Some thoughts on game-changers

In the poly community, there are many folks who hold on very tightly to the notion of a prescriptive hierarchy, in which one relationship is designated as being The Primary One, to which all other relationships must be subordinate.

I think there are a lot of reasons that people might want to do this–insecurity, fear of losing a partner’s time or attention, a sense of entitlement, even a good old-fashioned idea that a person can “really” only love one other person, so if someone falls in love with a new partner, that must mean the old relationship suffers.

And, I’ve made no bones about the fact that I am highly skeptical and deeply suspicious of such arrangements, I don’t think they tend to work in the real world, and I think they’re often unnecessarily and pointlessly cruel to third parties entering such an arrangement.

But today I’d like to take a slightly different tack, and talk about the game changer.

The game changer is the relationship that comes along and turns everything upside down. It’s the relationship that changes the familiar landscape of life, rearranging the furniture in new and unexpected ways. Game changing relationships are rare, but when they happen, they happen like tornados, leaving a trail of upset applecarts in their wake. (Damn, did I really just type that? Ahem.)

Game changing relationships cause people to pull up stakes and move to the other side of the country. They make people do things they never thought they’d do: die-hard opponents of marriage might find themselves in wedlock, otherwise reasonable men could end up watching chick movies starring Sandra Bullock. They are unpredictable and chaotic, and when they happen things change.

Any relationship brings the possibility of a game changing event. Even small things can become game changers; my sweetie zaiah says, rightly, that if Shelly or joreth were to move to Portland, that would almost certainly become a game changer for me.

And game changers are scary.

A game-changing relationship is a very uncomfortable thing, if you are happy with the way things are now and you like your life the way it is. The prospect that your partner might meet someone and start a relationship that changes all that can seem upsetting at best, and downright destructive at worst…and just to make matters even more uncomfortable, it can change things for you in ways you can neither predict nor control and you might not even benefit from. Something that changes your partner’s life in wonderful and amazing ways might change your life in ways that are rather less wonderful and amazing.

Every relationship your partner starts could create change that is wonderful for him but disruptive for you; you might end up dealing with all of the fallout but none of the reward. That’s a very real possibility, and it’s reasonable to be concerned about it.

So it might feel very compelling to seek reassurances that things won’t change when your partner starts new relationships, or at least won’t change in ways that you don’t like. It can feel very reassuring to extract a pledge from your partner that you will always have some measure of control, by being able to tell him to end any new relationship that he starts or by being told that you will always come before anyone else.

The psychological security that these agreements give is powerful, no doubt about it. But is it real? I believe that it is not; it’s an illusion, and not even a very good one.

Game changers change things. That’s kind of the definition. They upset existing arrangements. People confronted with a game-changing relationship will not be likely to abide by old rules and agreements; the whole point of a game-changing relationship is that it reshuffles priorities and rearranges lives.

They can happen even in monogamous relationships. Few people get married with an idea “You know, I think it’d be really cool to cheat on my partner and be unfaithful in this relationship. As soon as we get back from our honeymoon, I think I’ll start hitting up the bars.”

They can happen in ways that have nothing to do with romantic relationships. A promotion at work, a pregnancy, a car accident, someone getting fired, a death in the family–all these things can be game-changers that permanently and irrevocably alter lives in ways that can’t be predicted. (I’ve read that financial stress is the single most common reason for divorce, even more common than infidelity, and I can believe it. Nobody wants to say “Hey, I’ll marry you as long as we don’t have problems with money,” but financial problems are far more potent game-changers than most folks realize.)

We don’t usually hear about people saying “I want veto power over any job you take or promotion you get.” People talk about things like career changes or job relocations with their partners, and if they’re reasonable they listen to their partners’ feedback, but it’s a bit rare to hear someone say “I have the right to veto any job my partner has unilaterally and without discussion,” and we might scratch our heads a bit if someone insisted on that kind of veto power.

We all implicitly understand, at least on some level, that life is full of change, and sometimes that change isn’t what we asked for. We all understand that no promises of “forever” can really stand up to the #39 bus with bad brakes that careens through the front of the house and puts someone in a coma. These are the risks we take when we open our hearts to someone else; anyone who can’t take the risk shouldn’t play the game. Relationships aren’t for cowards or sissies.

Yet when it comes to other relationships, the emotional calculous changes. Whether it’s insecurities that whisper about how everyone in the world is prettier, smarter, and more deserving than we are, or the social fable that says romantic love connects us to only one other person at a time, or the idea that every new connection our partner makes is something that takes away our specialness (as though specialness were a currency sitting in a bank account somewhere, available in limited quantities with substantial penalties for early withdrawal), relationships seem uniquely able to push our buttons and create a fear of loss.

So we try to insulate ourselves from that fear by creating the illusion that no matter what happens, we will be in control. This idea of control is powerfully seductive. It’s one of the reasons that people are often more afraid of flying than of driving, even though driving is far more dangerous; we feel more in control in a car, even though if someone runs a red light and broadsides us, our real control over that situation is pretty much nonexistent.

“Yes, you will always be #1” is true until it isn’t, and there is no rule that can change that. If someone comes along who your partner genuinely does love more than he loves you, whatever that means…well, his priorities are unlikely to remain with abiding by the agreements he’s made with you.Game-changing relationships change things; that’s what they do. They change priorities, and that means they change rules. Expecting an agreement to protect you from a game changer is about like expecting a river to obey a law against flooding.

I can understand the desire not to lose what you have because your partner meets someone new; that’s rational and reasonable. What is neither rational nor reasonable, though, is attempting to build structures such that your partner can have other relationships but they will change nothing for you. In fact, it has been my experience that the more rigidly you try to box up relationships to prevent them from changing anything, the more likely things are to break.

There is a different approach, but it requires courage. At the very least, it requires the courage to tell yourself “My relationships can change, and that is OK; my partner and I can still build things that will make us both happy even if they don’t look exactly the way they do now.”

That’s the starting point. From that point, the next step is to say “Even if things change, I have worth; my partner will seek wherever possible to make choices that honor and cherish our connection, whatever changes may come, because I add value to his life. My goal is to build a connection with my partner that is resilient enough to last through change, flexible enough to accommodate change, and supportive enough to create a foundation that welcomes change, without fear or doubt. Change is the one essential feature of life; what I have now I will cherish, and what we build tomorrow I will also cherish, and I will do so without fear.”

Like I said, it takes courage. Letting go of the idea that the way things are now is the way they should always be is gutsy.

But then, life rewards courage. The game-changer that turns everything upside down might just leave you in a better place than you are now; you might find that rearranging the furniture makes the room even more appealing to you. The illusion of control that rules give you is false; the real control you have is the control you exercise as a partner, not a dictator. It comes from working together to express the things you need even while change is happening all around you, not by trying to prevent change at all.

116 thoughts on “Some thoughts on game-changers

  1. otherwise reasonable men could end up watching chick movies starring Sandra Bullock

    I’d appreciate it if you would not reinforce stupid gender stereotypes. Last I checked a guy liking “chick” movies is no less reasonable than him having multiple girlfriends…

    Good point otherwise, though.

    • Well, to be fair, I could just as easily say ‘a reasonable person watch a Sandra Bullock chick flick.” Issues of gender aside, I have so much loathing for the genre of romantic comedies that I could easily fill an LJ post just on that. I’d start with the fact that they present extremely destructive ideas about relationship; if even one character in any romantic comedy I’ve ever seen had any communication skills at all, the movie would be, like, ten minutes long.

      And don’t even et me started on the notion that if men in real life behaved like men in romantic comedies, they’d be arrested and/or hit with restraining orders immediately. πŸ™‚

      • Well, then you’d probably *really* hate Japanese romantic comedies, or Japanese romance in general for that matter. Nobody speaks to each other, like, ever. They both do this dancing on eggshells around the issue hoping that the other person will give some sign, any sign, that the feeling of love is mutual, hiding their own feelings all the while.

        And then if Person A manages to work up the nerve to express their feelings for person B (Which often takes months) something random happens at exactly the wrong moment (Often, a stalker previously unknown to either of them shows up and loudly proclaims that they’re A or B’s boyfriend/girlfriend, but it could be anything) which disrupts things and sometimes complicates the situation horribly.

        And there’s the “harem” subgenre where somebody picks up a bunch of unwanted suitors who don’t take “no” very well and end up fighting each other over someone who doesn’t really want any of them. And then there’s the ones where two people hate each other’s guts (sometimes even to the point of violence, especially in Anime) but everyone else thinks this means that they’re really deeply in love, and by the end of the story it usually turns out it’s true! And then there’s ones where one person (usually the guy) tries really hard to be a normal and proper Japanese person in order to impress their love interest, but fate keeps intervening in ridiculously unlikely ways to give an opposite impression.

