I’d probably be disappointed if I were never to have another one. And I never treat my partners as disposable — not even casual partners. But I simply don’t need to be in a relationship in order to have a good life. I have many ways to meet my emotional and physical needs. Being grounded in this experience helps make me more fearless in love.

I am not perfect at following my own rules. But I just keep trying, because they tend to be good for me and for the people who get involved in my life. They’ve evolved over time, and will continue to evolve. In each relationship I explore these rules to see where there is room for flexibility, and where I need to draw a line. I’m willing to grow and change — even when that happens through mistakes, or when I do stuff I know I shouldn’t.

If you’re a solo poly person, what rules or standards do you have for yourself? Please comment below or e-mail me.

39 thoughts on “Rules for myself: What makes solo polyamory work for me

  1. melanie says:

    I have very similar rules I abide by in my own life. I also told both of my partners that they call me secondary because they are married and have a live in partner, but I consider myself a non-hierarchical poly. I don’t place either of my partners higher or lower than the other, and I genuinely feel like both of my primary metamours don’t treat me like I am secondary to them. I am secondary only in the way that they actually live with their partners and therefore a natural primary situation and natural privilege is going to occur.

    I loved your break up rule. I am amicable with most of my exes, but there are very few I would consider friends, and I’m okay with that. I’m the type of person that if we broke up because you were being dishonest or not treating me with respect, I don’t want to even be friends with you. I have no problem completely releasing from people who are energy vampires. I have gotten a lot of flack over time for this. People think it’s strange that I can go, “This person is negative and doesn’t respect me or make me a priority. I no longer wish to engage.” But I think it’s more strange to keep someone in your life with the, “But I’ve known them forever” sentence. I don’t care how long I’ve known someone. If we don’t have a healthy relationship I get out.

    I am really good with compromise. I do it frequently in both of my intimate relationships and all of my friendships. I, however, refuse to settle. I would much rather be alone than be with someone who I don’t feel honors me as the strong woman that I am.

    • aggiesez says:

      > I, however, refuse to settle. I would much rather be alone than be with someone who I don’t feel honors me as the strong woman that I am.<

      Amen, amen, amen… and it only too me 40 years to learn that, LOL!

  2. Matthew says:

    This is a great post, as always. These rules are similar to a lot of the rules I try to follow in my personal life. But the thing that I struggle with is the most important thing in your post: not letting feelings of neediness or loneliness overwhelm you. Do you have any tips for those of us who are still struggling to get a grip on the solo part of SoloPoly?

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks, Matthew

      Well, living solo is a separate issue from being poly, although obviously they can overlap.

      First of all there are societal presumptions, pressures, and biases that stack the deck against solo people. We live in a society that is geared mainly to promote and serve people who are partnered up — especially living together in a spouse-like and (at least ostensibly) monogamous way. Adults who live alone, or with friends or family (other than their own kids), generally get overlooked, trivialized, dismissed, or treated with suspicion. So that makes solo life more challenging for anyone, poly or otherwise.

      Recognize that by living solo you’re fighting society’s tide. Give yourself some credit for that, accept that it’s unfair, and don’t let it stop you. There is nothing wrong with you for being solo.

      And if you sometimes experience internalized shame about being solo (despite however you many consciously consider being solo), talk back to that shame. We’re all vulnerable to social conditioning — and it can be undone, too, with attention and with consciously reminding yourself what’s really great about your life and your choices. Don’t reflexively over-value people who are in primary relationships — you’re just as great and worthy of respect and consideration as they are. We’re all just people.

      Also, many people find solo life challenging because they don’t have a strong network of local friends — people they can get together and do stuff with, or just hang out. IME, having friends and reaching out to them regularly, inviting them out, and focusing on making more friends goes a long way to conquering loneliness. And it also provides a support system when you’re having a hard time. And you get to be there for others, too — which helps, because you see that you’re valuable, wanted, and needed by others.

