Relationships are like roast dinners – An explanation of being Mono-Romantic for foodies

It sometimes feels as though these days there are more varieties of non-monogamy than flavors of ice cream in a Ben and Jerrys kiosk.

A common analogy is to talk about polyamory as being the cutting of a cake into some additional parts. The thing is, I don’t think that people are anything like cakes, and therefore relationships and the way that people are in relationships are not anything like cakes either. For me, they are more like roast dinners.

Roast dinners are great – they are more than the sum of their parts. Some of the parts, like the gravy, are super delicious (but have you noticed how you always want just a little more than there is on the plate?), and other parts are less exciting – like the broccoli, but still very enjoyable as part of a full meal (and you get the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing yourself a bit of good and giving yourself some more healthy years).

Now imagine splitting up a plate of roast dinner between multiple people. It doesn’t really work, does it? I suppose you could split out EVERY SINGLE component, but not only would that be very tricky and take lots of careful spooning and double checking that everything was split equally, but the portions might end up a bit meagre (think peas that you can count on your fingers).

So, how about one person gets the beef and another person gets the carrots? But isn’t that a bit unfair? Ok, you got me there. Well, maybe we’ll do it that way this week and swap next week, so that everyone gets a turn with the beef and everyone gets a turn with the carrots?

The thing is, once the roast dinner has been broken apart, so much and for so long, it’s not quite the same. The beef (think long mornings in bed on the weekends) are all the better for the carrots (think partner’s work function), and vice versa. When they can’t be enjoyed together, or in close proximity, they are not quite as satisfying.

For me, entangled and co-dependent relationships are multi-faceted, with sexy parts and sensible parts, happy parts and testing parts, passion, logistics, caring, respect, support, duty, desire, love… I could go on. There is a LOT going on. For me, relationships are like roast dinners, not cakes, and I do not see a good way to break the roast dinner apart and share it out among different individuals without spoiling the thing that I liked about it in the first place.

I like that the roast dinner is filling – in fact, it is all I really need if it comes to it (though of course, dessert is nice, when available). It’s tasty and satisfies my cravings, but it also keeps me nourished and does me some good. If I had to break apart my roast dinner because there were more people at the table, well… I might have cooked something entirely different in the first place, had I known. If I know I have a roast dinner in the oven, and I’m offered a roast dinner elsewhere, I will decline. Their roast dinner smells amazing and I’m sure it tastes great, but the fact is that I just don’t have the bandwidth for two. This is how I would feel about adding a second primary partner, or otherwise developing another serious relationship. 

Let’s talk about appetizers. They are tasty and in my opinion, all the more enjoyable for their bite-sized quality. I can order starter courses that fall outside of my comfort zone because I know that I don’t have to eat too much of it, and I do love to try new things. And dessert – well, what a delicious treat that I savour each bite of, even if not every single day (and only when I’m not too full from dinner). If a starter arrived bigger than I thought, I’d worry a little about not leaving room for main course. And a too-big dessert could leave me feeling a little lethargic and sleepy. This is how I feel about spending time with other partners. 

Things could be different. For example, if I’d decided to have only tapas for ever. With tapas, no one plate is bigger than any other. I love tapas and have enjoyed it many times. If you told me that I HAD to eat three plates, then I would choose tapas and enjoy it! But, I have now chosen roast dinner, and I’m super happy with my choice. I get that there’s a lot of people out there who can eat multiple roast dinners, and good for them! But me personally, I can’t. Some people are more than willing to split their roast dinner into much smaller portions to share with others. And that’s cool, but it’s also cool that I don’t want to.

I should say that I have tried being poly-romantic, a couple of times. On each occasion, I felt as though I was somewhat untethered, journeying to a destination as opposed to having arrived at it. It felt like a decision-making stage and a self-searching stage, not a status quo. It felt temporary. It felt confusing, it felt too much. Did I mention it felt kind of emotionally draining? It felt like the waiter was giving me two plates of food, and both were great, but I knew that I could only handle the one. I managed to get myself to believe that I could handle both for a while, and if they had each been different in size and scope then maybe I could have. But the thing is, I really am a sucker for the big meaty entrees that fill me up for the whole day. So I have decided to give in to my passion. But no second plate please – I’ll never have any room for petit fours otherwise.

 

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Boundaries vs Rules – and why neither term may work for couples

Lots of polyamory resources have discussed the differences between boundaries and rules. Boundaries are personal and designed to protect oneselfRules are aimed at the other partner and designed to restrict their actions.

Here’s one commonly used example:
Boundary: I will not have sex with anyone who has had unprotected sex with others recently.
Rule: I forbid you to have unprotected sex with anyone else.