        But if two people actually express their desires openly and get together early on, watch out! There’s a good chance that it’s going to end in tragedy for them. …And then there’s “School Days”. Oh dear lord, that one starts out as a lighthearted high-school romance drama and then slowly evolves into an unbelievably fucked-up mess where everyone goes insane and dies in the end. No supernatural horrors involved, even, just (mostly) ordinary people with poor judgment and self-control.

        • This is part of why I don’t watch more anime. The who trope of “If you like someone, you can never, ever tell them” that leads to multi-season long plotlines that could be resolved in 5 minutes if everyone involved acted like emotionally mature adults. I suspect it has its roots in more widespread and unfortunate attitudes about dating and social interaction in japanese culture, although that’s just my uneducated opinion.

          • I’m not entirely certain because I’ve never been to Japan myself, but it seems like a “proper” Japanese person is one who follows an extremely complex set of social protocols and practices. Partly to demonstrate one’s superiority through self-control, and partly in a rather superstitious attempt to ward off disaster to oneself and others. (For example, never give someone exactly four of something as a gift. Because four is the number of death.)

            Love is especially treacherous territory, a minefield where one wrong step could destroy everything. I think that this trope is a reflection of the kind of anxiety and difficulty that many real Japanese people face, as well as an assurance to those people that this is normal, even expected.

      • “And don’t even et me started on the notion that if men in real life behaved like men in romantic comedies, they’d be arrested and/or hit with restraining orders immediately.”

        Women, too. How often do women in movies slap/spit on/throw drinks on people to express their anger? And what would we think about a woman who did this in real life?

        (To my shame, in high school I actually *did* once slap one of my male friends in the face over a relatively minor offence. To my greater shame, it was the fact that I’d seen it so often in movies/on TV that I thought it was ok. Everyone around me made it very clear very quickly that no, it wasn’t ok. Lucky for me, they also forgave me, after a profuse apology. AFOG.)

      • if even one character in any romantic comedy I’ve ever seen had any communication skills at all, the movie would be, like, ten minutes long.
        Love Actually is pretty decent about that, apart from Hugh Grant’s storyline. The result, of course, is that it takes roughly a dozen storylines to occupy the two hour movie. It ends up being more of a portrait than a traditional story, but I like it.

  2. otherwise reasonable men could end up watching chick movies starring Sandra Bullock

    I’d appreciate it if you would not reinforce stupid gender stereotypes. Last I checked a guy liking “chick” movies is no less reasonable than him having multiple girlfriends…

    Good point otherwise, though.

  3. I admittedly don’t care for most Sandra Bullock movies. But I’d turn over a few applecarts for her, nevertheless. πŸ˜›

    Good post all around. I’d take it a step further, and argue that those individuals seeking control over their lives in this manner are dual masters of self-deception, and self-sabotage.

  4. I admittedly don’t care for most Sandra Bullock movies. But I’d turn over a few applecarts for her, nevertheless. πŸ˜›

    Good post all around. I’d take it a step further, and argue that those individuals seeking control over their lives in this manner are dual masters of self-deception, and self-sabotage.

  5. Funny, I advised something similar on a poly forum earlier today. I understoond better how do “do” relationships once I realized that the bedrock for me is friendship and trust. Everything else is frosting. (Mmmm frosting…) I do accept some restrictions realizing why they are there, and that I could change them if I needed to.

    I’ll echo the chick movie comment. Time to get past that just like it’s time to admit girls love action and horror movies.

  6. Funny, I advised something similar on a poly forum earlier today. I understoond better how do “do” relationships once I realized that the bedrock for me is friendship and trust. Everything else is frosting. (Mmmm frosting…) I do accept some restrictions realizing why they are there, and that I could change them if I needed to.

    I’ll echo the chick movie comment. Time to get past that just like it’s time to admit girls love action and horror movies.

  7. I’ve had many game changers in my life- in the form of people, events, circumstances and revelations. Sometimes the game change is a wonderful event that creates new possibilities. Sometimes the game change is a scary event that creates upheaval and discord.

    But every time, it has opened my life up to something new and amazing.

  8. I’ve had many game changers in my life- in the form of people, events, circumstances and revelations. Sometimes the game change is a wonderful event that creates new possibilities. Sometimes the game change is a scary event that creates upheaval and discord.

    But every time, it has opened my life up to something new and amazing.

  9. I’d assumed for a long time that a certain person’s need to control a situation was pretty much this.

    Then I talked to her, and saw it more from her perspective:
    His approach had been “It’s okay, nothing has changed, you’re still my wife, she’s just a friend, who I happen to have sex with, and she’s just going to be living with us for awhile, and I’m going to keep spending massive amounts of time with her, but it’s not like we’re having a Relationship, although I sometimes worry that she wants to be my girlfriend.”

    She had some concerns.

    If it had been planned as a long-term arrangement, especially if it was on more equal footing, like all 3 of us moving into a new house together, that would have been different. But he was telling himself that it was still the exact same game, that nothing had changed at all, and she saw that that could lead to problems.

  10. I’d assumed for a long time that a certain person’s need to control a situation was pretty much this.

    Then I talked to her, and saw it more from her perspective:
    His approach had been “It’s okay, nothing has changed, you’re still my wife, she’s just a friend, who I happen to have sex with, and she’s just going to be living with us for awhile, and I’m going to keep spending massive amounts of time with her, but it’s not like we’re having a Relationship, although I sometimes worry that she wants to be my girlfriend.”

    She had some concerns.

    If it had been planned as a long-term arrangement, especially if it was on more equal footing, like all 3 of us moving into a new house together, that would have been different. But he was telling himself that it was still the exact same game, that nothing had changed at all, and she saw that that could lead to problems.

  11. I think you’re over-simplifying

    I like the idea of “primary relationships,” as long as they are flexible and realistic. Sometimes identifying a relationship as “primary” IS a form of realism. If one owns a house, is raising kids, and have multiple material and emotional investments in one’s relationship, I think it’s reasonable to make an agreement that radical changes will not be made to that relationship without deep and serious consideration.

    That doesn’t mean other relationships can’t have intense value or even change the previous and “primary” relationship, but it does mean (for me) that this previous and “primary” relationship be given respect and treated with care.

    For me, the end results — while important — are not as important as the steps taken to achieve those end results.

    I didn’t much appreciate having someone enter my previous relationship and then throw this “what makes you so special” attitude in my direction, so I admit I have a reaction to it and I don’t like feeling as though my personal relationship style preference is some pathetic example of my needing unrealistic forms of control and “security.” I don’t think deeming a relationship “primary” necessarily means it’s rigid and unyielding. To me, it says that I use caution and respect when I expose my pre-existing relationships to potential change.

    I will say that one learns a lot about the character of oneself and one’s partner(s) when game changers show up, though. The devil is *so* in the details.

    BTW — Yes, people DO have those kinds of conversations about jobs, especially if they involve relocation or huge shifts in income/benefits, etc., and some even exercise veto power over what kinds of jobs one’s partner(s) pursue. That can be for good or poor reason, depending on the situation in question. As I said: devil + details.

    • Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

      My thoughts regarding this post ran along similar lines.

      I think you’re over-simplifying the issue, and making generalizations about anyone who would define a relationship as primary without taking into account that people are varied and complex.

      I don’t really think designating a relationship as primary necessarily entails rigidity and a need for control. Of course, it sometimes does. But sometimes it’s just an issue of daily life entanglement, as darklady mentioned. It really depends on the people involved, the way they handle their relationships, and the complexities of the lives involved.

      • Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

        I think you’re over-simplifying the issue, and making generalizations about anyone who would define a relationship as primary without taking into account that people are varied and complex.

        Well, again, as I mentioned below, I am not talking about people who define relationships as “primary” based on descriptions of those relationships (I have two relationships right now that could reasonably be described as “primary”), but rather the idea of prescriptively designating a relationship as “primary,” which is an entirely different matter.

        To say “this relationship is primary by decree, and therefore no other relationship will ever be permitted to equal it,” strikes me a bit like saying “we are allowed to have sex but nobody is permitted to fall in love” in the sense that if it works, coincidence has entered the picture. The whole point is that a decree can’t stop a game changer, by the very nature of game changers.

        • Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

          Yeah, I like the idea of labels being descriptive, so if 2 people are spending most of their time together, living together, sharing housework, dealing with kids, etc, all of that should be reflected in how they label the relationship.

          Other people apparently believe that labels can be used to define relationships, so calling a relationship “Friends with Benefits” will prevent any emotional attachments from forming, no matter what is actually going on in the day-to-day functioning of the relationship.

    • Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

      amen to this. it gets a little tiring, and disappointing, to keep hearing the implied message of “ur not doin it right” if one’s poly structure is one way versus another way. the equilateralists are “highly skeptical and deeply suspicious” of the hierarchicals, and the hierarchicals are “highly skeptical and deeply suspicious” of the equilateralists. so people have different relational styles; so what? if something doesn’t work for someone, don’t do it that way. if it works for others, who are we to judge (except possibly as a means of justifying feeling smugly superior about our own choices…)?

      i have a lot of other conflicting thoughts about the bulk of the post, but at past-2am, i’m not going to distill them here or now πŸ˜›

    • Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

      I think you make a good point, Darklady_produc. A stable environment is ideal for raising children, and “game changing” relationships can be destabilizing. I think it’s best that parents take care always to put their children’s needs first – and if that means offering reassurance in the form of “primary” status, I think that’s reasonable.

      • I disagree. I certainly hope that when a game changing event happens in my life or in the life of my partners – that we will treat each other with kindness, support, and respect – no matter that it may alter, unsteady, improve, or degrade the relationship I share with them. With that.. by handling the changes with as much grace and courage as possible I can then demonstrate to my child how to handle things in life and how to negotiate for needs to be met among relationships and within family groupings. I can teach my child to be and find the stability within themselves and that even when big tough life events happen – they still have value to themselves and to others.

        There is no perfect life. You can’t keep the beloved pet from dying.. the grandparent from expiring.. the parent’s unemployment from happening.. the no-fault-of-yours car accident from occurring.. or, even, the person in the next room from saying something that might shatter your child’s fondly held beliefs – you just deal with each of these things as they come.

        I would LIKE for my marriage to continue. I think we are good for each other. I think we are good parents together. I think we have enough shared dreams about our life and our hopes for the future (mainly involving out daughter) that we share a commonality of interest – but my saying we must have a certain type of relationship with a certain amount of intimacy and a certain type of interaction – DOES NOT MAKE IT SO. We choose to negotiate our relationship based on our common shared value we see and experience in each other not because there are rules about what it should be and not because we try to hold on to the illusion that we could somehow keep things from changing..

        In my world, you don’t try to pretend that you can avoid game changing events and that doing so somehow makes you safer.. and it is my truth that trying to keep yourself from experiencing game changing relationships just makes you brittle and lonely and primed for deep heartache when you are not prepared to hear your partner say they would like to renegotiate the relationship from what it was to what it will become.

    • Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

      Sometimes identifying a relationship as “primary” IS a form of realism.

      Well, sure. And I have a couple of relationships myself that I identify as “primary.”

      The point here is that identifying a relationship as primary is a very different thing from designating a relationship as primary, and more different still from designating a relationship as primary in the “this relationship will always come first and all other relationships will always yield to it” sense.

      I didn’t much appreciate having someone enter my previous relationship and then throw this “what makes you so special” attitude in my direction, so I admit I have a reaction to it and I don’t like feeling as though my personal relationship style preference is some pathetic example of my needing unrealistic forms of control and “security.” I don’t think deeming a relationship “primary” necessarily means it’s rigid and unyielding. To me, it says that I use caution and respect when I expose my pre-existing relationships to potential change.

      Sure, and that’s reasonable. It only becomes unreasonable when someone believes that passing a rule can make it be so.

      • Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

        Descriptive versus prescriptive.  I may have a primary relationship with Josh (it’s been a while since I’ve thought that way, but sure), but it’s not because I said, “This will my primary relationship, and nothing can change that.”

        • Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

          franklin and stitch and zaiah:

          i’m so flattered that you folks are using the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive designations that i brought up over in AL, back in the day :). i didn’t feel much support for the idea at the time, and i was kind of disappointed. if i hadn’t dropped by here i’d never have known you’d become converts. and proselytizers! ;).

  12. I think you’re over-simplifying

    I like the idea of “primary relationships,” as long as they are flexible and realistic. Sometimes identifying a relationship as “primary” IS a form of realism. If one owns a house, is raising kids, and have multiple material and emotional investments in one’s relationship, I think it’s reasonable to make an agreement that radical changes will not be made to that relationship without deep and serious consideration.

    That doesn’t mean other relationships can’t have intense value or even change the previous and “primary” relationship, but it does mean (for me) that this previous and “primary” relationship be given respect and treated with care.

    For me, the end results — while important — are not as important as the steps taken to achieve those end results.

    I didn’t much appreciate having someone enter my previous relationship and then throw this “what makes you so special” attitude in my direction, so I admit I have a reaction to it and I don’t like feeling as though my personal relationship style preference is some pathetic example of my needing unrealistic forms of control and “security.” I don’t think deeming a relationship “primary” necessarily means it’s rigid and unyielding. To me, it says that I use caution and respect when I expose my pre-existing relationships to potential change.

    I will say that one learns a lot about the character of oneself and one’s partner(s) when game changers show up, though. The devil is *so* in the details.

    BTW — Yes, people DO have those kinds of conversations about jobs, especially if they involve relocation or huge shifts in income/benefits, etc., and some even exercise veto power over what kinds of jobs one’s partner(s) pursue. That can be for good or poor reason, depending on the situation in question. As I said: devil + details.

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Next time you’re in Seattle I owe you and your travel mates coffee. I have a feeling what you’ve imparted here is going to become poignant in my life soon. Relationships are finding me and one may be a game changer. I can insist on living alone for a year and do so, but that doesn’t keep loves from entering my life.

    Thank you. Your insight on just how not primary relationships can be helps me better frame what I want in life.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Next time you’re in Seattle I owe you and your travel mates coffee. I have a feeling what you’ve imparted here is going to become poignant in my life soon. Relationships are finding me and one may be a game changer. I can insist on living alone for a year and do so, but that doesn’t keep loves from entering my life.

    Thank you. Your insight on just how not primary relationships can be helps me better frame what I want in life.

  15. Currently in the midst of the biggest game-changing relationship of my life, and I still don’t feel like I’ve found my footing in it. I’m the third party, and some days I really feel that, and some days I don’t. I’m going to be thinking a lot about what you’ve written over the next several days, as I felt some real resonance in my heart, just not sure to what…:-)
    I’m continuously glad I am able to read your writings. Thank you.

  16. Currently in the midst of the biggest game-changing relationship of my life, and I still don’t feel like I’ve found my footing in it. I’m the third party, and some days I really feel that, and some days I don’t. I’m going to be thinking a lot about what you’ve written over the next several days, as I felt some real resonance in my heart, just not sure to what…:-)
    I’m continuously glad I am able to read your writings. Thank you.

  17. Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

    My thoughts regarding this post ran along similar lines.

    I think you’re over-simplifying the issue, and making generalizations about anyone who would define a relationship as primary without taking into account that people are varied and complex.

    I don’t really think designating a relationship as primary necessarily entails rigidity and a need for control. Of course, it sometimes does. But sometimes it’s just an issue of daily life entanglement, as darklady mentioned. It really depends on the people involved, the way they handle their relationships, and the complexities of the lives involved.

  18. Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

    amen to this. it gets a little tiring, and disappointing, to keep hearing the implied message of “ur not doin it right” if one’s poly structure is one way versus another way. the equilateralists are “highly skeptical and deeply suspicious” of the hierarchicals, and the hierarchicals are “highly skeptical and deeply suspicious” of the equilateralists. so people have different relational styles; so what? if something doesn’t work for someone, don’t do it that way. if it works for others, who are we to judge (except possibly as a means of justifying feeling smugly superior about our own choices…)?

    i have a lot of other conflicting thoughts about the bulk of the post, but at past-2am, i’m not going to distill them here or now πŸ˜›

  19. In fact, it has been my experience that the more rigidly you try to box up relationships to prevent them from changing anything, the more likely things are to break.

    An extremely important point! That’s one of the many reasons I don’t like monogamy — with monogamy, every stupid little thing on the side is a game changer if discovered — and this is just so sad…

    I think a reminder is in order for some people who seem to misunderstand this post: you’re not arguing against primary/secondary as descriptive terms, but only as prescriptive terms!

  20. In fact, it has been my experience that the more rigidly you try to box up relationships to prevent them from changing anything, the more likely things are to break.

    An extremely important point! That’s one of the many reasons I don’t like monogamy — with monogamy, every stupid little thing on the side is a game changer if discovered — and this is just so sad…

    I think a reminder is in order for some people who seem to misunderstand this post: you’re not arguing against primary/secondary as descriptive terms, but only as prescriptive terms!

