Plan A: Balancing commitment and flexibility in solo polyamory


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.

6 thoughts on “Plan A: Balancing commitment and flexibility in solo polyamory

  1. Jeff McClure says:

    I identified _particularly_ well with IO in this part you wrote here:

    “He is less concerned about distance, since he easily feels connected to people even when he’s long out of contact with them.”

    That’s _absolutely_ how I am. 🙂

    I recently had a bit of a “double take” here, because a formerly-sexual partner referred (on an online chat) to our relationship as _primarily sexual_ (with the assumption that I felt the same way). I was quite taken aback, because I considered our relationship _primarily emotional_. We later talked about that a bit, and she specifically mentioned the fact that we didn’t see each other in person (or even “talk” using a text-based medium) very often.

    I’ve started to believe that I consider textual communication to be much more significant than most people. Even more than that, I feel like I can “cold store” emotions more effectively (and bring them back more readily and completely) than most people.

  2. Cis_male3 says:

    Aggie is back! I missed your posts and stopped checking the site around April. I’m glad I stumbled here today to find a treasure trove of new posts.

    I have been solo for a few years since my last primary partner. As of late I have been noticing that I prefer short flings (lasting a few weeks to a few months) with no intent of developing into a committed relationship. I try to be honest about my intent when I start, but I think a lot of people see this as some phobia to be cured or a barrier to be crossed rather than a sincere expression of what I want.

  3. bb says:

    I don’t think I would sweat this too much. Granted distance for me has never been something that made a relationship wither and die on the vine, I have had long distance relationships that withered out or continued with ferocity for years, some still ongoing, and the reason they died out was never because of distance.
    For me personally I don’t like to make plans. Whatever will be will be, if you make plans then the possibility may come along where you break them, and then there are unmet expectations, and unmet expectations are what lead to hurt and cause another harm. If you truly want a relationship where you see each other when you desire than have that be your plan without specifics IMO. You may end up seeing each other around every month for awhile if that is how things work out, but that also may change with new people in your life and demands, it could even turn into 2x a year at some point, and that is OK. To me relationships are about quality, and seeing each other even 2x a year can sustain me just as much was every 6 weeks, and that doesn’t diminish my feelings in any way, it is just how things work out sometimes, and that can even change back to something more consistent.
    I think the only commitment that needs to be made is to be honest with each other, and commit to being accepting of each others desires, and a commitment to the honor the autonomy of the other. If you make a schedule you are not free to pursue your desires, period, you are now chained to a schedule and you are committed to engage in the behavior of visiting on this schedule even when that may not be your desire at a certain time, you are basically setting up your desire, which is subject to change, to be at odds with your commitment at some point in time, it will happen, and that isn’t being true to commitment to free expression of desire from both parties.
    I say go with the flow and take things as they come, and enjoy your visits to the mountains whenever you feel the desire to go see your man, and enjoy your life on your own, and design your life as to your wants in the now and don’t tie yourself to what you think are going to want in the future which can’t be known.

    • aggiesez says:

      I appreciate that having no plan, nothing to shoot for, works for you. I’m different, and having a plan to at least try out works better for me. For me, your approach would probably make a long distance relationship untenable.

      • bb says:

        I live a life that has to be pretty loose about plans on the whole due to my work, so it is a lifestyle that comes very comfortable to me maybe more than for others. And I find my ultimate satisfaction in not having expectations, to me it is more thrilling to have a visit organically present itself then be on a schedule, that makes me feel more valued, I really prefer not having set scheduled visits because I know that when a person does visit that they are doing it because they really want to and it is their desire to, not because they may feel obligated (this may just be my own issues, I know a schedule doesn’t mean someone feels obligated by any means, but it haunts me as a possibility nonetheless I am weird like that), and if we had a schedule and they had to break it I would feel let down and it would send me on a mental quest of wondering what could have been so important to cancel on me a road I do not like to travel which can be a rabbit hole for me, so to me not having expectations allows me to really not be let down or let my crazy be indulged, and thrilled and surprised at their desire to be with me as the other side of the coin which I enjoy.

        I don’t think it comes down to having nothing to shoot for, we shoot for making time for each other when we desire to which may have ebbs and flows, and often is effected by demands in our personal lives, but we shoot to keep the relationship intact for the long term – and for me personally schedules would threaten the long-term viability due to the high likelihood of unmet expectations at some point. I never had to have a plan to try, that was a given, we love each other and feel enriched by the time we spend with each other, therefore we will make time to spend with each other, that never needed to really be discussed as a plan. I say this as a person who has an ongoing LDR for 9 years, and another that was one of the most intense relationships of my life for 6 years, Having a plan for me personally is a form of control, or at least it feels that way for me, and someone needing a plan most likely wouldn’t work for me, so I guess that is where I come from with things. I have yet to to see the LDR where people had schedules of when to visit and/or how often to call or write etc. and set up a format for how the relationship would progress not implode. LDRs require some flexibility IMO, a lot of flexibility frankly that many people aren’t capable of and that is what usually leads to their doom. The more rules or obligations there is less flexibility, and more opportunity to disappoint each other.

        Just giving my 2 cents, often when we try to hold on too tight and set out a plan for how a relationship is going to work it can be setting ourselves up for disappointment, when in my experience it is easier to let something develop organically without a plan, I know that is not something workable for everyone, but schedules actually can turn into being something that often doesn’t ultimately work out for everyone either, just something to think about when trying to balance your needs and future desires in dealing with the hardship of physical distance.

    • stella says:

      I have a remarkably similar take on things to bb:) I have a powerful spiritual and physical liaison (relationship) with a 15 year younger beautiful man in another country. There he has a wife and two young children. In my home, my grown children live no longer so Ive spread my wings, have developed an entirely new career, am free to travel, meet people, engage, and manage to see my bf around two times a year, with texts and chats, more rarely emails or phone calls except in the beginning:) We’ve been together for three years, it was passion/fears rocky at the beginning and I tried to end it several times but he held on tight and never let go (although he did retreat into his silent man-cave several times, fueling my fears and insecurities). During the down times we each went back to ourselves and our other people, and in the meantime built up entirely new careers, independent entrepreneurs, inspired and finding courage in our love and deep bond. After awhile we realized that one important thing we had in common was a devotion and passion for our work (even for our other important people– he’s married; im divorced with a close friendship with my ex and a big extended family and global circle of friends) that is equal or even greater than our devotion to each other. And that that was a big part of our mutual attraction and admiration.

      What I like best is that Im free to meet other men, entertain in my mind all the possibilities, flirt! Get energy from those connections, even brief, but so far choose, again and again, to be faithful to my one lover and to let it grow, stronger and more nourishing.

      Of course, there are no guarantees! But neither are there in traditional relationships. So thank you aggie and bb for your different approaches to love and the courage to find your own way:)

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