Polyamory is hard: Guest post from a solo poly man


March 27, 2013 by aggiesez

Introduction by Aggie Sez: I’m embarrassed to have procrastinated for a month or so on publishing this excellent guest post by Master So N So — an accomplished artist, educator, rope bondage expert, and lifelong non-monogamist. He’s in some long-term committed relationships, but is a primary partner in none of them. In February he taught a class on solo polyamory at Winter Wickedness, a Midwest kink community event.

In this post — which he originally published in Toastology, his own blog, last November — he talks frankly about the emotional challenges of the solo poly approach to life and relationships. I’m grateful that he’s given permission to republish it in full here.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve procrastinated on publishing this amazing, heartfelt essay because in the last month I’ve been personally relishing all the wonderful stuff about being solo poly, including exploring some new relationships. I’d just emerged from an extremely emotionally trying year that included two jarring breakups — where men I’d known and trusted for years, who claimed to love and treasure me, treated me as disposable (in one case because I’m not available to be a primary partner, in another case because I wasn’t one), followed by several months with no sex and little affection. So I’d been avoiding delving back into the hard stuff.

But the hard stuff about being solo poly and dealing with couple privilege is still there, alive and well. And Master So N So addresses it eloquently. (Note: This post is unedited, save for adding some links to define some terms that may be new to people who are less familiar with polyamory.)

Master So N So writes:

Just to be on the safe side, let me start this with a whole bunch of disclaimers: This is not a complaint. This is not venting. This is me telling you what the mechanics of happy could look like. I am not talking about people, I am talking about my experience with polyamory, and I am talking about it for the benefit of those considering polyamory.

Yes, my partners are aware that I am having these experiences. I have talked with them about this stuff. That is sort of my whole point in mentioning this to YOU.

Polyamory is fucking HARD.

People say this a lot but I really think that some people out there might benefit from putting themselves in my shoes for five seconds and really asking themselves, “Could I really handle this? Am I really willing to ask someone else to handle this in order to be in my life?” Because I tell you what, I could not have handled this ten years ago.

I have spent the last five years being a secondary partner without a primary partner of my own. I like it this way. I tell people that I am my primary partner. I joke that I am always the bridesmaid, but never the bride. Of the relationships that I am currently in, every single one that I consider myself committed to, is with a married woman.

Let me put that another way: every single relationship I am in could be ended by a third party decision.

I can already hear all of my polyamorous friends start to protest, start talking about how much they abhor hierarchies, how they don’t allow veto rights in their relationships. I know what you are going to say, and I am willing to bet my long-lost anal virginity that the people who want to protest are all in primary relationships or want to be in primary relationships. Heck, all my partners would tell me the same thing.

And I’m sorry to hurt your feelings, but I call bullshit. I understand that you and your partner have all these rules and philosophies that you’ve spent all this time working out and discussing together, but that’s not the point. The point is, I have not had those conversations with them. Your primary partner does not love me, your metamour, the way s/he loves you, his actual partner. My theoretical happiness does not trump his desire to make your primary relationship work. “Drop everything else and focus on our marriage” is ALWAYS still on the menu, no matter what you say.

More importantly, as a secondary partner, the potential for that choice always exists in my head. I may be good at ignoring that demon imp voice, but it will always be there. When I’m weak. When I’m having a bad moment. When my boss tears me a new one because I screwed up big and I desperately need you to wrap your arms around me, that voice is there, whispering its evil little chant: “I bet her primary will come first,” that voice sings.

Is that likely to happen? No, because I have made good choices and I have faith that my partners are all spiritually and emotionally committed to a shared set of ethics — and I have taught myself how to trust that if their beliefs are this compatible with mine, then their partner’s beliefs are probably pretty similar.

But teaching myself that, maintaining my faith in that, was HARD. Difficult. The opposite of easy. Definitely harder than being sexually monogamous. WAY WAY WAY harder than being socially monogamous.

Keeping that lingering doubt out of my head and heart when I am deep in a self-pity spiral is HARD.

Living a lifestyle where 95% of conversations about MY feelings for YOU includes a discussion of how I think your other (read: more important) partner feels? That is HARD.

That is not the Easy Mode. That is not the Easy Path To Free Orgies All The Time.