  21. Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

    I think you make a good point, Darklady_produc. A stable environment is ideal for raising children, and “game changing” relationships can be destabilizing. I think it’s best that parents take care always to put their children’s needs first – and if that means offering reassurance in the form of “primary” status, I think that’s reasonable.

  22. Nice post, Tacit. It’s very well written and I agree with some of your points, but disagree that the psychological security these agreements give is not real. Especially if there are children involved, the psychological security is very real. I would hate to enter into a child rearing situation with someone who refused to explicitly agree that a stable, relatively “game change” free environment is to be maintained.

    Il y’a plus de leΓ§ons que appendre de la vie, mais la peur n’est pas un d’elle. (There are many lessons to be learned from life, but fear should not be one of them).

    • Nice post, Tacit. It’s very well written and I agree with some of your points, but disagree that the psychological security these agreements give is not real. Especially if there are children involved, the psychological security is very real. I would hate to enter into a child rearing situation with someone who refused to explicitly agree that a stable, relatively “game change” free environment is to be maintained.

      I think it’s reasonable to say “I will strive to make choices that provide a stable relationship for raising kids.” I don’t think it’s reasonable to say “I decree that it will be so.” Do you see the difference?

      • I see the difference, and I think it’s significant. I also think that not everyone who says “And it will be so” necessarily believes saying it makes it true. Sometimes saying it is just reassuring.

        I’m very aware that events and relationships can happen that are game changing, which is why I’ve never asked (or told) my husband not to fall in love with someone else. I have, however, asked him to talk to me about it so I’m not blindsided if it is game changing. My husband knows I’m poly and says the same.

        However, if we watch a movie in which a spouse or lover is dramatically killed, we tend to immediately and irrationally clutch each other and say things like “You’re not allowed to die!” which is utterly absurd as neither of us believes the other is immortal. Saying it, though, allows us to return to our regularly scheduled emotions.

        Most people can’t live with the immediate reality that they or their partner could get hit by a bus. We can only really function with the abstract knowledge of the possibility. I believe a similar condition can exist for relationship “rules.” It’s the people who honestly believe saying “you will never get hit by a bus” will make it so or that they’ve done all of the right things to avert the possibility of death that tend to cause problems for themselves. Even if you’re not one of those people, however, you’re still likely to say “be safe” when a loved one leaves the house.

        • Most people can’t live with the immediate reality that they or their partner could get hit by a bus. We can only really function with the abstract knowledge of the possibility. I believe a similar condition can exist for relationship “rules.” It’s the people who honestly believe saying “you will never get hit by a bus” will make it so or that they’ve done all of the right things to avert the possibility of death that tend to cause problems for themselves. Even if you’re not one of those people, however, you’re still likely to say “be safe” when a loved one leaves the house.

          Indeed. And I suspect that the folks who understand that nothing is 100% certain are also, by and large, not the folks who insist on veto power in relationships or insist that someone can never love someone else “as much,” but are the folks who say “I want to be kept in the loop about the things going on in your life” and who have an expectation that their partners will value what they have to say. πŸ™‚

  23. Nice post, Tacit. It’s very well written and I agree with some of your points, but disagree that the psychological security these agreements give is not real. Especially if there are children involved, the psychological security is very real. I would hate to enter into a child rearing situation with someone who refused to explicitly agree that a stable, relatively “game change” free environment is to be maintained.

    Il y’a plus de leΓ§ons que appendre de la vie, mais la peur n’est pas un d’elle. (There are many lessons to be learned from life, but fear should not be one of them).

  24. Well, to be fair, I could just as easily say ‘a reasonable person watch a Sandra Bullock chick flick.” Issues of gender aside, I have so much loathing for the genre of romantic comedies that I could easily fill an LJ post just on that. I’d start with the fact that they present extremely destructive ideas about relationship; if even one character in any romantic comedy I’ve ever seen had any communication skills at all, the movie would be, like, ten minutes long.

    And don’t even et me started on the notion that if men in real life behaved like men in romantic comedies, they’d be arrested and/or hit with restraining orders immediately. πŸ™‚

  25. Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

    Sometimes identifying a relationship as “primary” IS a form of realism.

    Well, sure. And I have a couple of relationships myself that I identify as “primary.”

    The point here is that identifying a relationship as primary is a very different thing from designating a relationship as primary, and more different still from designating a relationship as primary in the “this relationship will always come first and all other relationships will always yield to it” sense.

    I didn’t much appreciate having someone enter my previous relationship and then throw this “what makes you so special” attitude in my direction, so I admit I have a reaction to it and I don’t like feeling as though my personal relationship style preference is some pathetic example of my needing unrealistic forms of control and “security.” I don’t think deeming a relationship “primary” necessarily means it’s rigid and unyielding. To me, it says that I use caution and respect when I expose my pre-existing relationships to potential change.

    Sure, and that’s reasonable. It only becomes unreasonable when someone believes that passing a rule can make it be so.

  26. Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

    I think you’re over-simplifying the issue, and making generalizations about anyone who would define a relationship as primary without taking into account that people are varied and complex.

    Well, again, as I mentioned below, I am not talking about people who define relationships as “primary” based on descriptions of those relationships (I have two relationships right now that could reasonably be described as “primary”), but rather the idea of prescriptively designating a relationship as “primary,” which is an entirely different matter.

    To say “this relationship is primary by decree, and therefore no other relationship will ever be permitted to equal it,” strikes me a bit like saying “we are allowed to have sex but nobody is permitted to fall in love” in the sense that if it works, coincidence has entered the picture. The whole point is that a decree can’t stop a game changer, by the very nature of game changers.

  27. Nice post, Tacit. It’s very well written and I agree with some of your points, but disagree that the psychological security these agreements give is not real. Especially if there are children involved, the psychological security is very real. I would hate to enter into a child rearing situation with someone who refused to explicitly agree that a stable, relatively “game change” free environment is to be maintained.

    I think it’s reasonable to say “I will strive to make choices that provide a stable relationship for raising kids.” I don’t think it’s reasonable to say “I decree that it will be so.” Do you see the difference?

  28. Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

    Descriptive versus prescriptive.  I may have a primary relationship with Josh (it’s been a while since I’ve thought that way, but sure), but it’s not because I said, “This will my primary relationship, and nothing can change that.”

  29. I disagree. I certainly hope that when a game changing event happens in my life or in the life of my partners – that we will treat each other with kindness, support, and respect – no matter that it may alter, unsteady, improve, or degrade the relationship I share with them. With that.. by handling the changes with as much grace and courage as possible I can then demonstrate to my child how to handle things in life and how to negotiate for needs to be met among relationships and within family groupings. I can teach my child to be and find the stability within themselves and that even when big tough life events happen – they still have value to themselves and to others.

    There is no perfect life. You can’t keep the beloved pet from dying.. the grandparent from expiring.. the parent’s unemployment from happening.. the no-fault-of-yours car accident from occurring.. or, even, the person in the next room from saying something that might shatter your child’s fondly held beliefs – you just deal with each of these things as they come.

    I would LIKE for my marriage to continue. I think we are good for each other. I think we are good parents together. I think we have enough shared dreams about our life and our hopes for the future (mainly involving out daughter) that we share a commonality of interest – but my saying we must have a certain type of relationship with a certain amount of intimacy and a certain type of interaction – DOES NOT MAKE IT SO. We choose to negotiate our relationship based on our common shared value we see and experience in each other not because there are rules about what it should be and not because we try to hold on to the illusion that we could somehow keep things from changing..

    In my world, you don’t try to pretend that you can avoid game changing events and that doing so somehow makes you safer.. and it is my truth that trying to keep yourself from experiencing game changing relationships just makes you brittle and lonely and primed for deep heartache when you are not prepared to hear your partner say they would like to renegotiate the relationship from what it was to what it will become.

  30. While I can’t speak from direct experience in the romance department, my mother and one of my brothers are both very controlling people. They are fairly obsessed with creating stability in their lives; but ultimately, their actions seem to largely give the illusion of short-term control while destabilizing their own lives in the long run. When it comes to dealing with other people, once a relationship has been fully established they start defining the terms of that relationship with little or no input with the other person. And then they expect them to follow it to the letter, considering any deviation to be a betrayal. If that doesn’t drive them off immediately, they then start expecting the other person to conform to their own ideals and preferences. My mother’s big on preaching that everybody should do this or that and tries to guilt people into following her “teachings”. My brother doesn’t have any consistent patterns that I’ve noticed but sometimes gets worked up over the strangest things – for example, for a time he was obsessed with changing other people’s hairstyles. (At the time his hairstyle looked like a women’s “boy cut” and insisted that I should get a buzz cut because my long hair would “look better on a dead cat”. WTF?)