      Finally, it’s important to recognize whether you want to be solo, or whether you really do want to live with a primary life partner. Be honest with yourself about that, and with others. Some people are solo by choice, others by undesired circumstance, and some are equally happy living solo or with a primary partner. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, it’s OK. It’s just where you are. But figuring that out can help you decide what kind of life and relationships probably would make you happiest.

      Remember: friends may drift apart, but they very rarely break up. That’s a big bonus over relying on romantic partners for emotional support! 🙂

      Hope that helps.

  3. I&I says:

    Aggie, Thank you so much for sharing your rules, it couldn’t come at a better time for me.
    A lot of what you wrote resonates with what I had identified in my mind but not verbalized, as my own standards.
    The part of your post that was most helpful for me to read was your comments on how you identify what is “casual” vs. “significant” .. I seem to feel a need to put a disclaimer out there, like, “hey, I’m not riding any ‘escalators’ with you, just so ya know!”. But then I wonder if this is just another aspect of feminine conditioning, and feeling “responsible” for the maintenance of the relationships I’m in. I realize it needs to be said, I’m just not sure when..
    I’m also curious about how you navigate with partners who don’t have a primary. It seems that it is easier for women to adopt poly than it is for men – so many women have a knee-jerk reaction against the idea of non-monogamy, or as I’ve begun calling it : autonomy-based relationships as opposed to ownership-based relationships. Anyway, I’m concerned about how my relationships will be impacted by the fact that other women my partners might want to get to know better will not be open to this way of relating and that these partners will become frustrated and give up.
    I also agree that this all needs to be supported by the “underpinning” of not needing an intimate relationship in the first place but instead, thinking of it as a blessing. This feels so liberating to me right now.
    Thank you!
    Keep up the good work!

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks, L&L

      Honestly, right now I’d like to be navigating more relationships with poly partners who don’t have a primary! I’m currently not in any relationships right now, but I’m feeling pretty burned — and burned out — by metamour dynamics, couple privilege, and monogamous presumptions after the last year I’ve had. I’d still be open to casually dating poly guys (I’m straight) who have a primary partner, but I think it’ll be quite awhile before I’d want to get significantly invested in that kind of relationship.

      Personally I haven’t noticed a gender split on whether women or men are more open or averse to polyamory or otherwise honestly nonmonogamous relationships. In my experience, most people of either gender have a pretty reflexive negative reaction — but that’s to be expected due to the pretty intense social conditioning most of us have received about monogamy and the ownership model of love.

      I have noticed that straight men often seem to be less comfortable with living solo or not having a primary partner than non-straight men or women of any persuasion do — but that could be a matter of how marriage has always served men’s interests and status more than women’s. In contrast, I know a lot of women, poly and otherwise (myself included) who have ridden the relationship escalator to the top, jumped off or been bumped off, and have no inclination to get back on.

      Re: how other women your partner might date or get into intimate relationships with: Well, if they get frustrated and give up, that’s up to them, isn’t it? They are adults making their own decisions, and that is not on you in any way. You can do what you can to support good metamour relations, of course — but their behavior is not your responsibility. I’d hope your partners would have enough spine not to abandon you, blame you, or treat you inconsiderately because of how other women act. If you’re not sure about that, you might want to set some standards with your partners about how they treat you, regardless of what’s going on in their other dating endeavors.

      Hope this helps.

      • Renee Lipscomb says:

        Your first paragraph perfectly describes what I am experiencing at the time. Just broke off a relationship because the couple privilege was strangling the life out of the relationship and me. And also like you I am open to casual dating but the men I keep meeting push towards a more significant relationship than their primary partner can or is willing to handle. So I am off that roller coaster for a while.

  4. scattered_kisses says:

    I like the *idea* of such rules and have considered writing similar ones, but . . . I’m still young, optimistic, and more forgiving of certain shit since I’m not exactly looking to “settle down” or have any basis for understanding what a long-term relationship will look like. I’m still determining what I feel is an acceptable “price of admission” (as Dan Savage describes the potential difficulties of compromise since no one is ever perfect or “The One”). I’m definitely all about your #5 (often vocally and rudely so).

