Don't Treat People as Things

I reposted Secondary Clarity on Tumblr yesterday, and got a very interesting response. I thought it was actually worth a column. The original post was mostly the following graphic written by a couple of buddies of mine who have been poly a looonnnngg time and have Learned Stuff.

After posting it, I was asked:

As a person in a monogamous marriage that may at some point move to being poly but isn’t sure if poly will work for the relationship, do you have any advice for approaching things without falling afoul of douchebaggery?

This is a good and valid question, but buddy, it opens up one heck of a bag o’ noodly appendages, let me tell you what!

Understand this discussion is not coming from a person who went from monogamy to polyamory. No, this isn’t about pride in Gold Star Polyamory or any of that idiotic nonsense. It’s an admission that I genuinely do not know what happily opening up a relationship looks like. I’ve never observed such a thing close hand and haven’t the faintest idea what it looks like.

What I do know, is what a good relationship looks like. What I do know is how to treat human beings.

Most of the problems illustrated on this card revolve around treating people as things. It revolves around treating them as objects for gratification. That’s not what love looks like, but I’m sure you know that. So let’s analyze all of these points and the mindset they come from, and see if doing so will come up with strategies on how to avoid them. I could just as easily invoke the Wheaton Rule1 for all of them, but that’d make for a short column.

  • I will be dumped if I become inconvenient

    Sweet mother of mercy, people, relationships are inconvenient.

    While there is a significant difference between genuine needs and being a damned vampire, the reality is that you have the right to relationships that are mutually supportive. Hellfire, I have friends I could call at two in the morning for help if I had to. It would really bother me to think I didn’t have the right to do so with a partner!

    So, if you’re not comfortable with giving the person the same concern you’d give a friend, possibly poly, though certainly the relationship, isn’t right for you.

  • I will be dumped if I ask to be treated with the same respect as your other partner.

    Respect and ass-kissing are not the same thing. Respect is pretty simple. Are you giving them human dignity? Are you willing to have an actual conversation where you listen to what is said as well as express your own thoughts? Courtesy is a great place to start, of course, but human feelings are human feelings.

  • I will be dumped if I become pregnant

    I’m just gonna refer you to Jurassic Park Secondary. But… Safer sex and maybe some surgery on the part of guys who don’t want to sire more children is a wise move.

    Before you do the deed, certainly this is worth a conversation.

  • I will be dumped if I say the word “love” in a romantic context

    This one really blew me away. If you’re not okay with someone else loving your partner, you are soooo not into polyamory. Just wow.

  • I will be dumped if another partner requests it, regardless of the reason

    I have certainly been in a situation where someone’s behavior in the relationship circles has been problematic to the point where it was extremely serious. In the face of that, I’m uncomfortable with asking a partner to dump another partner.

    If there’s a problem, address it. For instance, “Honey, while I’m cool with your boyfriend coming over and having dinner, he’s bringing his daughter, her three sons and their wives, and then they’re all sleeping in the living room about three times a week. While I don’t want to be ungracious, we’re getting to the point that they’re almost living here. I do not want all of them to move in, so I need to know what you want so we can talk about it and come to an agreement.”

  • I will be dumped if I am seen as a threat by anyone else

    Have I ever had someone try to break up a partner and I? Sorta… But I can say in all honesty, that if someone else can “take away” a partner, buy ‘em flowers. They’ve done you a favor.

    The problem with this one is that it seems to be the secondary’s job to make up for someone else’s insecurity. I mean, really? That’s obnoxious when you think about it. “Hey, we’re going have all this great sex, but my partner feels insecure about it, so you have to pretend you’re not into me.”

    *Snerk* Though if someone said that to me… It would kind of solve the problem, because I wouldn’t feel very valued and would make some choices on my own.

  • I will not be invited to family vacations or holiday events

    No one in any relationship worth the name should ever feel the need to stay in their room, making no noise and pretending they don’t exist. If they’re worth having as partners, they’re worth being involved in your life.

  • I will be dumped if I get a boyfriend or girlfriend of my own

    It’s a bit rich to require someone to stay in their room, making no noise, and pretending they don’t exist and then punish them for having a life outside of you, ya know. Poly’s at least in part about people being able to form relationships as they wish, yes?

  • I will be required to keep the relationship secret from your family, friends, or others

    No-one likes to be a dirty little secret. If you have a job that would be in danger from being poly, well… You’ve got some priority decisions to make. But make ‘em before you start playing with people’s hearts.

Most of this boils down to not treating HUMAN BEINGS as disposable experiments. You’d think this would be obvious, but apparently there’s a lot of people in this world who really treat other as commodities.

Don’t be that person.


1 Don’t be a dick

41 thoughts on “Don't Treat People as Things

  1. kitwench

    I have a sudden urge to hijack the question…

    “As a person in a monogamous marriage that may at some point move to being poly but isn’t sure if poly will work for the relationship, do you have any advice for approaching things without falling afoul of douchebaggery?”

    Yes. Tell the people you’re dating or would like to date that you’re new to polyamory.

    Expect to screw up, get hurt, hurt others, get mad, feel like you’re being treated unfairly, realize YOU are treating others unfairly, and expect to face several years of the “I Love My Life/This Shit Sucks” roller coaster of opening a formerly monogamous relationship to poly.