It’s pretty clear that the former sounds reasonable and the latter sounds hostile. But both ultimately aim at the same thing. In both cases, the person really wants to say; I am not comfortable with you having unprotected sex with someone else and also with me.

Boundaries certainly sound a better way of hashing this out when talking to a secondary partner. Saying ‘my wife won’t let me do that, sorry’ is much more likely to cause sour feelings than ‘my wife and I have agreed not to do that’. A lot of people make the mistake of poisoning things with a secondary partner by saying the former when they could just as truthfully say the latter. If there’s bitterness and resentment around the scenario, then sure, the former is appropriate. But in a healthy relationship, where partners don’t resent each other’s boundaries, or perhaps even share boundaries, this should not be the case.

So on the face of things, boundaries certainly appear healthier than rules. For those in non-hierarchical relationships, I can see how the distinction could be helpful. Both rules and boundaries could help a solo-poly individual to identify attitudes not compatible with their own early in a relationship with a new partner, though perhaps rules might feel more rigid, whereas boundaries could be negotiated.

For couples who see themselves to be operating as a unit, the starting point is a little different, and the distinction between rules and boundaries doesn’t end up being all that helpful. In trusting, caring existing relationships, in particular between primary partners, where both parties are acting in good faith and where their MO is to respect one another’s boundaries and to back this up with their actions, it doesn’t matter whether we talk about respecting boundaries or observing agreed rules, as it doesn’t feel like a chore.

In these cases, I suggest replacing both ‘rules’ and ‘boundaries’ with ‘relationship principles’. Relationship principles are a bit like boundaries, but they are agreed upon by both parties and treated as shared.

This need not be a rigid, pre-ordained list of ‘rules’. Relationship principles, much like boundaries, are not always black and white. It’s possible that sometimes these may be hashed out in detail prior to coming into force, but other times they could be more fluid.

Sometimes, a new situation causes a person to experience unexpected emotions and reassess their boundaries. Or perhaps a person is able to make what could look to others like an exception to a previously firmly held boundary, due to a unique level of comfort with a scenario. The fact is, boundaries could potentially shift, change, and get re-drafted as relationships move along and people’s needs change, and the same goes for relationship principles. The extent to which these shifts go smoothly depends entirely on the couple; how they see the details of their partnership agreement and the extent to which they could imagine it changing.

When an attached person can embark on a new relationship with someone with boundaries compatible with their existing relationship principles, that’s great! It’s also conceivable that a new relationship might not get off the ground because existing relationship principles conflicted with that new partner’s boundaries or expectations.

All people’s boundaries and relationship principles deserve to be treated with equal respect, and we each have the right to prioritize our own boundaries and relationship principles, and not to be involved with anyone unwilling to operate in accordance with them. This is why it might sometimes seem to new partners that there are ‘rules’ for their new relationship. This is partially accurate, as it is for any new relationship with a single or attached person who has existing boundaries or relationship principles of any kind.

Individuals have the right to choose to change their boundaries and relationship principles to fit the needs of a new partner, but they also have the right to choose not to do so. The best that we can do is be honest and open with potential new partners about our existing boundaries and relationship principles as we understand them ourselves at the time.

 

An uncomfortable reality

I want to talk about something a little uncomfortable about some of my past experiences of non-monogamy.

I got started with dating someone, and we agreed to be polyamorous. We spent a healthy chunk of time in the NRE stage, and all was fabulous. Then, down the road, we slowly started to experiment with dating other people. But sometimes, the reasons for doing that were kind of flawed.

Non-monogamy was presented to me as a world of options. One of the things that really sticks in my head, is that someone told me ‘it means you don’t have to get everything from one person’. It felt freeing. It felt like I was being told everything was going to be ok. But here’s the iffy part coming up; it made me feel like my relationship was ok. Even though it wasn’t.

Let me back up a bit. I’m not for a moment suggesting that all poly people make the same mistake I did – and I applaud those who don’t. But I do know of a few people who fell into the same fallacious thinking, and I’m fairly sure we can’t be the only ones on earth.

The problem with telling yourself ‘no one single relationship needs to give me anything, and it couldn’t’ is that it could mean that you end up settling for less than you deserve in your relationship.

A lot of people who have a very open poly network probably would not find themselves in this scenario before some partner or other says ‘hey, pardon me for mentioning, but don’t you think person x is kind of a douche sometimes?’

And this might be a sufficient wake up call. But I’m a private person and I don’t really like talking about issues with partners with other partners, so for me, this would be far less likely to come up.

The thing is, polyamory gave me a safety net that I was too willing to use, and abuse. I allowed myself to work too hard for too little reward at a relationship which wasn’t right, because I believed that it was one of many that would be right at some point, in some place. This is just a rough patch. And the whole point of polyamory is that we don’t just throw it all away at the first sign of trouble, right? Because we don’t have to. We’re not like those monogamous people. We’re better than that.

