July 3, 2014 by aggiesez
When people consider what qualifies an intimate relationship as “serious” or “significant,” one of the most common themes is “commitment.” That sounds so concrete, but it’s a surprisingly slippery concept.
What can commitment look like in a relationship that’s completely off the relationship escalator? Where partners are not heading toward enmeshing their lives, resources, and identities? Is commitment even necessary for a relationship to feel significant to the people involved? And do commitments always need to be a big deal, or intended to be permanent/indefinite?
There are many ways to do commitment. This is where solo poly relationships get hard for most people to understand.
As a solo poly person, I don’t have (and don’t want) a primary-style partner. I prefer to maintain substantial flexibility in my life, and I prioritize autonomy. Most of my commitments I have regarding relationships are commitments I’ve made to myself. I don’t generally correlate the significance of my relationships with specific types of commitments. However, I’m also not opposed to making some clear commitments with my partners, when situations warrant. I just try to make sure these commitments meet a real need, and are open to renegotiation and adaptation.
Personally, I prefer to intimate relationships that are deeply emotionally invested and long-term, with lots of room to grow and evolve freely. That usually doesn’t just pop out of thin air; it typically requires conscious effort. That’s because the very nature of how I structure my relationships stands in stark opposition to most standard hallmarks of “commitment” — exclusivity, marriage, sharing a home/finances, presenting more as a couple than as an individual, etc. Such socially ingrained tokens can be hard for anyone to shake — even people with lots of poly experience.
Currently I’m in only one intimate relationship. It’s fairly new, just a few months old. And of course, it’s poly. In a short time we’ve developed a remarkably strong and wonderful mutual bond that appears to have staying power, and we intend to nurture it.
A big change is approaching us, soon. Sometime this summer, after his current work project concludes, my sweetie IO will switch from spending about half his time in my town, to mostly living on his rural mountain property about five hours away. OK, it’s not Mars, but this move will make the logistics of our relationship more challenging. Spending time together is important to us both, and so far we’ve been lucky that it’s been pretty easy to arrange.
This week I was feeling some anxiety about IO’s upcoming relocation. In the last few years I’ve moved several times, and almost every time a move has coincided with a breakup.
We’ve known this change is coming, and we’ve discussed our mutual intent to keep seeing each other and otherwise connecting after his move. But the “how” of this we deliberately left hazy. We don’t know how our lives will evolve, and we treasure our ability to be flexible with each other, and in general. We definitely don’t want to control each other. We prefer connecting out of desire and willingness, not obligation and schedule.
I thought this vagueness would work for me; I was surprised when it didn’t. My own personal baggage intervened. I’ve just had too many life experiences where people I cared deeply about dropped out of my life with no explanation or warning. Too often, total vagueness about future plans has prefaced such disappearances.
So yeah, abandonment issues? I have them. Welcome to the human race. Plus I feel shame about fearing abandonment, which makes it hard for me to ask for support. Since I tend to be highly self sufficient, I often chicken out by not asking for support or reassurance when I need it. Consequently, I may run a greater risk of losing relationships I value because I’m too scared or proud to request some structure to our connection when needed, even temporarily.
Last night I screwed together my courage and asked IO if we could collaborate on a “Plan A” for how often we’ll aim to visit after he moves. Despite the pressure of my initial anxiety, it was a calm, easy discussion — reminding me of why I so value him.
Plan A: We agreed to try visiting in a pattern that should be comfortable and doable for us both: a long weekend together, approximately monthlyish (every 4-6 weeks). This should give us enough time together to feel like our connection is active and vital, without becoming a problem for either of us (nor, hopefully, for IO’s wife Cora, who shares his mountain home). And we’ll share, as much as possible, the effort and expense of travel.
These visits, plus our asynchronous online communication, should give IO and me enough connection to feel satisfied with (but not burdened or shortchanged by) our relationship, and give it room to grow and evolve.
We’re calling our basic commitment “Plan A” because it’s a starting point. We’ll try it awhile and see how it works. We’ll revisit it and adapt as needed. It’s more about navigating a transition than locking down the future.
Having such a moderate but meaningful commitment, something we created together willingly, today has me feeling much calmer about IO’s move. And that’s the point: creating a little added sense of security when needed.
IO is rather different from me. He generally tends to be less concerned about distance, since he easily feels connected to people even when he’s long out of contact with them. Still, he was happy to offer me emotional support through a minor commitment, in a way that’s comfortable for him, sufficiently flexible and does not compromise his autonomy. He enjoys contributing to the well being of people he loves. And he really likes seeing me, too.
Plan A will undoubtedly evolve once IO moves. That’s ok. Right from the moment we made it, this commitment began serving its purpose of providing me with some emotional security. This shows that a given commitment need not hold the same meaning or value to everyone involved — just that everyone should get some direct benefit from the commitment.
Yes, I know I’m fine no matter what happens with our relationship. I provide my own core stability, which is why I’m good at being solo. This particular commitment is not about avoiding risk in our relationship. Shit can — and will — still happen. Ultimately, Plan A may prove to be more about intent than reality, who knows. But intent matters, too.
We’ll see how it works out.
This kind of situational, specific collaborative, near-term commitment works well for me. However, ongoing requirements such as always calling at a certain time, or always having dates on certain days, needing permission to date others, or anything resembling rules that might impinge on anyone’s autonomy, would not work for me at all. I’m also personally not much for showy symbolism like big commitment ceremonies — although I do enjoy small, private gestures or tokens to commemorate a shared bond that exists.
That’s just my take; your mileage may vary, of course.
If you’re solo poly, or in a relationship with a solo poly person, what does commitment look like in your relationships? What form does it take, what purpose does it serve? Why is it meaningful to you? Do your commitments achieve their goals? Have they backfired or fizzled? Does this concept seem irrelevant to your relationships, or do you struggle with it? Please comment below.