    I think this a great list, and it will beneficial for me to commit to paper the unspoken rules I know I have so far.

  5. AJ says:

    Wow, that was like reading about myself! Almost every word! So in a way, pleased to meet you – I don’t think there are that many of us out there!

  6. […] but against loss of self, but my thinking about this feels confused. I’ve just read this ‘Solo Poly‘ blog post and found a lot that […]

  7. onmybike365 says:

    As a newly solo poly person I’m working my way through your blog with great interest. Thank you. I’ve linked to your ‘rules for me’ post from an article I’ve just written myself about establishing a primary relationship with myself following a long-term monogamous one:

    One thing I’ve written in the article is ‘I’m learning about balancing separateness vs. connection, privacy vs. disclosure, and so on. Privacy seems important to me as a defence not against jealousy but against loss of self’. I’d be particularly keen to know your thoughts about this point.

    • Mooaggiesez says:

      Thanks for your comments and post. I understand some people specifically need privacy to maintain a sense of separate self. The catch is, that can easily shade into secrecy or compartmentalization, which can undermine connection and trust. It’s a fine line to walk.

      For me, privacy is less important to maintaining my sense of self. With my friends, family, lovers, and in general I’m a pretty transparent, open person. I’m prefer that, and it enhances my sense of health, integrity, and well being. I do try to respect the privacy of others, however — which is a key reason why I write this blog under a pseudonym at present.

      Boundaries and standards are more important to me than privacy. For instance, I don’t answer blatantly rude or prying personal questions from people I don’t know, like, or trust. I don’t encourage lovers to show up at my door uninvited or without checking with me first. I don’t ask others to account to me about their whereabouts, behavior, plans or other relationships except as they directly affect me. And one reason I don’t have fluid bonded sex with anyone is that it avoids the need to monitor and approve the sex lives of others — or for them to judge/control mine.

      But generally if I know, like, or trust someone I will answer them as honestly as possible on most topics, keeping little private. I like having friends and lovers at my home. And obviously, I blog a lot about my life and views. But I also need, and take, plenty if solo time.

      I feel transparency with boundaries & standards for the kind of treatment I expect enhances my sense of self and connection with others. Your mileage may vary.

      • onmybike365 says:

        I’ve just read again for the umpteenth time your response to my question here and I want to say thank you, it’s so helpful.

  8. JaniceOly says:

    Thanks for the insightful post! I’m here because someone in a private Facebook group for polyamorous people in WA, OR, BC, ID, AK … recommended your post 8 hours ago.

  9. dandelion says:

    Wow. 14 rules! That’s a lot!
    We have 3 rules, 2 for life and 1 for poly.
    1. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do.
    2. Hold responsibility for getting your needs met.
    And the one poly rule? Don’t ask, DO tell.

    These work well for us and anyone who comes to our place. Of course we don’t force people to understand all the ramifications of the rules. Argue your limitations and sure enough you probably won’t be invited back.
    Personal responsibility is the opposite of codependency. It’s an important distinction.

    • aggiesez says:

      Glad that level of simplicity works for you. For me, it really helps to be specific. Rules that are overly simple and vague tend to lead to more confusion in real-life circumstances, in my experience. There’s just too much room for interpretation or self-delusion. Because ultimately having rules or standards about relationships means making hard choices and taking risks — sometimes huge risks.

      Each of the rules on my list represent what I’ve personally learned about myself — what I absolutely need in relationships, what I can be flexible on, where there’s room for negotiation, and my own personal deal breakers. None of these rules made it onto this list lightly, or based on theory. Often people only learn what their own limits really are when they trip over them. I’ve done a helluva lotta faceplants in my time, and this list reflects that.