    Not surprisingly, neither has any long-term friendships aside from a few people which they don’t actually see that often. My mother has not had any lasting romantic relationship in her life aside from my father, and that was a disaster. My brother has had no romantic relationships at all that I’m aware of. So I have fairly observations that trying to define or control a relationship (or worse, the other person in the relationship) doesn’t work.

    As a side note, I’ve pointed out their behavior to them when they’ve complained that nobody likes them. My brother insists in response that he knows what’s good for other people and they should listen to him… despite the fact that he doesn’t appear to understand other people very much at all. My mother claims she has no choice – even if it’s sometimes an illusion, she has to maintain the feeling of being in control because otherwise “there is no future”.

  31. While I can’t speak from direct experience in the romance department, my mother and one of my brothers are both very controlling people. They are fairly obsessed with creating stability in their lives; but ultimately, their actions seem to largely give the illusion of short-term control while destabilizing their own lives in the long run. When it comes to dealing with other people, once a relationship has been fully established they start defining the terms of that relationship with little or no input with the other person. And then they expect them to follow it to the letter, considering any deviation to be a betrayal. If that doesn’t drive them off immediately, they then start expecting the other person to conform to their own ideals and preferences. My mother’s big on preaching that everybody should do this or that and tries to guilt people into following her “teachings”. My brother doesn’t have any consistent patterns that I’ve noticed but sometimes gets worked up over the strangest things – for example, for a time he was obsessed with changing other people’s hairstyles. (At the time his hairstyle looked like a women’s “boy cut” and insisted that I should get a buzz cut because my long hair would “look better on a dead cat”. WTF?)

    Not surprisingly, neither has any long-term friendships aside from a few people which they don’t actually see that often. My mother has not had any lasting romantic relationship in her life aside from my father, and that was a disaster. My brother has had no romantic relationships at all that I’m aware of. So I have fairly observations that trying to define or control a relationship (or worse, the other person in the relationship) doesn’t work.

    As a side note, I’ve pointed out their behavior to them when they’ve complained that nobody likes them. My brother insists in response that he knows what’s good for other people and they should listen to him… despite the fact that he doesn’t appear to understand other people very much at all. My mother claims she has no choice – even if it’s sometimes an illusion, she has to maintain the feeling of being in control because otherwise “there is no future”.

  32. for me, the concept of trying to limit emotions (my own, or anyone else’s) is not appealing, nor does it seem to be something that anyone can be held to, even if they agreed to feel “more” or “most” with a particular partner.

    yet i do have a husband and kids that i intend to live with. i dislike calling our relationship “primary” because i am concerned that the word may imply that i feel “more” or “most” with my husband, and that depth isn’t available elsewhere. for me, the main point of choosing polyamory is that it’s about “and”, not “or”. so i’m not going to decide or say that no other connection can be as much as what i feel with my husband. yet strictly in the sense of intent and plans for sharing residence, parenting, and intertwining our finances throughout our lives, i suppose that i could use the word “primary” about our marriage ~ using the word descriptively instead of prescriptively.

    perhaps there’s a subtle distinction about game-changing relationships though…?
    i can’t and won’t agree that another relationship will not change my relationship with or for my (monogamous) husband and kids. that’s not a promise i can deliver. yet i *want* to enable consistency for and with my family, regardless of who else might come along and how i might feel about the new person. so i’ve chosen to state and restate my intentions to continue to “seek wherever possible to make choices that honor and cherish our connection, whatever changes may come…”

    and i’ve chosen to share and re-share what that looks like to me ~ for me, even with a game-changing relationship and possibly unpredictable emotions, i can and do identify and agree to behaviors and logistics that reflect my desire and intent to continue to live with my husband and kids, and to share parenting and intertwine financial resources with him.

    regardless of what i might feel romantically and/or sexually for my husband and/or someone else, my first commitment is to be a good parent. to me, that involves some parenting, financial, and residential consistency. i cannot promise my husband a lifetime of more, most, or number-one-ness in my feelings or “ranking”. but lacking a sudden shift for the worst in who he is, i *can* say that the person and friend he is and has been to me is so precious to me that no matter who else comes along, i want and intend to continue living together, parenting together, and planning aspects of our finances, life, and future together.

    we might or might not need to discuss adding someone else in the future, but with polyamory being about “and”, not “or” for me, i don’t see a reason i’d want or need to dispose of my husband no matter how deeply i fell for someone else.

    a game-changing relationship might turn my emotions upside down. i may not be able to, or want to change my emotions (and shouldn’t have to?). but i always have the right (and often the responsibility?) to choose my behavior. i don’t choose a life/future parenting/living together relationship lightly. but once i do, i can choose behavior to continue to reflect that intent and i can work to make it happen, in spite of life-changing emotions. my emotions are real, yet i can still choose behavior that reflects honoring my existing connections.

    my husband can opt for the path of courage about potential change. yet i can help with that by sharing and re-sharing behavioral and logistical aspects that i intend to retain with and for him, the kids, me, all of us. i can help co-navigate, remove boulders, and reassure him as he travels on the courageous path. (and i can thank him a lot.)

    hopefully, that reflects awareness of the potential for change, courage and flexibility about possible changes, mixed with some specifics that i hope are reassuring to my husband as tangible logistical/behavioral things i intend to retain to honor and cherish our connection and our parenting and life-future plans. a balance…?

  33. for me, the concept of trying to limit emotions (my own, or anyone else’s) is not appealing, nor does it seem to be something that anyone can be held to, even if they agreed to feel “more” or “most” with a particular partner.

    yet i do have a husband and kids that i intend to live with. i dislike calling our relationship “primary” because i am concerned that the word may imply that i feel “more” or “most” with my husband, and that depth isn’t available elsewhere. for me, the main point of choosing polyamory is that it’s about “and”, not “or”. so i’m not going to decide or say that no other connection can be as much as what i feel with my husband. yet strictly in the sense of intent and plans for sharing residence, parenting, and intertwining our finances throughout our lives, i suppose that i could use the word “primary” about our marriage ~ using the word descriptively instead of prescriptively.

    perhaps there’s a subtle distinction about game-changing relationships though…?
    i can’t and won’t agree that another relationship will not change my relationship with or for my (monogamous) husband and kids. that’s not a promise i can deliver. yet i *want* to enable consistency for and with my family, regardless of who else might come along and how i might feel about the new person. so i’ve chosen to state and restate my intentions to continue to “seek wherever possible to make choices that honor and cherish our connection, whatever changes may come…”

    and i’ve chosen to share and re-share what that looks like to me ~ for me, even with a game-changing relationship and possibly unpredictable emotions, i can and do identify and agree to behaviors and logistics that reflect my desire and intent to continue to live with my husband and kids, and to share parenting and intertwine financial resources with him.

    regardless of what i might feel romantically and/or sexually for my husband and/or someone else, my first commitment is to be a good parent. to me, that involves some parenting, financial, and residential consistency. i cannot promise my husband a lifetime of more, most, or number-one-ness in my feelings or “ranking”. but lacking a sudden shift for the worst in who he is, i *can* say that the person and friend he is and has been to me is so precious to me that no matter who else comes along, i want and intend to continue living together, parenting together, and planning aspects of our finances, life, and future together.

    we might or might not need to discuss adding someone else in the future, but with polyamory being about “and”, not “or” for me, i don’t see a reason i’d want or need to dispose of my husband no matter how deeply i fell for someone else.

    a game-changing relationship might turn my emotions upside down. i may not be able to, or want to change my emotions (and shouldn’t have to?). but i always have the right (and often the responsibility?) to choose my behavior. i don’t choose a life/future parenting/living together relationship lightly. but once i do, i can choose behavior to continue to reflect that intent and i can work to make it happen, in spite of life-changing emotions. my emotions are real, yet i can still choose behavior that reflects honoring my existing connections.

    my husband can opt for the path of courage about potential change. yet i can help with that by sharing and re-sharing behavioral and logistical aspects that i intend to retain with and for him, the kids, me, all of us. i can help co-navigate, remove boulders, and reassure him as he travels on the courageous path. (and i can thank him a lot.)

    hopefully, that reflects awareness of the potential for change, courage and flexibility about possible changes, mixed with some specifics that i hope are reassuring to my husband as tangible logistical/behavioral things i intend to retain to honor and cherish our connection and our parenting and life-future plans. a balance…?

  34. Well, then you’d probably *really* hate Japanese romantic comedies, or Japanese romance in general for that matter. Nobody speaks to each other, like, ever. They both do this dancing on eggshells around the issue hoping that the other person will give some sign, any sign, that the feeling of love is mutual, hiding their own feelings all the while.