I think that the vast majority of polyamorous people I have met thus far would find it easier to lie to their Significant Other about an affair than to learn to trust metamours like that. I know I certainly would find it easier.

My girlfriend is having her husband’s baby. Right now, they are sharing in an utterly transformative experience that I will never get to experience with her. Never. I mean, this completely fucking trumps that time when he saw the Transformers 3D with her before I could.

She and I were fluid-bonded (and, speaking of hard conversations, that is another Not The Easy Mode conversation: “I would also like to fluid bond with your wife.”). We had to break our fluid bond while they tried. Think about that. Think about how you would react to that. They decided when they were going to start trying to have a baby, at which point I had to start wearing condoms again with my girlfriend.

If you’re the sort of person who would see that as a slap in the face, then maybe you shouldn’t be poly.

(Just to dive briefly back to my last point, have you thought about whether you believe you should get any kind of say in when your girlfriend will start trying to have kids with her husband? Is that a conversation you’re prepared to have?)

When I lay in bed next to her, I can smell that she’s growing some other guy’s kid in her. Her body is changing shape. Her daily routine has been biologically rewritten. It will require a completely different wardrobe — she isn’t even going to be dressed like I’m used to. For the next seven months, her husband and this choice is going to be an inescapable element of my relationship with her.

I mean, realistically, what they’ve just done is decide to change the woman that I’m in a relationship with. Not just for the next 7 months, either.

It is thrilling and gratifying and deeply affirming to watch myself be okay with this — but I have to say, it is not easy to be okay with it.

It requires skills, it requires learning how to notice yourself be Not Okay with it, and have the courage to speak up and admit when I am Not Okay with it, and have a relationship where you can talk about it and feed your esteem while still making sure she’s getting all her natal vitamins and naps in. It requires trusting in your relationship’s communication skills, and trusting in THEIR relationship’s communication skills — which is way harder, because you are never going to get to watch them talk about you when you’re not around.

When people talk about how polyamory is hard, this is MUCH harder than anything I ever imagined Those People meaning.

As the Icing on Everyone Else’s Cake, I am by now well used to long distance secondary relationships, to weekend affairs. I am used to having to say goodbye at the airport. I have developed skills to deal with the sense of loneliness and sudden isolation, have learned to deal with having to return to my empty bed. But listening to her talk about what a great time she had and how much she misses me and wishes she could be there with me but now she’s got to go to bed with her husband? Constantly being treated as a Special Occasion that needs to be planned? That is always going to be hard. Nor is there really anything that she can do about that.

People imagine polyamory to be this place where you’re never jealous and there’s enough love and connection so that you’ll never feel left out again. I have to tell you, this isn’t my experience. I wouldn’t want it to be my experience.

I get jealous. I feel the whole wide range of emotions.

I have complex, multi-layered, so-intense-I-can-barely-keep-a-grip emotions. My relationships push my buttons and terrify me and test my idealistic philosophies about what relationships should be, about what I can be to other people. It is a challenge.

It is a challenge we face together.

It amazes me how many people think they can enter poly relationships and then tell their partner, “Your emotions about the other relationships I’m in are Not My Problem.” That you’re solely responsible for dealing with your own emotions and that asking for help and support is somehow not Good Poly? What amazes me even more than that, are the people who don’t even think about what it means to ask someone to be their secondary partner.

If you’re not involved in the emotional experience of your partners, then what the fuck are you doing this for? Prostitutes and swingers clubs will be way less expensive and time consuming. Multiple, ethical, open, emotionally intense, committed relationships are hard.

As a perennial secondary partner, do you know what my deepest fear is every time I start a relationship?

That I’m being used as an exit strategy.

That my entire relationship with you was secretly, the entire time, actually just about getting the strength to leave your Actually Significant Other. Because she won’t actually know that’s what she’s doing. Because she’s convinced herself that she’s happy with her marriage and that this is just one more way that they’re expressing that happiness. Because for her I’m nothing more than a catalyst agent for her to grow some balls and Dump The Mother Fucker Already, but for me that was an actual relationship.

If it’s surprising to you that this happens often enough in the world of polyamory for me to have baggage about that shit, then maybe you should spend some more time thinking about this choice.