      • dandelion perfect says:

        Thank you for your reply.
        I get it that our rules tend toward the vague and are ultimately based in personal definition. I like that about our rules.
        In my tenure as a poly person I have grown and changed, I have been confronted, chagrined, proud, fearful, and a host of other emotions arising from what I believe to be true in the moment.
        Creating hard and fast rules that work for me in this moment works only for this moment. In the next moment, new rules must be created in order to nurture growth.
        So many polyfolk choose to have rules that are assumed “hard and fast” that never get looked at again. The whole “boundaries” thing confounds me.
        For me, poly is great because I get to choose my own experience. I get to confront my beliefs, I get to design my own lessons, I am unlimited in my potential for growth through relationships. Unlike monogamy, there are no clear, societally based rules. Every rule must be investigated over and over again by the one who chooses to follow it (or not).
        I had a line in here about “maturity” and I removed it. I’m going to put it back in. When a person attains the age of majority s/he finally gets to choose for himself/etc what he/she will do. By that time though, the indoctrination has been completed so few ever make the leap into real freedom. Poly is a path to maturity. I’m pleased to meet anyone who chooses to ID as poly. I believe that that person is finding his/her way to the power of personal responsibility.

  10. brianbuchbinder says:

    Hi. I’ve been single poly for about 20 years. Only exception to rules is that since my number of genital sex partners is small, we’ve moved in and out of being fluid bonded from time to time, depending on the context and STI status of all of us.

  11. brianbuchbinder says:

    One other thing. My primary partner (who is poly but not interested in other partners since 1 emotional connection is all she can bear) is interested in meeting new loves only when we’ve gotten to serious emotional involvement.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks, Brian

      That approach (introducing new and existing partners only after the new relationship has “gotten to serious emotional involvement) is a valid choice. I don’t begrudge people who handle relationships that way.

      For me, personally, that wouldn’t work, however.

      From my perspective, expecting me to wait until I’ve become deeply invested in a new relationship to meet my metamour(s) is asking me to put my heart on the line before I’ve had a chance to gain a first-hand sense of the real situation I’d be getting involved in. I don’t believe that would be fair to me, or wise.

      I’ve learned through hard experience that it’s crucial for me to establish early on whether a new lover’s other significant partners (especially if they have a pre-existing “primary” relationship) are secure, mature and comfortable enough to meet me, get to know me a bit, treat me respectfully and considerately, and have some conversation which acknowledges the reality of our situation. And, of course, that their partners don’t seem crazy, volatile, manipulative, or otherwise seriously problematic. (Yeah, that happens.)

      So if I started dating someone who had other serious or primary partners, and that person didn’t want me to meet my potential metamours until it would be especially painful or difficult for me to let go of that new connection (or at least to let go of the possibility that it might substantially deepen), I’d tell them that doesn’t work for me.

      I’d say: look, I like you a lot. But I will not go farther with this relationship until I get to know my metamours. This isn’t just about you and me; it’s about expanding a network of relationships, and I need to see firsthand what that network looks like so far before I make that decision.

      • brianbuchbinder says:

        Hi, Thanks for the response. Where I’ve had to verify my honesty by having my primary ratify the openness of the relationship, she’s done so with a phone call. You seem more interested than I or my partners in setting up a network among everyone. We’re all introverts, so that’s less of a draw.

        We are in some loose communities together, so everyone sees each other, and are FB friends, too, but that’s all the contact anyone seems to want.


      • aggiesez says:

        Thanks. For me, wanting to establish some basic direct communication with metamours is less about setting up a “network” (although I do prefer that we all know each other well enough to talk comfortably), and more about determining whether I’m getting involved in a situation with people who have a propensity to make my life difficult. In my experience, metamours who prefer to avoid direct communication as much as possible tend to cause me a lot of problems eventually. But YMMV, of course 🙂

    • objkshn says:

      RE: phone call to verify “honesty” – – I prefer to be invited to the house. This is because I have encountered married men who got another female to agree to lie that she was his wife both in a phone call and also when meeting face to face. So, only sure way is to go to the house and see the family photos AND then meet.

