Balancing autonomy and connection in solo polyamory


June 10, 2014 by aggiesez

Today in the Singleish and Solo Polyamory Facebook group, I commented on a thread exploring the different ways that solo poly people preserve autonomy or avoid too much enmeshment while also maintaining relationships. Some people dislike it when a lover even leaves a toothbrush at their place; others have different boundaries.

Here’s how I explained my approach to autonomy and connectedness in my life, relationships and home:

To me, although I adore living solo, I also treasure ongoing, ambient connection with the people I love. I prefer to feel their presence in my life, as well as in my heart. Just lightly enough so I don’t feel smothered or hobbled.

When I’m in significant relationships, typically I enjoy daily or near-daily contact of some kind with my lovers. But this adopts various forms and pacing, depending on our respective communication availability and preferences. This is where asynchronous communication, supported by technology, is a huge boon to me — I’m really not much for talking on the phone.

To me, ongoing ambient contact of some kind with my lovers fosters intimacy and understanding, and provides a sense of connection and stability in my relationships that I value.

With my current lover, we don’t get to spend much time together — but we do communicate quite often, usually a few times daily in different ways. Sometimes we send long, deep e-mails exploring issues and feelings, exchanging intimacies or sharing insights and experiences. Sometimes it’s quick text banter or photos.

This is a fairly new relationship, we’re both experiencing pretty significant NRE (new relationship energy), so our communication has been pretty intense. (It’s so refreshing and exciting for me to be exploring an intimate relationship with a fellow writer!) However, our communication is now starting to settle into calmer patterns and rhythms — which I also enjoy. But I value having those intense initial e-mails to look back on.

With my most recent previous lover, we’d mostly text silly internet meme photos to each other a few times daily. Which was sweet and fun. We still do that sometimes, even though we’re no longer dating. Never underestimate the value of simply sharing smiles with people you care about.

Here are the kinds of enmeshment I personally prefer to avoid:

  • Logistical dependence. Sharing a home and finances, relying on each other for transportation or other daily needs, etc.
  • Social dependence. A strong need to interact socially mostly “as a couple.”
  • Emotional dependence. When lovers become too emotionally dependent on me — they don’t have their own friends, expect me to manage their emotions for them, etc.
  • Interpersonal territoriality. Expectations that we somehow own or are entitled to control aspects of each other, or at least have the power to grant permission for sharing. This most often comes into play with forming new relationships and sharing sex or other types of intimacy in various contexts. Or feeling entitled to a certain amount of your partner’s time, energy or attention.

Those types of enmeshment tend to bring out unpleasant aspects of my personality: control freakishness, hyperresponsibility, rebelliousness, anxiety and more.

Above all, when I’ve been thus enmeshed, my decisions about relationships often had more to do with maintaining life stability than with the quality of the relationship, or taking care of myself. In the past — when I’ve felt that leaving a relationship would entail substantial disruption to my housing, finances, or social network — I’ve made stunningly bad relationship decisions.

I love having my own space, and I don’t mind sharing it in small ways. Now that I’m no longer dwelling in a tiny apartment, I’m fine when lovers and friends who occasionally spend a night or a few days with me choose to leave a few basics behind — toothbrush, spare clothes, favorite snack, etc. I have convenient places to store their stuff, so it doesn’t impinge on my space.

I also enjoy seeing in my home gifts from my lovers, friends and family. My current lover recently went traveling, and brought me back a beautiful silk scarf. I’ve draped that over a corner of my bedroom mirror. It looks lovely there, and it’s a daily reminder of the bond we share.

What about you? If you’re solo poly, how do you balance connection and autonomy, or avoid too much enmeshment, in your own relationships? Please comment below.