    And then if Person A manages to work up the nerve to express their feelings for person B (Which often takes months) something random happens at exactly the wrong moment (Often, a stalker previously unknown to either of them shows up and loudly proclaims that they’re A or B’s boyfriend/girlfriend, but it could be anything) which disrupts things and sometimes complicates the situation horribly.

    And there’s the “harem” subgenre where somebody picks up a bunch of unwanted suitors who don’t take “no” very well and end up fighting each other over someone who doesn’t really want any of them. And then there’s the ones where two people hate each other’s guts (sometimes even to the point of violence, especially in Anime) but everyone else thinks this means that they’re really deeply in love, and by the end of the story it usually turns out it’s true! And then there’s ones where one person (usually the guy) tries really hard to be a normal and proper Japanese person in order to impress their love interest, but fate keeps intervening in ridiculously unlikely ways to give an opposite impression.

    But if two people actually express their desires openly and get together early on, watch out! There’s a good chance that it’s going to end in tragedy for them. …And then there’s “School Days”. Oh dear lord, that one starts out as a lighthearted high-school romance drama and then slowly evolves into an unbelievably fucked-up mess where everyone goes insane and dies in the end. No supernatural horrors involved, even, just (mostly) ordinary people with poor judgment and self-control.

  35. “And don’t even et me started on the notion that if men in real life behaved like men in romantic comedies, they’d be arrested and/or hit with restraining orders immediately.”

    Women, too. How often do women in movies slap/spit on/throw drinks on people to express their anger? And what would we think about a woman who did this in real life?

    (To my shame, in high school I actually *did* once slap one of my male friends in the face over a relatively minor offence. To my greater shame, it was the fact that I’d seen it so often in movies/on TV that I thought it was ok. Everyone around me made it very clear very quickly that no, it wasn’t ok. Lucky for me, they also forgave me, after a profuse apology. AFOG.)

  36. I see the difference, and I think it’s significant. I also think that not everyone who says “And it will be so” necessarily believes saying it makes it true. Sometimes saying it is just reassuring.

    I’m very aware that events and relationships can happen that are game changing, which is why I’ve never asked (or told) my husband not to fall in love with someone else. I have, however, asked him to talk to me about it so I’m not blindsided if it is game changing. My husband knows I’m poly and says the same.

    However, if we watch a movie in which a spouse or lover is dramatically killed, we tend to immediately and irrationally clutch each other and say things like “You’re not allowed to die!” which is utterly absurd as neither of us believes the other is immortal. Saying it, though, allows us to return to our regularly scheduled emotions.

    Most people can’t live with the immediate reality that they or their partner could get hit by a bus. We can only really function with the abstract knowledge of the possibility. I believe a similar condition can exist for relationship “rules.” It’s the people who honestly believe saying “you will never get hit by a bus” will make it so or that they’ve done all of the right things to avert the possibility of death that tend to cause problems for themselves. Even if you’re not one of those people, however, you’re still likely to say “be safe” when a loved one leaves the house.

  37. Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

    Yeah, I like the idea of labels being descriptive, so if 2 people are spending most of their time together, living together, sharing housework, dealing with kids, etc, all of that should be reflected in how they label the relationship.

    Other people apparently believe that labels can be used to define relationships, so calling a relationship “Friends with Benefits” will prevent any emotional attachments from forming, no matter what is actually going on in the day-to-day functioning of the relationship.

  38. This is part of why I don’t watch more anime. The who trope of “If you like someone, you can never, ever tell them” that leads to multi-season long plotlines that could be resolved in 5 minutes if everyone involved acted like emotionally mature adults. I suspect it has its roots in more widespread and unfortunate attitudes about dating and social interaction in japanese culture, although that’s just my uneducated opinion.

  39. Bravo, once again.

    Granted, I arrived at this point slowly, over a period of time, mostly after banging my head against the reality vs. what I wanted to be the dictate of my reality. I’ve sobbed and raged against what felt like betrayal to my emotions, even though my intellect knew better. And each time something like that happened, I came out the other side with a better understanding not just of the different facets of polyamory/open relationships (my husband tends towards the former, I tend towards the latter), but of my personal views on each of them… forged by fire, so to speak.

    As I “lost” control each time, and allowed myself to process it without running away (or making it a deal-breaker), I gained more SELF-control… by which I don’t mean that I hid my emotions and trudged on, but that I came to accept what things weren’t really under my control to begin with, and learned-by-doing that none of these things created irreparable damage to my world. In a sense, all these things were game-changers, although certainly not in the sense that you mean. I’ve reached a point, though, where pretty much all the arbitrary rules we started out with (all designed to protect the prescribed primary relationship) are gone… the one I won’t compromise on is safety, of course, and I certainly don’t think that’s unreasonable. Even with that, mistakes have been made, and dealt with, and neither one of us are the worse for the wear (luckily).

    I see a lot of poly relationships evolving in similar fashion, and I wonder how long it takes people to reach the point you’re talking about, or if they ever do. And if not, how that affects the relationship.

    I’m curious if you’re one of the (I’m assuming rare) people who came to this from the get-go, or if the process evolved over time for you, as well.

    P.S. Can I steal the poly dragon icon? We have the shirt! πŸ™‚

    • Oh, almost forgot… I do impose one more rule… no one gets to live with us anymore. That’s more of a control of my physical environment than it is a control of my relationship, though. If a game-changer came along, we’d discuss it.

    • ” I came to accept what things weren’t really under my control to begin with..”
      To me, this is key to the whole concept of change and our comfort with it. I would postulate that the only ‘things’ that are under my control are my own actions (tongue in cheek, I don’t claim my thoughts are under my control!). Striving for stability is a way of rejecting potential change and when you reject that, you are also missing out on some potential growth for yourself. If you do things to avoid the ‘game changing event/person/relationship’, you are rejecting out of hand something that you have no way of knowing if it might be a ‘good thing’ or not. Case in point; my parents got divorced after 40 some years of marriage, which everyone thought (including them) was mostly good. But they had drifted apart. It was initially perceived as a negative game changing event. But, they both ended up much happier with new spouses each and the siblings ended up much closer because it prompted a lot more communication and ‘family’ feelings. Point being that YOU CAN’T KNOW. Even this stability for the children thing; I have to say that asserting that a ‘stable environment’ for children is best is NOT something I would agree is a demonstrated fact in spite of it being ‘obvious’.

      I don’t advocate encouraging change for it’s own sake, but rather embracing it when it comes our way. Be true to myself as I grow and change and love my loves for who they are and will be.

  40. Bravo, once again.

    Granted, I arrived at this point slowly, over a period of time, mostly after banging my head against the reality vs. what I wanted to be the dictate of my reality. I’ve sobbed and raged against what felt like betrayal to my emotions, even though my intellect knew better. And each time something like that happened, I came out the other side with a better understanding not just of the different facets of polyamory/open relationships (my husband tends towards the former, I tend towards the latter), but of my personal views on each of them… forged by fire, so to speak.

    As I “lost” control each time, and allowed myself to process it without running away (or making it a deal-breaker), I gained more SELF-control… by which I don’t mean that I hid my emotions and trudged on, but that I came to accept what things weren’t really under my control to begin with, and learned-by-doing that none of these things created irreparable damage to my world. In a sense, all these things were game-changers, although certainly not in the sense that you mean. I’ve reached a point, though, where pretty much all the arbitrary rules we started out with (all designed to protect the prescribed primary relationship) are gone… the one I won’t compromise on is safety, of course, and I certainly don’t think that’s unreasonable. Even with that, mistakes have been made, and dealt with, and neither one of us are the worse for the wear (luckily).

    I see a lot of poly relationships evolving in similar fashion, and I wonder how long it takes people to reach the point you’re talking about, or if they ever do. And if not, how that affects the relationship.

    I’m curious if you’re one of the (I’m assuming rare) people who came to this from the get-go, or if the process evolved over time for you, as well.

    P.S. Can I steal the poly dragon icon? We have the shirt! πŸ™‚

  41. Oh, almost forgot… I do impose one more rule… no one gets to live with us anymore. That’s more of a control of my physical environment than it is a control of my relationship, though. If a game-changer came along, we’d discuss it.

  42. Most people can’t live with the immediate reality that they or their partner could get hit by a bus. We can only really function with the abstract knowledge of the possibility. I believe a similar condition can exist for relationship “rules.” It’s the people who honestly believe saying “you will never get hit by a bus” will make it so or that they’ve done all of the right things to avert the possibility of death that tend to cause problems for themselves. Even if you’re not one of those people, however, you’re still likely to say “be safe” when a loved one leaves the house.