Except, I wasn’t better than anyone. I was kind of unhappy.

One positive thing about adopting the stance of a monogamist, for any period of time, is that it really forces you to burn it all down and be honest with yourself and your needs. You can’t just be a certain persona of yourself, or your favourite version of yourself, or the version of yourself you think you could be more naturally, one day. You have to look yourself in the eyes and ask the hard questions. Does this person meet my needs? Do I feel as confident as I can that this will continue to be the case? Is the sex the best I’ve ever had? Is the conversation the best I’ve ever had? Do we want the same things out of life? Does this person understand me and the way I think?

I have previously not asked these questions enough. Or maybe I did, and my poly-brain shot back a pithy reply; ‘well maybe he isn’t all those things, all the time, but he’s some of them, and I’m poly so that’s ok’. For a while there, I actually stopped believing that any one person could be all of those things. I’m so glad I woke up and proved myself wrong.

My brand of non-monogamy – a Q&A

What do you mean by non-monogamy?
I’m non-monogamous with a monogamish leaning. This means that I am open to the possibility of having relationships of a sexual and/or emotional nature with partners other than my husband throughout my life, but that I have made a decision to remain focused on only one bonafide, major relationship, which is that with my husband.

Why have you chosen this type of non-monogamy?
Having one major relationship works well for me; I feel loved, cared for and understood, without feeling crowded or over-stretched.

Do you feel like this structure helps to protect something?
Yes, it helps to protect myself from over-stretching myself emotionally and from forming commitments that I may be unable or unwilling to honor further down the line.

What protects your marriage?
Love, and the desire for commitment. The same as for any marriage, open or not.

So you think forming new bonafide relationships could cause problems for your marriage?
I think they could cause problems for me personally. For me, adding further long-time romantic committed relationships to my life is not comfortable, because I strongly suspect that this might start to limit my ability to give my full attention and energy to all the existing aspects of my life.

Is it problematic to set out in advance what you want secondary future relationships to look like?
I hope and believe that it won’t be; I have a clear sense of my priorities, needs, and what I can and can’t offer to others. Whenever I engage in a new relationship, communication is important to ensure that our expectations are aligned.

So what if a new relationship did take a turn you didn’t expect and became more serious? Would you let the relationship rise to the level it was naturally seeking, or force it to be more light and casual?
I take issue with this wording because I don’t believe ‘relationships’ are themselves tangible things with agency. I believe that it’s the people in the relationships that are making the decisions and leading the way, not the relationship itself. For a relationship to develop further, I would need to be committed to making that happen.

So if someone you liked, who liked you, wanted more from the relationship, would you just say ‘well, you knew the situation, if you don’t like it we’ll break up’?
This is a difficult situation, but can happen sometimes when goals become misaligned mid-relationship. For example, I have previously embarked on poly arrangement in which I thought we could enable our non-monogamy ideals to align. Ultimately this wasn’t possible. There was lots of hurt, and it did suck to have to call it. But trying to conduct a relationship at cross-purposes for a time sucked way more.

So you just want casual relationships and not to get close to people?
That depends entirely upon how intrinsically connected you believe closeness to be with longevity and commitment. I would say that I am able to become close to someone without there being expectation or aims of longevity on either side. I like relationships where I feel that we both get something unique and tangible from the other.

I recently saw a post in response to a blog by a lady who claimed that, in her secondary dating, she was often a stop-gap for guys who were ultimately looking for serious, even potentially monogamous relationships. I have been involved in arrangements very similar to this, and they were rewarding for all involved. I’ve had a kink partner looking to get his rocks off prior to an inevitable arranged marriage for religious reasons, a BDSM virgin looking for a mentor, holiday romances and city guides with benefits… These encounters have often been fleeting, but they were also meaningful, extremely enjoyable and ended on excellent terms.

What do you think of poly anarchy, and would you date someone into that lifestyle?Poly anarchy isn’t for me. I value structure which I don’t think I could reconcile with an ‘anything goes’ attitude to relationships, and I am happiest and most comfortable when in a relationship with a single primary partner. If I were interested in dating a poly anarchist, and they were interested in dating me, we would have to have a frank discussion to see if we could find a middle ground, or if our expectations were just too different.

Do you believe in soulmates?
I believe in highly compatible matches worth making a life with. I was very lucky to find this last year.

Two sides of the same coin

I recently realized that for me, when it comes to dating, breadth of commitment is stifling, and depth of commitment is energizing. And for some of my friends, who are more inclined towards non-hierarchical non-monogamy, it is depth of commitment that is stifling and breadth of commitment that is energizing. It has helped me to understand the main factors driving my preferred relationship structure.