      And if I can’t be invited to my partner’s home, then they probably aren’t willing to offer the exchange that I am seeking in my commitments.

  12. objkshn says:

    Thank you. I will benefit from your journey. These rules make sense for me.

  13. […] a partner, or rules mutually negotiated between my partners and me. (Solopoly blogger Aggie has a great essay about self-imposed behavioral guidelines.) For example, if I know that it’s hard to think about sexual health in the middle of a […]

  14. […] a partner, or rules mutually negotiated between my partners and me. (Solopoly blogger Aggie has a great essay about self-imposed behavioral guidelines.) For example, if I know that it’s hard to think about sexual health in the middle of a […]

  15. nycindie says:

    Hi Aggie,
    Your rules are very similar to the boundaries/criteria I’ve developed for myself. I have written about this at a poly site and refined it in the last two years or so. Basically, in order for my relationships to be fulfilling and working for me, I need the following:

    ~ No one has a say about how my relationships are conducted but the person I’m involved with and me. This applies to metamours as well as as other lovers of mine. I will not tolerate interference from someone who wants to control something they have no business trying to control. For that reason, I won’t get involved with anyone who has veto rules with other partners or a strict need for a hierarchy.

    ~ I need to be respected as an autonomous person who chooses my own path in life;

    ~ I am valued. Whether for my strengths and talents or for whatever way I give to someone’s life, even if it is “just” a FWB kind of arrangement, I need to know that being with me and nurturing what we have truly matters to the other person;

    ~ I am heard when I express myself. I am a great listener when someone needs a sounding board, but it goes both ways. I don’t want to be with anyone who constantly vents but won’t regularly make an effort to listen;

    ~ I feel safe with the person and free to be myself, including when I make mistakes;

    ~ I can share my affection in a way that works for me, without fear of being pressured to change, or of being criticized, or of doing something that is not “allowed” by another partner;

    ~ I look forward to being with the person with excitement, and without any hesitation; and

    ~ the time we spend together isn’t always about “hard work” and the processing of “issues.” I need to have fun and laugh and feel like being with that person is the best way I could possibly spend my time, more than I need to “process” shit.

    The way I see it, feeling respected, valued, heard, and safe to be myself, are elements I need in any relationship – whether it’s with a friend, relative, or a lover.

    • objkshn says:

      A like your rules nycindie and also agree with the statement on autonomy. I believe that solo poly value autonomy moreso than coupled or poly-fidelitous.

      This statement or rule perplexed me, however, “I can share my affection in a way that works for me, without fear of being pressured to change, or of being criticized, or of doing something that is not “allowed” by another partner;”

      Is this sharing affection between your other partners – not the one who is doing the not allowing? If, for example, you wanted to show affection by licking your partners face (extreme example) but your partner did not enjoy that and did not want their face licked, wouldn’t they be correct in asserting their own personal boundary and not allowing that show of affection?

      This brings up question of the overlap between autonomy, boundaries, acceptance and control.

      • nycindie says:

        LOL, I once started a relationship by licking a man’s palm when he extended his hand to me. But I digress. Since these are my boundaries/criteria for my relationships, I know what I mean by each point, but it can be difficult to verbalize or explain each one succinctly to someone who doesn’t have the lovely experience of living in my head!

        I did struggle a bit in phrasing that particular one in a way that would be understandable. At first it was simply, “I can share my affection in a way that works for me,” but I added the rest as some kind of attempt to explain what that meant. I guess I didn’t do a very good job. That point actually pertains to several issues:

        1.) No metamour will dictate what I can or cannot do physically in my relationships, nor what I can say to my lovers. If the guy and I feel ready for sex, and that is how I want to share my affection with him, that is our decision and I will not get involved with anyone who has to ask permission from someone else before he can be intimate with me. I don’t want to worry about saying “I love you.” If I feel love for someone, I should be able to express it without worrying that his other partner will freak out about it and ask us to slow down or something ridiculous like that. I just will not have a person who is not involved with me determine what I can do with my body nor how quickly or slowly my relationships develop.

