February 2, 2020 by aggiesez
Here’s something I’ve learned through long experience practicing solo polyamory, that I really didn’t quite get otherwise:
Since I prefer not to live with, marry, or blend finances with any intimate partner (for me, that’s a relationship that’s sexual/romantic, or otherwise especially emotionally intense), I find that I’ve gotten much better at accepting the people I love for who they are. This, in turn, has helped my relationships become more honest and supportive, and less fraught.
Previously (when I was married, living with my spouse, and especially while we were still trying to be monogamous), I found it very difficult to cope when big differences in style and choices emerged between us. Whenever he wanted to make a big choice that was different than what I’d do, I’d often get nervous, controlling, angry or resentful. I focused mainly on how his choices affected me or reflected on me, or on what I believed his desires or choices indicated about how much he loved or valued me. The real problem was: I wasn’t seeing, accepting and appreciating who he is — which was unfortunate, because he’s pretty awesome! That didn’t help our relationship. Rather, it fed the tension and distance between us.
Over a decade ago, he and I got unmarried, separated our finances, and moved apart. This was not easy to do, but ultimately our relationship grew much stronger and healthier because of this change. Now, we’re far more accepting and supportive of each other, with fewer disagreements and much less tension. We’re still close, supportive, and in each other’s lives on a daily basis. Had we tried to hold on to being married nesting partners, our relationship surely would have ground down until only bitterness and resentment remained. That, indeed, would have been a failed relationship.
Consequently, for me, being solo as well as poly is, among other things, a strategy for bringing my best self to my most emotionally intense or committed relationships. It allows me to be less fearful, judgmental, controlling and resentful toward the people I love.
On a related note: lots of solo poly experience also helps me better handle changes and endings in intimate relationships. This took longer for me to learn — when I first was writing this blog, I was still struggling with that life lesson. However, managing change and endings is a crucial part of bringing my best self to my relationships. Doing this well doesn’t happen by accident.
Now, I am absolutely confident that I will be okay, even if a personal relationship I treasure needs to change or end. Whether a relationship ends on good terms or not: it may hurt a lot emotionally, but it won’t disrupt my housing, healthcare, finances, identity, support network, social connections or future plans.
Such independent grounding helps me better decisions about my intimate relationships. I’m less likely to hang in there, tolerating stuff that’s bad for me. It also gives me more options to adapt my relationships, and to end them peacefully. I’m better prepared to recognize the need for relationship change, and to address it promptly and collaboratively. It also means that, if I’m surprised by the sudden ending of a treasured relationship, I can accept that, grieve it, and move on in a healthier way.
Lusty Guy, cohost of the Polyamory Weekly podcast, often says, “The point of any relationship is to make the people in it better versions of themselves.” I agree strongly with this. And for me, solo polyamory is what makes it possible to achieve this goal in my intimate relationships.
I’ve learned, personally, that I can only show up well for others when I’m standing firmly on my own feet, so I can see and love them for who they really are.
Postscript: Here’s what my former spouse has to say about this post:
As the author’s former spouse, I can attest to the merits of getting “unmarried.” A lot of things worked well in our relationship (especially: camping trips, sex, cooking together, overlapping tastes in movies and music, and so on). But once we bought a house together and suffered the dot-com implosion (which affected both our incomes) things went south.
I would never say it is a categorical mistake to live with someone or marry. But sharing finances and property takes things to an entirely different level of complexity. Most couples probably can weather that. Many work out the boundaries of that arrangement ahead of time. (I know one married couple that keeps all their finances separate.) We did not.
Thus, while I completely agree with the overall point of this post, I think the living together thing is not inherently problematic. It just requires some forethought, communication, setting boundaries.
I do not regret being married. It taught me a lot. But in the same way that a couple needs to discuss parenting philosophy before they have children, everyone should discuss marriage philosophy before getting married.