Monday, July 2, 2012

When One Partner is "Poly-Single"


In response to our last entry, we received the following comment:

"Why did Marc have an issue with Scott and Mimi sharing the concert experience, if he didn't even like the band? I'm curious- who was "poly" first? Marc or Mimi? It seems to me that Marc is consistently uncomfortable with poly activities, while Mimi embraces them. Scott and Mimi need to have their own experiences and memories and Marc needs to learn to deal with that. It seems to me that the only reason Marc had any issue is because he's "poly-single" (for lack of a better term) at the moment. If he wasn't, I doubt it would have cared about the concert or Scott meeting Mimi's family."

As Marc and I talked about these questions, we decided we should probably take the time to address the question about Marc being poly-single and talk about how each of us deal with that situation. 

Marc:
To address the comment directly, the commenter isn’t correct in his/her supposition that if I were dating someone, I wouldn’t have cared about the intimacy that Scott and Mimi shared regarding the concert and Scott meeting Mimi’s family.  The feelings of being somewhat “replaced” would be there whether I was seeing someone or not.  My own status (poly-single) has no effect on those particular feelings.  If I were dating someone when Mimi and Scott had those experiences, the situation would have been slightly more “equitable”, as I would have been enjoying some of the benefits of the open relationship at the same time that Mimi and Scott were also enjoying those benefits, but the added level of intimacy that I experienced Mimi and Scott engaging in, via the concert and the meeting of the family, would still have been difficult for me to wrap my head around.

Not dating anyone presents difficult challenges for me when Mimi is with someone.  It’s especially tough because she’s been with Scott for well over a year now, and they have an amorous (full on love) relationship.  I wasn’t seeing anyone for the first 6 months of their relationship, and I had a partner for about 4 months, and now I’m date-free again, and have been for the last 3 months. So, in the last 14 months I’ve been dating someone for 4 of those months.

I think the main issue that comes up for me is the whole “equity” thing.  Mimi is taking full advantage of our open relationship and I am currently not.  It’s unlikely that 2 people such as Mimi and myself, with distinct tastes, will simultaneously find someone to date.  It’s not like we both go out one night, each find a partner, and voila, we’re both seeing someone else.  Because of that fact, chances are it won’t ever be completely equitable.  It’s just been tough for me because the scales definitely have not tipped in my favor.  I’m happy for her, but the main issue that I find to cause me a lot of stress is that I have to do all of the work around having an open relationship (processing, negotiating, experiencing the pangs of jealousy or insecurity), but currently do not reap any of the benefits.  That’s no fun. 

That said, I’m very much looking forward to a month with Mimi in California where we can focus on each other and reinforce our bond with each other.  When doing an open relationship, that reinforcement of the primary bond is key to having a solid relationship that can withstand the issues that have been discussing in this and previous installments of our blog.

Mimi:
Most of what I’ve read and heard about polyamory and open relationships says that it’s especially difficult to negotiate when one person has another partner and one person doesn’t.  I can safely say that my experience supports all that I’ve heard.

The Nashville trip would have probably been very different if Marc saw my travels as an opportunity for him to spend time with someone else.  As he has said in pervious posts, it’s especially hard for him when he’s home alone and Scott and I are together.

I’ve heard people talk about different kinds of jealousy making a distinction between fears of loss or replacement on the one hand and envy on the other. Distinguishing between envy and fear is important because how he and I deal with those feelings will depend on what’s going on.  If Marc fears being replaced, I can make a bigger effort to let him know what is special between us and do the things that solidify our bond together.  There is nothing in my relationship with Scott that is replacing Marc.  As I said in previous posts, Scott adds to my life.  On the other hand, if Marc is envious, being especially loving and attentive won’t alleviate those feelings.  The only way to really avoid feelings of envy is to forgo special experiences with Scott. 

Doing polyamory always means taking special care with the bonds with all partners to make sure no one is feeling replaced and everyone is (ideally) getting the time and attention they need and desire. That means all partners, and so, in my case, having special experiences with Marc and Scott.  I do not think that doing polyamory means avoiding special experiences with one partner because another partner is envious of those experiences. 

I bring who I am to all of my relationships.  As I said in the previous post, rock music is a pretty big part of who I am so of course it’s going to be part of what I do with Scott.  

Similarly, Marc brings who he is to his relationships with others.  For instance, he and Svetlana had a couple of dates in a French Quarter hotel room and Marc always brought a really good bottle of wine.  Marc is very knowledgeable about wine and he and I have had some very special experiences with wine tasting and sharing special bottles on special occasions, including in hotel rooms.  I felt a pang of jealousy when he was packing for the overnight date and perused the wine to find the right bottle.  But I realized my jealousy was envy, not a fear of being replaced.  I wanted to be in a hotel room with Marc sharing a tasty bottle.  But I reminded myself that, of course Marc is going to bring a good bottle of wine!  That’s who Marc is.  And Marc having a romantic, special experience with Svetlana over a bottle of wine does not take away from or change what Marc and I have experienced and will experience in the future.  I never mentioned my envy to Marc and so his dates with Svetlana in the hotel rooms went without a hitch as far as jealousy on my part goes. My envy was my own, and not a reason for Marc to adjust his plans or behavior, and there really wasn’t anything Marc could do.  I had to recognize it and do the work on my own to get over it. 

Having said all this, I also think that I, the poly-engaged person, have responsibilities to Marc, the poly-single person, too. Making a decision to spend time with Scott—when, how, where—has to take into consideration Marc’s, for lack of a better word, loneliness around being “poly-single.”  For instance, I was planning on going up to Chicago earlier this month.  I hadn’t seen my family in over a year and because of summer plans, it would be my last time to see Scott before the beginning of August (almost 3 months between conjugal visits!) 

Marc and I were having a lot of conflict right before I was to leave, and he said that, if I go to Chicago, he doesn’t want me to see Scott.

I won’t bore you with my relationship with my family, but let me just say that I decided it wasn’t the right time to see family if things were going to be rocky on the home front.  Also, there is no way I would go to Chicago and not see Scott.  That just wasn’t an option.  I decided not to go, partially because of my family stuff, but also because Marc made it very clear that he would have a really hard time being home alone.  I knew that, if he had a partner here in New Orleans, he would have felt differently.  He would have been looking forward to spending time with her and perhaps less worried about how he’d feel while I was there. 

Though I made this decision—and it was my decision—I wish that Marc’s relationship status didn’t have such a big influence on my relationship with Scott.  I understand, and I do my best to take care of Marc, but sometimes it would be nice if Marc could experience compersion (taking pleasure in a partner’s pleasure) rather than envy. 

It’s also true that I have never been in Marc’s shoes.  I have been home alone when Marc was out with someone else (the hotel room with fine wine and Svetlana, for instance), but I have not experienced being “poly-single” while Marc is in a relationship with someone else.  If and when that happens, I’ll be sure to come back and read what I wrote above and hope that I can transform my envy into compersion.