Many thanks to Master So N So for allowing me to share his experience on SoloPoly.net.

12 thoughts on “Polyamory is hard: Guest post from a solo poly man

  1. Jessica Burde says:

    Solo poly is a side of polyamory that is overlooked and ignored far to often. Thank you for being willing to share your experiences and fill some of that silence.

  2. […] I read a post on the blog Solopoly by a man who is practicing solo polyamory. Solo polyamory is essentially the […]

  3. Harper Eliot says:

    This is a really incredible piece. I’ve been a solo poly person for about three months, – and not wholly by choice – and even I found myself nodding along. Not a lifestyle/lovelife decision to be taken lightly. Thank you, Master So N So.

  4. I had a primary partner for awhile and had many other partner’s too. I found it challenging, and very hard at times. I tried for a long time to adopt certain emotions and rules, like the ‘Not caring about others emotions as it’s my life.’ This really wasn’t intentional, but it was partly because my primary partner closed up, and I started to fear a lot about my relationships. I was putting in so much work to emotionally support them, and because they where long distance or had busy lifestyles, I hardly had that support when I needed it. When it started for the first few years, it didn’t matter that I did have that support, but after about 3 years it stopped, and it carried on like that for about 4-5 years. My other poly relationships fell apart partly as I feared that they would stop completely too, Everything feel apart, until the end of 2011. I started to gain my confidence again, I relearned to be comfortable with my partners not being there as much, I basically relearned a lot. But it took a bit too long, and I must’ve skipped some steps, I suddenly jumped from having my primary partner, the partners I had some how managed to keep even after those years of neglects, and multiple new partners who had even less idea of support than my primary partner. For a start, I feel I had far too many partner’s in one come… but that’s not the point. because I had switched off a lot during my ‘Not caring about emotions’ phase, I forgot to switch certain parts back on in the process, and I ended up in some very dangerous and emotionless relationships.I know it’s silly but it took those very negative relationships to really notice how much my poly relationships meant to me, but also it showed, that while I switched off parts, that I was still far more caring about my poly partners than I had (and possibly society had) conditioned me to believe.

    I have no idea why I rambled all that here – sorry for going off topic.

    But this is a good guest post.

  5. I’m glad he was able to post this without it being a rant. I would have ranted. I still have wounds from the last few relationships, where I was discarded casually, and usually without being told, in ways they would never consider discarding their primaries.

    I go to bed alone every night. This has been so for six months. For six years I have gone to bed alone *almost* every night. Every day I know, all the way into my bones and deep into the very core of my being, that I will be alone come bedtime and that I will wake up alone in the morning.

    I have never gotten used to it. I wish I could. You and Master So N So are both people that I admire (or is that envy?) because you *have* learned to cope.

    • aggiesez says:

      Thanks — although speaking for myself, having lots of alone time isn’t something I’ve needed to “cope.” For me, living with a primary partner on a daily basis was suffocating. It’s a matter of temperament, I guess.

  6. This was a very interesting post to read. Very timely as well. I am on the verge of finding myself in a polyandrous (I acknowledge the difference between polyandrous and polyamory) relationship with both of my best friends. The wife in this case I have known for the vast majority of my life and the second husband has been my best friend my entire adult life. What struck me about this article was the topic of pregnancy. My adult best friend was at the commitment ceremony that her and I had (we made a very practical choice not to become married in the civic sense based on politics, finances and other factors) and shortly there after we had our child. Now they are planning a family and a wedding (they must be married to have a life & family together without detriment to himself). I know each of our children will have two fathers and I am excited to watch his baby grow inside her and all the rest. The point of this all is to say that I think it really boils down to temperament as the above reply suggests. There is no one-size fits all rule book for these kinds of things and the author is right it is absolutely hard at times; make no mistake about it.

    • I also just want to note that I understand my situation is in no way the same as the one described by the author and I am sympathetic to that hardship faced by the author. What I forgot to mention was that when they initially started their wedding planning and family planning I was in fact having bouts of insane jealously and only recently has that jealousy been exorcised.

  7. lisacostello says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I very much needed to read this today. Solo poly is new to me, and I’m just beginning to appreciate the complexities and the difficulties. This helped, and your comments about your situation as well.

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