Someone told me once that polyamory is not for a hopeless romantic like myself.  While I don’t completely agree, I do see where the sentiment comes from.  When things are falling into place polyamory is a great environment for a romantic like myself, but this is real life, and where there are glitches in any relationship there are exponential glitches in a poly situation.

The images and definitions you get when you look up “Polyamory” on Google look like a lot of fun, but none of them quite grasp what it takes to keep the wheels turning.  A Corvette is beautiful, but if the engine stops all you’ve got is a pretty piece of yard art.  Here’s a look under the hood.

Polyamory means:

Being a tribe, not a room full of chiefs.  We are a family of strong-willed, smart, leaders, but working as a team means each of us giving up a little control to support the whole.  There may be areas where I’m a little more experienced or have better solutions, but working together means not trying to dominate every aspect of our lives together.  It also means listening and forming ideas together, using the collective brain to fix problems and make plans, and not being too proud to step back and let someone else take the wheel.

Being a Time Lord.  If none of us had jobs or lives outside of this family time would never be an issue,  Fortunately, we are all more well-rounded than that.  This means there’s a lot to keep track of.  Not only do my plans have to consider my busy schedule, but Hubby’s and A’s as well, which ripples into their extended circles and those schedules.  Sometimes it feels like all of our time together is spent figuring out when we all have time to have more time together.  The answer?  Every poly family needs a blue police box. Or Google Calendar.

Being comfortable alone and in a group.  By the very nature of poly we are a large family.  This means a lot time spent as a group, which can be daunting for a hermit.  On the flip side, there will be times when everyone else is busy.  This alone time can be healthy.  It’s integral to me that I not let my whole self be absorbed by the collective.  I need to own my identity, which means learning to appreciate and utilize my rare alone time as much as I appreciate and utilize my intimate one-on-one and family time.

Being a communicator and a listener.  When I get nervous, frustrated, tired, anxious, or uncomfortable I talk.  When I feel overwhelmed, out-of-place, stupid, wounded, or slighted I get quiet.  This talking and not-talking, however, does not equate to communicating well or listening, and that’s something I have to remind myself constantly.  In groups, or when we feel like we’re losing something, we tend to speak however we think people will hear us.  Oftentimes we are more concerned about having a chance to make our points heard that we merely sit and wait to talk instead of actually listening to the person talking.  This doesn’t get anyone anywhere.  It just creates more chaos and heightened emotions.

Being an adult who can act like a kid.  Let’s face it, we take ourselves to seriously.  We are all professionals, parents, activists, anachronists, writers, and intellectuals.  It’s all very serious business, but we can easily lose track of the fact that we started doing a lot of these things because we enjoy them, and this leads us to take life and ourselves too seriously.  With all that rigidity something is bound to snap.  Sometimes it’s just as important to let loose and be ridiculous.  Alone, together, as couples, it’s all an important part of the bonding experience and, in my opinion, one of the secrets of life.

Being able to get off your own rollercoaster to help someone ride his/hers.  There’s a meme going around that says “Everyone is going through something,” and it’s true.  Whether good, bad, or just plain important, everyone has something happening.  In a poly family you tend to have a lot of this happening at once.  I may be starting a great new relationship, but Hubby might be having a rough time with one ending.  It is important that we each not get so wrapped up in our own feelings that we disregard the other’s.  I can be supportive of him without ignoring or trivializing my NRE (new relationship energy), and he can be happy for me while still processing his grief.  It just takes both of us being able to emotionally multitask.

Being open and optimistic.  We live in a society that teaches us to learn from our mistakes, which can be great, but sometimes taken out of context.  In poly we trend to forget that real relationship snags happen.  Just because we’re both poly doesn’t mean we’re compatible.  Just because the last guy with those stats was a jerk doesn’t mean this one will be, unless the stat says “jerk”. Poly requires an open, fresh heart every time we enter a new relationship no matter what happened “last time”. This can be one of the hardest lessons in love, the ability to let go and move on without forming a whole new litany of issues.  When I found Hubby I was overjoyed to never have to go through the dating process again, and dating as a poly woman can be discouraging and frustrating.  I encounter people who just want sex, people who think they don’t have to treat me like a real girlfriend because I’m married, and people who use me as a fill-in until what they’re looking for comes along because they think I shouldn’t require any commitment beyond now.  Add all this to the normal dating mishaps, and it’s a wonder anyone falls into place, but it’s a beautiful thing when it happens, and it will only happen if we stay open to the possibility.

Being a romantic realist.  I love surprises.  I love coordinating surprises.  I love sweet moments and little things to make those I love smile knowing they are loved.  I love surrounding myself with people who find creative little ways to do the same for me.  This is where polyamory is perfect for my inner romantic. It’s also the part of me that gets disappointed and a little pouty when we have to accept that sometimes things happen.  Intimate moments are interrupted.  Time is hectic.  This year Hubby and A went on a trip the weekend before our first wedding anniversary.  I agreed to it.  They needed the time.  We never got to do anything special for our anniversary.  Life took over, and we just never had time.  The romantic in me screamed and stomped, but the realist in me had to accept it knowing it wasn’t the last anniversary we’ll ever spend together.

Being able to wear the big kid britches.  I have needs.  Everyone does.  Physical need.  Emotional needs.  Sexual needs.  They all need to be addressed and tended to, but sometimes having a need means prioritizing.  It also means learning to tend to some of these needs ourselves.  When we form a family, especially a large family, we get used to being taken care of, but we have to remember that we’re all adults who took care of ourselves at one time or another.  None of us lost that ability when we found each other.  It’s nice to be taken care of when I need it, but if someone else’s need is greater I have to be willing to asses whether or not what I have is a need or a desire.  If it’s a desire, it can wait.  If it’s a need, can I find a way to satisfy it on my own?  Once that’s done I need to be able to not take it personally that I had to do it myself.  This can be the hardest part of all this adult behaviour, not forming resentment.

Being able to hold your tongue.  I hate to say it, but there’s no rule saying I will or must like everyone Hubby dates.  They don’t all have to like me either, as long as they’re respectful of our family.  This can be the hardest part of poly.  I don’t have to like who Hubby’s with to support him and be happy for him, nor does it mean am happy or relieved if that situation fails.  That’s not to say I might not be relieved, but my primary care is for his happiness and well-being. Unless he asks or there is a major conflict regarding respect or honesty, my responsibility to him is to keep my mouth shut.  It’s not my relationship; it’s his.  It may make group activities trying, but I am obligated to at least try before we discuss any overbearing issues.

Polyamory is a lot of fun, a lot of love, and a lot of adventures, but it’s also a lot of work and not for anyone who can’t handle constant change, re-evaluation, and adaptation.  We’re all learning as we go, and we all make mistakes.  It’s how we handle those mistakes, change our course, and move on as a solid unit that decides if we sink or sail.  Sometimes we improvise.  Sometimes it all comes together as planned.  In either case we do it with strong hearts and genuine faith in each other.  We are warriors.  We are wheels turning and hearts singing.  We are a tribe, and nothing is stronger than the tribe.