    Indeed. And I suspect that the folks who understand that nothing is 100% certain are also, by and large, not the folks who insist on veto power in relationships or insist that someone can never love someone else “as much,” but are the folks who say “I want to be kept in the loop about the things going on in your life” and who have an expectation that their partners will value what they have to say. πŸ™‚

  43. ” I came to accept what things weren’t really under my control to begin with..”
    To me, this is key to the whole concept of change and our comfort with it. I would postulate that the only ‘things’ that are under my control are my own actions (tongue in cheek, I don’t claim my thoughts are under my control!). Striving for stability is a way of rejecting potential change and when you reject that, you are also missing out on some potential growth for yourself. If you do things to avoid the ‘game changing event/person/relationship’, you are rejecting out of hand something that you have no way of knowing if it might be a ‘good thing’ or not. Case in point; my parents got divorced after 40 some years of marriage, which everyone thought (including them) was mostly good. But they had drifted apart. It was initially perceived as a negative game changing event. But, they both ended up much happier with new spouses each and the siblings ended up much closer because it prompted a lot more communication and ‘family’ feelings. Point being that YOU CAN’T KNOW. Even this stability for the children thing; I have to say that asserting that a ‘stable environment’ for children is best is NOT something I would agree is a demonstrated fact in spite of it being ‘obvious’.

    I don’t advocate encouraging change for it’s own sake, but rather embracing it when it comes our way. Be true to myself as I grow and change and love my loves for who they are and will be.

  44. There’s been some interesting (and predictable) objections to this post. Most of the objections seem to follow the “but what about the children? Can’t somebody please over-protect the children? I must do this for the sake of the children!” line of argument.

    And then there’s the “I do the actions you describe, but my motivations are totally different, therefore, is completely wrong and how dare you say that I’m a bad polyamorist?” reaction that also seems to be fairly common.

    And to these people, I have to say you just totally missed the point.

    I wrote a very long reaction to someone’s objection in another forum here: http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showpost.php?p=23145&postcount=10 and continued here: http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showpost.php?p=23146&postcount=11

  45. There’s been some interesting (and predictable) objections to this post. Most of the objections seem to follow the “but what about the children? Can’t somebody please over-protect the children? I must do this for the sake of the children!” line of argument.

    And then there’s the “I do the actions you describe, but my motivations are totally different, therefore, is completely wrong and how dare you say that I’m a bad polyamorist?” reaction that also seems to be fairly common.

    And to these people, I have to say you just totally missed the point.

    I wrote a very long reaction to someone’s objection in another forum here: http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showpost.php?p=23145&postcount=10 and continued here: http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showpost.php?p=23146&postcount=11

  46. I’m not entirely certain because I’ve never been to Japan myself, but it seems like a “proper” Japanese person is one who follows an extremely complex set of social protocols and practices. Partly to demonstrate one’s superiority through self-control, and partly in a rather superstitious attempt to ward off disaster to oneself and others. (For example, never give someone exactly four of something as a gift. Because four is the number of death.)

    Love is especially treacherous territory, a minefield where one wrong step could destroy everything. I think that this trope is a reflection of the kind of anxiety and difficulty that many real Japanese people face, as well as an assurance to those people that this is normal, even expected.

  47. if even one character in any romantic comedy I’ve ever seen had any communication skills at all, the movie would be, like, ten minutes long.
    Love Actually is pretty decent about that, apart from Hugh Grant’s storyline. The result, of course, is that it takes roughly a dozen storylines to occupy the two hour movie. It ends up being more of a portrait than a traditional story, but I like it.

  48. Partnerships, not control

    I feel that this post devalues the economic, business, household and lifelong ties of a primary commitment.

    We have a poly relationship and are married. We have forged a strong partnership and have serious long-term economic and family commitments. It is offensive to be told that my expectation of having a say in what person joins our family and how much time and money it takes away from prior commitments is a control problem. What either of us does affects all and should be discussed and decided. We are adults with adult responsibilities and are not free to play all the time. Most of life is not play, it is the not so fun stuff: : taking out the garbage, laundry, shopping, paying bills, house maintenance, etc. If either of us acts unilaterally without thought to the burden this might impose on the other person, there are relationship consequences.

    Having a primary relationship is acknowledgement of the life-partnership aspect of a relationship. If your poly-partners are not tied together economically and with familial commitments, etc. then yes, it might be about insecurity. A primary relationship setup acknowledges that we are not free to act purely on emotions, but rather we have to be less self-serving in our actions and have our existing relationship(s) take precedence over any new relationship.

    I cannot keep a game-changing event from happening, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept a game-changing event. I am pretty upfront about what is acceptable or not, as is my partner. Good long-term relationships are often about thinking about how your actions will affect others before you act. A primary relationship affirms where your priorities lie.

  49. Partnerships, not control

    I feel that this post devalues the economic, business, household and lifelong ties of a primary commitment.

    We have a poly relationship and are married. We have forged a strong partnership and have serious long-term economic and family commitments. It is offensive to be told that my expectation of having a say in what person joins our family and how much time and money it takes away from prior commitments is a control problem. What either of us does affects all and should be discussed and decided. We are adults with adult responsibilities and are not free to play all the time. Most of life is not play, it is the not so fun stuff: : taking out the garbage, laundry, shopping, paying bills, house maintenance, etc. If either of us acts unilaterally without thought to the burden this might impose on the other person, there are relationship consequences.

    Having a primary relationship is acknowledgement of the life-partnership aspect of a relationship. If your poly-partners are not tied together economically and with familial commitments, etc. then yes, it might be about insecurity. A primary relationship setup acknowledges that we are not free to act purely on emotions, but rather we have to be less self-serving in our actions and have our existing relationship(s) take precedence over any new relationship.

    I cannot keep a game-changing event from happening, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept a game-changing event. I am pretty upfront about what is acceptable or not, as is my partner. Good long-term relationships are often about thinking about how your actions will affect others before you act. A primary relationship affirms where your priorities lie.

  50. Partnerships, not control – continued

    One final point I meant to make is that we cannot control what others feel, but we can request that they control their actions if they choose to remain in their primary relationship. Our actions may have moral, legal, and ethical consequences and this must always be taken into consideration.

    • Re: Partnerships, not control – continued

      Thank you for saying this and the above, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and you’ve put it very well.

  51. Partnerships, not control – continued

    One final point I meant to make is that we cannot control what others feel, but we can request that they control their actions if they choose to remain in their primary relationship. Our actions may have moral, legal, and ethical consequences and this must always be taken into consideration.

  52. tl;dr version: I think prescriptive labels can be useful as emotional training wheels, which is good when steps are taken to move beyond them. Also, I think emotionally hierarchies (which I don’t agree with) are different from logistical hierarchies (which I do agree with).

    Normal:
    As the mono husband of a recent poly, I was surprised when, 10+ years into our marriage, she fell in love with another man over the Internet. We’d actually discussed non-monogamy before and decided against it but here was an example of a “game changer”. *I* felt that I had been “demoted” from the One and Only love in her life to “one of” the loves in her life. I was extremely frightened and insecure. (Cue 6 year old: “But you still loves me bestests, right?”) So she reassured me that I was still the most important One in her life (her Primary) and if I wished, I could kill-switch the new relationship. Were either of these true? Probably not. But they *did* make me feel better, more in control and secure. It’s been a couple of years and I’m still her primary. But in the logistical sense, in that we live together, have joint finances, and are raising our kids together. (I like the hierarchy definition where it’s based on how entwined your lives are rather than degree of emotional involvement.) In hindsight, I can see how prescriptive labels help me adjust to a new situation. I think I’m primary in descriptive sense now, not that it really changes anything. I don’t believe Wife loves me more than OSO or vice versa. She just loves as much as she can, like a radio broadcast. πŸ™‚ My biggest issue with non-hierarchal poly is that, after 10+ years of marriage, someone can show up and Wife can declare them a “co-husband” within a few months. I tend to see this kind of thing as NRE induced. I can understand Wife loving someone else AND loving me “equally” if there’s some kind of emotional gauge. But I don’t think a few months equals our experiences over the years. It’s like someone jumping in at the last 100 yards of the Boston Marathon and then cheering “We all finished together!”. Bleah. I’m not saying the other relationship CAN NOT be the equal of mine, but I think some time needs to be put in AFTER the NRE has faded.

  53. tl;dr version: I think prescriptive labels can be useful as emotional training wheels, which is good when steps are taken to move beyond them. Also, I think emotionally hierarchies (which I don’t agree with) are different from logistical hierarchies (which I do agree with).