Feeling a strong sense of priority brings strength and comfort to my life. I love feeling like I have a special bond, and that it’s reciprocated. Within this structure I am fiercely independent – I make time for solitary hobbies, I seek out like-minded people who can teach me new skills, and I like to have a day to myself with no plans now and then, to meditate and make time for listening to my own thoughts. It’s important to me to not over-stretch myself when it comes to my social and romantic life. I like to be able to manage calendars with ease. I value scheduling, but I don’t want to spend all my time on it.

Some of my friends feel that having a singe person who is their priority is undesirable. They like to date and socialize frequently, may not feel at all phased by busy schedules, and are content with juggling multiple emotional connections of similar levels of intensity. Like me, they enjoy a balance of time alone and time with others, but the key difference is that they want to avoid having the majority of their time monopolized by one person.

Different forms of non-monogamy are like two sides of the same coin; many who are driven to seek out the option of this lifestyle do so because of a desire for variety of experience. It is our preferences when it comes to commitment style that drives exactly which flavor of non-monogamy we seek out. For me, life is all the sweeter for meeting a partner with the same taste.

Why Solo-Poly is great, just not for me

I think solo-polyamory is a great concept, and a great thing in practice for many. I respect the sense of autonomy and independence solo-poly people have over their lives.

Fleetingly, I flirted with the idea that it could be for me. As one important relationship began to change shape, and another began to flower, I imagined how it would be to keep holding onto several strings, whilst also stepping back a little from the maypole.

But ultimately, it wasn’t for me. Solo-polyamory simple does not fit with the way that I naturally feel, grow and love in relationships. Realizing and admitting this wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I did so before embarking down a rabbit hole. A perfect pleasant and often exciting rabbit hole, you understand. Just not the right rabbit hole for me.

Here’s why I can’t square the undeniable rationality of solo-polyamory with who I really am:

I’m an intense person when I love
When I feel intellectually, emotionally and sexually connected to someone, I fall hard, deeply and completely. This isn’t something I can control, and at the NRE (New Relationship Energy) stage it often has the unintended consequence of leaving little head space for whatever (or whomever) else is populating the warm fuzzy bits of my head and heart at the time.

I need to respect my own limits
And I’m not talking about in the bedroom. As a human, and a fairly independently minded one at that, the reality is that I have a finite amount of energy for affection and care of others. When dating too many people at once, I’ve often slipped into the bad habit of taking care of the needs of others over my own. This isn’t the fault of the people involved – I’m just good at biting off more than I can chew. Having a sense of structure and hierarchy to relationships has helped me to put enough care and attention into my own well-being.

I’m a dreamer and a thinker – and I need an anchor
‘Live in the moment’ is the best advice that I’ve always struggled to take. Saying ‘I’ll do that one day’ is often not enough for me; I will want to plot out the road map and set a target date. That’s not to say I won’t leave anything up to chance; nothing excites me more than NOT knowing exactly where I’ll be living/working in ten years from now, for example. But I do like to think about the future, and feel at least some level of confidence in my plots, schemes and fantasies; and the people in them.

I’m happiest in a pair
There. I said it. Sleeping with someone versus sleeping alone. Having a clear ‘next of kin’ versus a few possible candidates. This is my happy place and comfort zone. I want to be that happy elderly couple that everyone has seen on a bench in their local park and smiled at. And I will not get there by pretending to be something I’m not.

 

 

 

Non-Monogamous ≠ Available

This is a distinction that I feel I have to explain often to people. I know many non-mono people who have experienced similar issues; the assumption that the poly-inclined are ‘up for anything’ and ever-ready to date.

The error in this comes down to something simple. Non-Monogamy is a lifestyle choice. Availability is a current state. It is obviously possible to be available, but not to be non-monogamous. It is equally possible to be non-monogamous, but not to be available.

‘Taking a break’ from the non-monogamy lifestyle often raises eyebrows and makes for a lot of explaining to one’s network.
‘Oh, so you’re monogamous now?’ a friend may ask.

I have never understood why people get such a hard time over stepping back from dating – whether with a primary partner or not.

Our current actions don’t define the whole of our sexual and dating identities. If a bi girl decides to focus on dating only women for a while, do you tell her she isn’t really bi? If a single friend decides to take a dating break to focus on work, do you tell them that they must really be asexual? If a kinky pal misses three rope workshops in a row, do you suspect that they’ve sunk into a vanilla slump forever more?

The answer to all three examples is clearly, unequivocally, ‘no’. And yet, non-mono people who take a break from new dating often have to field questions. At least, this has been my experience.

Have I been unlucky? Have you had a different or similar experience? Get in touch and let me know!