A Rambling on Solo-Polyamory
I have a strong belief in non-monogamy and multiple deeply committed relationships. That’s what makes me Polyamorous. For me, it manifests in a form that is often referred to as Solo-polyamory although a more accurate description for myself would be the Relationship Anarchy identity. The details differ from person to person and this is an account of my Solo-polyamory journey. I prescribe to a non-hierarchal, non-conforming way of life overall … this isn’t just specific to my romantic relationships. I treat each interaction as individual and don’t allow typical mainstream pressure to dictate who ‘should’ be important to me versus who is actually important and reliable based upon behaviour. This comes after having an unstable family of origin upbringing and being raised with very unhealthy boundary messages that I‘ve had to unlearn. This is another subject all together and will probably pop up in writings in the future.
There are components of my behaviour that are specific to polyamory overall. Such things as challenging the heteronormative monogamous status quo, my desire for variety in emotional, physical and sexual intimacy, the joy of having a diverse and colourful emotional support network, the joy derived from voyeurism and feeling compersion. And then there are components that are specific to Solo Polyamory that not all poly-identified people can relate to. They can be observed in my views on economics, co-habitation and commitment, how I wish to challenge the poly-normative model, my desire for healthy relationships versus relationships of longevity, compatibility and my level of risk assessment and finally how strongly I value autonomy, self-care, introversion and solitude.
Since I wanted to write about Solo Polyamory, I won’t focus too much on the broader poly elements but I thought it was still important for me to elaborate on each point a bit.
Challenging the Heteronormative Monogamous Status Quo
I was taught that there was a hierarchy to all relationships (parental, familial, friendships and romantic). Conversations with many people over the years tells me a great deal of us were taught similar notions and they circulate around what is known as The Relationship Escalator. Blogger Aggie addresses the issue perfectly and I have no desire to reinvent the wheel. If you’re interested in learning more about the relationship escalator and default scripts, please read her writings. The desire to NOT ride the relationship escalator means that my relationships appear to be non-progressional in the typical landmark types of ways.
Having an attraction to all gender identities also drives my desire for a variety of different experiences with different people. Monogamy just doesn’t leave room for me to explore my sexuality in the ways I want to.
Longevity and why I’m not looking for ‘the one’
Longevity does not equal quality or depth. Longevity does not validate a connection or qualify love. Longevity only equates ones ability to be persistent and loyal to a cause and humans have this knack of staying in their comfort zones, staying loyal to stability out of fear and not challenging the norms of their lives so they don’t ripple the calm waters. Humans often wear rose-coloured glasses, seeing what we want to see and not dealing with the reality of unhealthy situations.
Longevity is not my goal in a relationship. It is a side effect of a healthy interaction. As long as interactions remain healthy, I’ll be very willing to maintain them. Constants “for life” are a rarity so I question why we base our love, interactions and financial stability upon this premise? My preference is to leave room for change and contradiction. Personal emotional growth will often look like a contradiction. I will abandon a belief I wholeheartedly stood behind when I have a change of perspective. My experiences often change my views … sometimes by re-affirming them, sometimes by invalidating them. When there is room left in a relationship to communicate these changes, it just leads to a healthier dynamic overall. Countless times I have had people confide in me that they were too scared to talk to their partner because they made a specific commitment and now no longer possess the ability or want to carry it forward. Fear paralyzes us. But I would rather a partner have the courage to be truthful to themselves and me, even if this means the end of the relationship as we know it. Because of this, my commitments and promises are usually based on a specific situation, time frame or left open to further negotiation. Life time commitments just aren’t in my vocabulary with the exception of offering life time support to my children.
“I will not let my loyalty become slavery. If what I bring to the table isn’t appreciated, I will walk away and let the other eat alone.” Josie Picken
Voyeurism and Compersion
From a very early age, I relished in watching others experience life. And while voyeurism is usually attached to some form of sexualization, I take great joy in people watching overall and specifically when these are people I love and care for. It’s the feeling I get when I watch a friend succeed in a lifelong dream, it’s the feeling I get when I watch my goalie son get 3 shutouts in a row, it’s the feeling I get when I see my overworked father finally considering retirement. For me, it just happens to also include watching my partners fall in love, hearing the joy another human being has brought to my lovers life and watching my partners be physically consumed with desire for another person.
Variety and Freedom
So you know when people say you only truly know something’s not right for you unless you actually try it? While I normally think this line of thinking is hogwash and have no desire to validate myself for the comfort of others, I’m going to jump on this ship for a brief moment. So how do I know monogamy isn’t for me? Because I tried it and I tried it for a very long portion of my life, 14 years collectively. And I tried it with three different people, three different set of characters and personalities; it wasn‘t them, it was me. For me, monogamy was like being encased in a glass box with my partner. It appeared to be comfortable and stable. It appeared to be a great foundation to build from. But it was also tremendously limiting, suffocating and was slowing killing my soul. I tried so very hard to ‘fit in’ to the script I had been given and it just wasn’t my path so I decided to write my own. The freedom and variety of experiences polyamory brings to my life floods over in amazing ways … my creativity has been increased, my work ethic was always strong but it has deepened, my overall life fulfillment his multiplied. My emotional support landscape is a beautiful workable art piece built with people who are willing and able to engage with me, not out of some level of obligation that’s been scripted to them but out of a true desire to want to! I am surrounded by people who choose to exercise self care first which gives me great confidence and faith in knowing their actions are genuine.
What follows now are the distinct unique features that can be labelled as Solo Polyamory and they are very specific to me and how I relate to people.