        2.) I am an affectionate person who freely enjoys PDAs but I know when it is inappropriate. For example, I’m not going to make out with someone at a family dinner or in the reception area of a lover’s workplace, but I want to hold hands as we walk down the street, sit close in a cafe with arms around each other, or share a kiss on the street corner. I want to lay tangled up in bedsheets and stroking each other as we have our morning coffee and read the paper. I need to have the freedom to express my affection, whether it is verbally or physically. I’ve been in relationships where my partner was uncomfortable with that, and it just does not work for me. I feel squelched and scolded and frustrated if I’m pushed away when I touch somebody I love or cannot tell them how I feel about them. Guys who are squeamish about being affectionate are just not a good match for me.

        3.) Regarding physical affection, namely sex, I don’t appreciate whining or moping about using condoms and do not want to be pressured not to use them.

        Basically that is what “I can share my affection in a way that works for me” means.

        I would rather walk away from a relationship than compromise myself on these boundaries.

      • objkshn says:

        When transitioning from mono to poly, I struggled with rules along the way. The few that I started with quickly deteriorated as remnants of a mono-ownership paradigm. Long a proponent of self-destiny and realizing that others cannot be compelled to do that which they do not wish to do, rules just didn’t make sense. Here are some precepts I found along the way:

        1. I don’t want other’s rules to dictate my behavior so I shouldn’t therefore create rules that dictate my partner’s behaviors.

        2. I have limits and boundaries at present that my partner cannot be expected to know unless I communicate them. Those limits and boundaries have changed over the years but they are up to me to shift, not someone else.

        3. My partner’s concerns are valid to me and I do not want to dismiss them summarily. But decisions about my actions and well-being are ultimately mine to make. I will listen to my partners’ concerns but my decision will be what is best for me.

        4. If the boundaries I have established for myself are not honored by another, then it is up to me to walk away to assert my limits. If I fail to do so, then I cannot complain to my partner.

        So, with the above in mind, while I wholeheartedly agree with the boundaries you assert for yourself; they are mine as well, I would phrase them more in terms of what I expect WILL happen and then the consequence if it does not.

        So, instead of ” Regarding physical affection, namely sex, I don’t appreciate whining or moping about using condoms and do not want to be pressured not to use them” I would phrase this instead as:

        I adhere to safe(r) sex practices at all times and unless we have a fluid-exchange arrangement, I will not engage in consensual relations with my partners without the use of latex barriers (condoms or dental dams). If my partner complains about having to do so, I do not wish to compel my partner to do something he or she would rather avoid. Reluctance to use a latex barrier also portends reluctance to respect my boundaries. I only seek partners who are fully embracing of my boundaries, of safe(r) sex practices and of consensual sex practices. If latex interferes with your enjoyment or performance then you may wish to seek a poly-fidelitous arrangement instead, or practice with condoms via masturbation to burn new neural pathways of pleasure.

      • nycindie says:

        I don’t see any need to reword my boundary. I know that I need to be able to “share my affection in a way that works for me.” Telling a potential exactly that opens up a discussion on all the points to which that boundary pertains. I only spelled it out here because you questioned it, but I prefer to keep things simple so I can remember them. In a nutshell, my boundaries/criteria for successful and satisfying relationships are: I need to feel respected, valued, heard, safe to be myself, excited about being with the person, able to share my affection in a way that works for me, and to know that each of my relationships are managed only by myself and my lovers as we see fit. Period.

      • objkshn says:

        Well, yes – whatever works for. I was just extending the discussion and sharing my viewpoints. Good luck in your explorations.

      • nycindie says:

        Oh, and you wrote: “…what I expect WILL happen and then the consequence if it does not.” Well, I don’t think that expecting what will happen is very useful. Having expectations only get us into trouble. I have preferences, not expectations. If my preferences and boundaries are not met or respected, the consequences are simple – there will be no relationship.