    Normal:
    As the mono husband of a recent poly, I was surprised when, 10+ years into our marriage, she fell in love with another man over the Internet. We’d actually discussed non-monogamy before and decided against it but here was an example of a “game changer”. *I* felt that I had been “demoted” from the One and Only love in her life to “one of” the loves in her life. I was extremely frightened and insecure. (Cue 6 year old: “But you still loves me bestests, right?”) So she reassured me that I was still the most important One in her life (her Primary) and if I wished, I could kill-switch the new relationship. Were either of these true? Probably not. But they *did* make me feel better, more in control and secure. It’s been a couple of years and I’m still her primary. But in the logistical sense, in that we live together, have joint finances, and are raising our kids together. (I like the hierarchy definition where it’s based on how entwined your lives are rather than degree of emotional involvement.) In hindsight, I can see how prescriptive labels help me adjust to a new situation. I think I’m primary in descriptive sense now, not that it really changes anything. I don’t believe Wife loves me more than OSO or vice versa. She just loves as much as she can, like a radio broadcast. πŸ™‚ My biggest issue with non-hierarchal poly is that, after 10+ years of marriage, someone can show up and Wife can declare them a “co-husband” within a few months. I tend to see this kind of thing as NRE induced. I can understand Wife loving someone else AND loving me “equally” if there’s some kind of emotional gauge. But I don’t think a few months equals our experiences over the years. It’s like someone jumping in at the last 100 yards of the Boston Marathon and then cheering “We all finished together!”. Bleah. I’m not saying the other relationship CAN NOT be the equal of mine, but I think some time needs to be put in AFTER the NRE has faded.

  54. Re: Partnerships, not control – continued

    Thank you for saying this and the above, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and you’ve put it very well.

  55. Re: I think you’re over-simplifying

    franklin and stitch and zaiah:

    i’m so flattered that you folks are using the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive designations that i brought up over in AL, back in the day :). i didn’t feel much support for the idea at the time, and i was kind of disappointed. if i hadn’t dropped by here i’d never have known you’d become converts. and proselytizers! ;).

  56. just what i needed πŸ™‚

    thank you! this post helped clarify some things in my mind too. it’s exactly what i was looking for in a thread i started on AL yesterday. i will be sending it to a friend :).

    and (as i commented too far down a tree for anyone to ever read — LJ newbie mistake) i’m excited to see you have adopted my prescriptive/descriptive distinction! i was kinda proud of that one, and sad that it wasn’t met with more enthusiasm at the time. patience, grasshopper-ess ;).

  57. just what i needed πŸ™‚

    thank you! this post helped clarify some things in my mind too. it’s exactly what i was looking for in a thread i started on AL yesterday. i will be sending it to a friend :).

    and (as i commented too far down a tree for anyone to ever read — LJ newbie mistake) i’m excited to see you have adopted my prescriptive/descriptive distinction! i was kinda proud of that one, and sad that it wasn’t met with more enthusiasm at the time. patience, grasshopper-ess ;).

  58. A little late in the game …

    I know this is a couple weeks old at the moment … but is of particular relevance to me at the moment … may I repost this in my own journal will all credit to you (and a direct to this post)?

    Please let me know … thanks!

  59. A little late in the game …

    I know this is a couple weeks old at the moment … but is of particular relevance to me at the moment … may I repost this in my own journal will all credit to you (and a direct to this post)?

    Please let me know … thanks!

  60. I read this when you first posted it but didn’t respond because I wanted to think about it for a bit. Then to be honest, life happened and I forgot to go back to it until someone linked to it on a forum I belong to.

    From experience I can say that you can never tell when a game changer is going to happen. Or if in the end it will be as big of a game changer as you first thought.

    When my husband met is girlfriend, it was a tornado. He wasn’t the same person I had been married to for 20+ years. Things were not the same for us. Part of that was we didn’t know there was such a concept of polyamory. The only non-monogamous aspect in our life had been some swinging. I had to face many things at this point. And I fought for our relationship. Knowing it would never be the same.

    What I finally had to realize is this…it doesn’t matter that we were swingers. I didn’t matter that was how he met his girlfriend. The bottom line is that at any point in our relationship and life together he could have left me. He could have decided he didn’t want to be with me any more.

    Now, it turns out that this wasn’t as big a game changer to our relationship as I (and he) originally thought. He definitely did not handle NRE well at all. He’s still with his girlfriend and I have a boyfriend (cross-coupled quad).

    This was a game changer to my outlook on life and relationships, though. I will never again believe that monogamy is the only way. (Even though I could live that way again.) I now believe that hubby and I are together because we choose to be and not because it is expected or we are just scared to change that.

    We chose each day to work on our relationship. We chose each day that a life together is what we want. We also chose each day that we want to have these other relationships as a part of our lives. We love each other as much as we always have…well actually I would say even more so. We love our girlfriend and boyfriend as well.

    While our relationship is still as strong as ever even after thinking it may be over at one point, I still consider the events to be game changers. We look at life so much differently now.

    We do, I suppose, have the hierarchical thing going on. Though that isn’t by my choice. And I can only view it as that because each marriage has so many responsibilities together. Mortgage and such. That does leave a couple of us to feel they have a primary and a secondary. For the most part, I just look at it as I don’t live with one relationship and I do the other. But I realize that because part of the quad believes in conducting our relationship this way, I generally need to go along with the idea. So, to some, I am a primary and to others I am a secondary. I have to say that this can give me a rather unique perspective of both positions. Not really a bad think to know how it feels to be on both sides of the issue.

    This comment has turned out to be so long that I feel I have enough to say on it to make a blog post of my own. Cool. Thanks for the food for thought.

  61. I read this when you first posted it but didn’t respond because I wanted to think about it for a bit. Then to be honest, life happened and I forgot to go back to it until someone linked to it on a forum I belong to.

    From experience I can say that you can never tell when a game changer is going to happen. Or if in the end it will be as big of a game changer as you first thought.

    When my husband met is girlfriend, it was a tornado. He wasn’t the same person I had been married to for 20+ years. Things were not the same for us. Part of that was we didn’t know there was such a concept of polyamory. The only non-monogamous aspect in our life had been some swinging. I had to face many things at this point. And I fought for our relationship. Knowing it would never be the same.

    What I finally had to realize is this…it doesn’t matter that we were swingers. I didn’t matter that was how he met his girlfriend. The bottom line is that at any point in our relationship and life together he could have left me. He could have decided he didn’t want to be with me any more.

    Now, it turns out that this wasn’t as big a game changer to our relationship as I (and he) originally thought. He definitely did not handle NRE well at all. He’s still with his girlfriend and I have a boyfriend (cross-coupled quad).

    This was a game changer to my outlook on life and relationships, though. I will never again believe that monogamy is the only way. (Even though I could live that way again.) I now believe that hubby and I are together because we choose to be and not because it is expected or we are just scared to change that.

    We chose each day to work on our relationship. We chose each day that a life together is what we want. We also chose each day that we want to have these other relationships as a part of our lives. We love each other as much as we always have…well actually I would say even more so. We love our girlfriend and boyfriend as well.

    While our relationship is still as strong as ever even after thinking it may be over at one point, I still consider the events to be game changers. We look at life so much differently now.

    We do, I suppose, have the hierarchical thing going on. Though that isn’t by my choice. And I can only view it as that because each marriage has so many responsibilities together. Mortgage and such. That does leave a couple of us to feel they have a primary and a secondary. For the most part, I just look at it as I don’t live with one relationship and I do the other. But I realize that because part of the quad believes in conducting our relationship this way, I generally need to go along with the idea. So, to some, I am a primary and to others I am a secondary. I have to say that this can give me a rather unique perspective of both positions. Not really a bad think to know how it feels to be on both sides of the issue.

    This comment has turned out to be so long that I feel I have enough to say on it to make a blog post of my own. Cool. Thanks for the food for thought.

  62. I just ran across your lj (and consequently, this post) and wanted to say:

    I’m not poly, but I love this, especially the bit at the last (“Even if things change, I have worth” etc). I think that would be a lovely base for wedding vows, and more to the point that the usual. Purely out of curiosity (not anticipating such an even any time in the near future) would you be okay with your words being used as such?

  63. I just ran across your lj (and consequently, this post) and wanted to say:

    I’m not poly, but I love this, especially the bit at the last (“Even if things change, I have worth” etc). I think that would be a lovely base for wedding vows, and more to the point that the usual. Purely out of curiosity (not anticipating such an even any time in the near future) would you be okay with your words being used as such?

  64. Re: the new landscape

    That’s an interesting idea. I like the notion that being able to become comfortable with change increases your ability to rearrange the furniture yourself.

  65. Re: the new landscape

    That’s an interesting idea. I like the notion that being able to become comfortable with change increases your ability to rearrange the furniture yourself.

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