The Polynormativity Model, Autonomy and what Primary means to me:
The Primary Partnership role models I have been presented with, both in real life form and in media presentation often (not always) follow a similar format. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll divulge what my definition of primary looks like. I can appreciate this isn’t everyone’s definition. For me, engaging in a primary relationship often looks like two people, a pairing, living together, sometimes legally married, often with children, owning property together and financially entangled. The commitment is seen as a long-term thing and legally binding. They could ‘pass’ as a monogamous couple and often do to their family, friends and business associates who are often unaware of their poly-identity. For me, the Primary Partnership structure feels far too similar to monogamy for me to find fulfillment within it. It feels like polyamory done by monogamy’s rules and restrictions. For me, it is a breeding zone for possession, control and co-dependence if not monitored consciously. Possession does not equal ownership. To label one relationship Primary leaves room for all other relationships to feel deficient and incapable of reaching a level of importance. It creates competition to an already challenging relationship style.
“If a partner respects me, I don’t need rules to make them treat me well, and if a partner doesn’t respect me, rules are just a bandaid that aren’t ultimately going to help” Franklin Veaux
I have great compassion for those couples who have been married or together long term prior to the realization that they were polyamorous. It is a difficult transition from monogamy to polyamory for an existing couple and I agree, it should be done with conscious baby steps. I had the luxury and privilege of starting this process as an individual, solo person. Maintaining my autonomy is deeply rooted in who I am. My independence is important enough for me to reject a primary relationship model. I enjoy making informed, un-coerced decisions about my life. This also has responsibilities and consequences; mainly that when something doesn’t work out, I’ve got no one to blame but myself and I’m okay with that. J
Naming one relationship primary in my life seems so demoralizing to all of the other relationships I’ll engage in, simply because my relationships are based in emotion and enjoyment of someone’s company and not tangible basic needs like cohabitating, co-parenting or ownership of property. My level of commitment is based on upholding the integrity of the connection through trust and attentive behaviour. I can’t quantify these qualities by assigning them a level of importance. They’re all important in different ways, not in more/less ways. And while I can’t possibly treat all of my partners equally (it’s just not possible), my aim from the get-go was to attempt to be fair. To communicate honestly about my feelings and emotions and what I wanted my life to look like. I have no desire to chain myself to my favourite human.
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.” Osho
Economics, co-habitation, compatibility and self-care
A consistent theme of the Relationship Escalator is the benchmark of financial entanglement and co-habitation. Again, I’ve been through this three separate times and every time, it became an unhealthy element in my relationships. I have an unhealthy relationship with money and specifically when it relates to an exchange between loved ones. This is strongly due to my childhood relationship with my mother who tried to buy my love and acceptance but offered very little in the way of emotional support or positive physical attention. My mother would buy me things and then use them against me in an attempt to control and influence me. It’s very difficult to say no to someone when they wield this type of power. Until I feel I have dealt with this baggage, I consciously choose not to engage in this type of interaction.
Because of the above, I do not enjoy being financially responsible for anyone’s needs other than myself and my children. On the flip side of that, I don’t derive any level of enjoyment from having someone care for me financially. In fact, it has quite the opposite affect leaving me feeling inadequate, guilty and shameful for not being able to stand on my own two feet. And I’m not talking about gifts or dinner. I’m talking about paying for the roof over my head or my share of the bills. There are always exceptions to the rule and emergencies in which I must lean on my friends/partners, but in an ongoing day to day basis, I want to maintain my financial independence and know I can take care of my basic needs with or without a romantic relationship. A relationship should not be a person’s source of income or financial stability — not a primary source and for me, not even as a secondary source. I have no desire to make love, emotions and relating into a business. Mixing economic needs with relating/emotional needs ensures an instability within the relationship structure and creates an ongoing imbalance for me. It creates a ‘scorecard’ dynamic that I’m not interested in. It can lead to the inability to walk away from an unhealthy relationship because of financial dependence. I’ve been on both sides of this coin. I’ve wanted to leave a relationship but was unable to because I couldn’t afford to and that truly sucked. I also left my husband of 10 years who made significantly less than I did and that created a lot of guilt and shame. His quality of life was directly linked to financial dependence on me and this changed when I left.
Does this mean I’ll never live with one of my partners ever again? No, it doesn’t. But my ideals around co-habitation are significantly different than most people I’ve interacted with.
Firstly is the issue of compatibility. While I truly enjoy the company of a lot of people, this doesn’t mean that we’re compatible to live with one another. That is a separate beast all together! Just go away for a weekend with some of your friends or have your family stay over at your place for a week and I assure you, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Does this mean your friendship or family bond isn’t strong? No, not at all. Even the strongest of relationships have difficulty standing up to the magnification of personalities when living in close quarters for an extended period of time. So while I connect with many people on a deep and satisfying level, not all of these people are compatible living mates and I don’t wish to put this level of stain on them. The benefits just don’t balance with the risk.
I also value myself too much to compromise my needs. And along with compatibility is the fact that I’m an introvert and I not only enjoy my solitude … I need it. I need it like food and water. And I am fierce about how I obtain this solitude daily. My boundaries are strong and I would need live-in partners who respected this need. What I’ve encountered is that it is far too convenient for my partners to interrupt my solitude while we are cohabitating. Live-in situations are too intrusive for me. Having physical separation ensures my ability to meet my needs on a regular basis. As Reid Mihalko says here about Dating Your Species, I’ve found it difficult to find someone compatible with my intense need for space.
The ways in which we label ourselves can be quite in depth and complex. I find more so when we’re living through alternative models. It has taken me a number of years to be comfortable with my solo-poly identity but taking the time to gain the confidence to own my solo-ness was time I needed to take. I truly could not see myself living any other way and while I may receive criticism or right out disapproval from many, I’m satisfied and secure enough to know I’m making the best decisions for me for right now. Since I am a walking contradiction open to emotional growth, ask me again in a year if I still hold these beliefs. I may just surprise you.