  16. objkshn says:

    Expectations vs. preferences = semantics only.
    We all have expectations. Monogamy those expectations are largely unstated which gets couples in trouble. In polyamory we attempt – as we explored above in the discussion – to state those expectations up front. This is common lingo. See, eg.

    But you misread the context of my statement. The emphasis was on WILL happen, the positive, that is, and not the negative. Glass half full, glass half empty.

    So, call ’em preferences or expectations, I prefer to state either in terms of the positive and not the negative. Thus, the point was to describe what the relationship you are seeking looks like, not what it doesn’t look like. i.e. I don’t want you to tell me what to do, instead, i.e. I want partners who support my autonomy and respect my personal boundaries.

    • nycindie says:

      Ha! Saying it is only semantics is just a passive-aggressive way to dismiss my viewpoint. Not that I care what an anonymous poster on the internet, nor anyone else, thinks, but for the benefit of anyone else who reads this, I want to make clear that what I wrote about is NOT semantics. The very notion that expectations and preferences are the same thing is ludicrous. Certainly, Buddhists disagree! (Read: The Tyranny of Expectations.

      There is a vast, distinct difference between holding onto expectations and having preferences. Expectations place responsibility on another person, while having preferences and being aware of them places responsibility on oneself. The first creates dependency, attachment, and inflexibility; the second independence and a better ability to move with the flow of life. Furthermore, no — it is not an automatic thing that “everyone has expectations.” That is something we are taught, at least in modern society, but we can teach ourselves not to do it, too.

      I first discovered and came to understand the problems inherent in the act of placing expectations on other people back in the early 1990s, and since then have actively weaned myself from that approach. I don’t expect anything from anyone anymore, in any kind of relationship – friendships, work, love, familial – unless I am no longer present and just acting out of habit. Habitually expecting people to fulfill certain needs and requirements we want them to fulfill only creates a dynamic of wistful hopefulness, perhaps even anxiety, and nearly always sets one up for disappointment. And that applies to both monogamous and polyamorous relationships,since the same basic elements of what makes relationships successful is the same for both.

      Having a preference simply means we would rather something go a certain way but don’t expect it to happen. Preferences don’t automatically create attachment. Having preferences means there are alternatives, and that we can be open to other options, but it also gives us a choice. Let’s say a potential lover with whom I would really like to have a relationship tells me he cannot abide by one or more of my boundaries/criteria for relationships. While I would prefer he would be able to meet them, it is my choice whether or not I get involved with him knowing he cannot. Then I cannot be disappointed when it doesn’t happen. On the other hand, if I trick myself into believing he will fulfill expectations, I become attached to the hope that that creates, and I will be disappointed and suffer. As in all of life, the key to satisfaction is living in the present moment. The Indulging in expectations conflict with being present – expectations are just mindfucks.

      One more point: there is no poly rulebook that says “in polyamory, we attempt to discuss expectations up front.” Every situation is unique, so what gets discussed up front or not is up to the people involved. Many people in monogamous relationship discuss their hopes and dreams for the relationship before it gets off the ground just like polyfolk do. And many polyfolk avoid discussing important issues beforehand just like monofolk do. One is not superior over nor more enlightened than the other – they are just different approaches.

      • aggiesez says:

        If I may interrupt this debate for a moment, I’d like to say that I do not think it is inherently wrong or bad to have expectations of how people will act in situations. It does not require them to fulfill those expectations. But if you have them you have them. I have some, which I listed in my more recent post on my bottom line in relationships. Do with that what you will.

  17. […] While there is much more of the story to tell, how about I go live a little more and get back to you with some juicy details soon. In the mean time, I’ll be working on my relationship agreements with myself. Aggie at, whom I recently met at the Loving More conference, has done an excellent job of this already in her post titled, Rules for Myself: What makes solo polyamory work for me. […]

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