4 thoughts on “Balancing autonomy and connection in solo polyamory

  1. Miri says:

    Wow, your section on the types of enmeshment you prefer to avoid really resonated with me. The most important thing to me is avoiding emotional enmeshment, meaning that I prefer to feel like I can handle my emotions pretty well without the help of a partner, and vice versa. Once I’m secure in this knowledge, I like accepting help from partners who want to provide it, but I don’t ever want to feel like I don’t know what I’d do without them, or like a breakup would require a huge adjustment in that regard.
    And ditto for socializing as a couple. If any of my partners lived near me, I’d love for them to join me in social things, but I can’t IMAGINE feeling like we go out “as a couple,” or even having to entertain the thought of declining an invitation because my partner isn’t available or interested. Blech.
    You didn’t mention this explicitly, but I imagine it’d fit into the last category: I don’t ever want to have veto power over a partner, have a partner with veto power over me, or date someone whose other partner has veto power over them. Nooope.

  2. code16 says:

    I’m not solo, but I was just trying to figure out if there is a more concise way to express one of my own ‘thing I don’t do or want in my relationships’, and your “Interpersonal territoriality” is it. Thanks!

    This also made me think about the couple thing, and how for me, *feeling* like a couple is a distinct thing, which I actually don’t have in some of my relationships, and that this is why it’s weird for me when my partner and I are in contexts where I know we’re perceived as a couple.

  3. bb says:

    Definitely no on sharing home and finances! That is a huge boundary for me – I have my place you have yours. But I also don’t mind someone making themselves comfortable in my home at a certain point, and I appreciate the same in return. It is kind of a treat someone like you would want to be treated thing, if we spend enough time at each other’s homes to where there is a comfort level to leave some things behind, well I wouldn’t want someone to give me grief about that, it seems a little anal and trivial, so of course they can leave some things at my place – just as long as it doesn’t get to the point where I feel they are moving in!

    As to the going out as a “couple” thing, it isn’t a situation that I would like being in. But I could see where it could be beneficial. I wouldn’t be the type that would want to attend functions with someone like work parties and the like, I personally like doing those things by myself and don’t like spending my time trying to integrate someone else into the scene, but I wouldn’t mind taking/going with someone on a work vacation of sorts, sometimes I go some pretty cool places for events where there is a lot of free time and it would be fun to take a lover with, in that scenario I probably would play “couple” just so people wouldn’t ask too many questions. So it depends, if it is a scenario where the person just wants me there for some blah social/work event where obviously people don’t know our situation – hell no – but for something cool we can experience together and it isn’t for some sort of support sure I will play the steady GF.

    Emotional dependence is a big boundary for me – but it is mainly as to compatibility. I may love someone, but I am used to handling my own emotional crisis alone, that is how I operate, I wouldn’t want someone who expected some sort of emotional dependence as a sign of love from me nor wanted to be dependent on me. Ownership is also a big no-no – but again comes down to compatibility, I don’t want to own someone or control them or vice versa, but this at its heart has nothing to do with boundaries or balancing autonomy, it has to do with compatibility, I wouldn’t be right for someone who needs those things to feel loved and secure.

    To me it really isn’t a balancing act, we both have autonomy as a given, and we form a deep connection, the two are mutually exclusive to me, and if they can’t be mutually exclusive well we are just not right for each other, and I have a boundary not to go down certain roads that I know are just not workable.

  4. evercircle says:

    This is beautiful! Thanks for taking the time to compose this – and so well.
    I’ve been stirring about in thoughts and feelings for a while now concerning how I want my life and relationship/s to feel and flow. I have a little experience but quite a bit of interest in living “solopoly”, but at first I was confused about the reasons I felt myself leaning heavily in this direction. After some experimentation (some difficult, with results to untangle), some meditation, and a lot of getting away from the busyness and expectations of social life and the like, I’ve found its a LOT more about getting, building up, and keeping a certain level of autonomy and self-containment that I’ve never truly had in my thirtysomething years. It’s about a freedom that comes from and with said autonomy.
    Much of what I’ve gained so far has come from blogs and posts like this one. So a big “thank you” to you, and to those who, like you, choose to take the time and make the effort to compose and share well-put-together snapshots of yourselves and your inner and outer lives. To many of us, they are pinpoints of light along often dimly lit but very vital life paths.

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