    Odds are that no matter WHAT you are telling yourself and each other – one of you wants this MUCH more than the other.
    You will go after certain relationship structures that seem fair and reasonable to you and get told that you’re douchebags.
    You will explain why these specific structures work for *your relationship* and ask for help with all of the new problesm cropping up and spend a LONG time figuring out the cognitive dissonance there.

    What not to do :
    Do NOT decide that since you’ve read a few books or website articles or forums that you are now a poly expert.
    (Read more, pontificate less)
    Do NOT decide that since you’ve been around the block a few times in monogamous relationships and ‘know lots of poly people’ that you are a relationship expert.*
    (You’re not. You’re human, and in a new situation – you don’t know Jack)
    Do NOT decide that *you* know exactly what will make your partner/s happy – if only they would *listen* to you explain it to them because you “know them better than they know themselves”.
    (You don’t. You’re not a mind reader and you are incapable of seeing your own bias)
    Do NOT tell someone that you need to ‘take a break’ from the relationship in order to work on your (~real~) primary relationship.
    (Have the balls to just break up with them)

    *If you ARE a Certified Practicing Relationship Expert – SHUT UP. You are your own worst enemy because you know just enough about human nature to screw up at the Expert level of Clusterfuck.

    1. Stuart

      Wow, kitwench, could I ever have used your advice a couple of months ago…

      (combined with the fact that all the same things apply to moving from poly-in-theory to poly-in-practice no matter how long you’ve been poly-in-theory)

  2. joreth

    I created a printable pdf version of the above card that can be printed on standard “postcard/index card” paper (or just cardstock if you want to do the cutting yourself). I usually have a display of Poly Resources set up at poly events that includes Poly Reference Cards, posters, resources, and these cards that anyone can take and share or use as they see fit. I find that it, and other snarky or sarcastic materials like the Couples Searching For Unicorn Flowchart, make for good conversation starters.

    1. joreth

      I should clarify – my pdf is so that you can print it on paper at the size intended without wasting paper around it (4 to a sheet) and without any work on the user’s end to get it to print multiple cards to a sheet. I asked Franklin if he would mind before I did it, and I also modified it somewhat.

      I know that Franklin made his own as a pdf, but I like making printable documents that anyone, even my mother who is totally computer illiterate, can use intuitively.

  3. Tybie

    Okay, I’m preparing to have my comment be completely picked apart and proven unethical, but I guess I’m anticipating learning a lot from that, so I’m looking forward to it and here goes…

    When I read the card, I thought two things:
    1. I could both see myself checking most of those boxes with a new partner, AND I could see myself accepting a new partner who checked all those boxes for me;
    2. I think this card would be useful in both cases above, as well as for people who would NOT check boxes or would not accept having boxes checked against them.

    Let me break down my reasoning for my own response (could see myself checking/accepting being checked):

    – Inconvenient
    I would dump most things in life if they became inconvenient. I think of inconvenience as a ratio where effort outweighs payoff. Something can be very difficult and I won’t think it’s inconvenient unless I feel like my efforts are not yielding a satisfying amount of results. I would hope anyone would dump me if I was not worth it to them – for my sake as well as theirs.

    – Pregnant
    OK this is one exception. I don’t get this. I wouldn’t check this one against my partner. I may accept it if a partner checked it against me.

    I would not check this against someone but I could understand someone else checking it against me. Some people use the word “love” very, very selectively and it’s an extremely loaded word for them. They may reserve it for a very specific feeling/intention that they never want to share with me. As long as what they DO want to share is in line with what I want, I don’t care what they call it.

    I would hope that if we go into a poly relationship, everybody is willing to try to be brave about how they handle their emotions. That being said, if anyone becomes completely overwhelmed to the point where they don’t have the skills to manage their emotional response to the situation effectively, I think parachuting out might be acceptable, especially if this is made clear beforehand with this nifty card. I won’t say it’s desirable or that it’s not painful, but I would rather have a sudden break off than force the continuation of a personal hell (mine or someone else’s) out of guilt. Ideally we would have better options than either of these things, but when our skills are not perfect maybe that limits our choices?

    I don’t think I would check this for others, but I may temporarily be in a relationship with someone who had this requirement. I don’t think wanting a closed triad is necessarily a bad thing. If people are clear about it I don’t see much issue with it.

    I guess I don’t know how they are using the word Respect in this context. The concept of what is Respectful varies across cultures and time periods and is not by any means static or universal. Personally what I consider “respectful speech” toward a close friend is WAY different than what I would consider “respectful” toward some older relatives. I think the same can be true for relationships. By nature every connection is unique, and if I am a brand new person entering an existing relationship, I would expect that what’s acceptable behavior towards me will be different than what’s acceptable between the primaries. Again, as long as I am in agreement with what’s respectful towards me, I don’t care if that’s different from the primaries.

    Why would I want to be in a relationship where I’m not wanted? If your primary wants me out, they have done me a favor by saying so.

    Every connection is different. If ours does not include me being with the rest of your family, does that invalidate it or mean you’re treating me bad? Not to me.

    -Being Out
    If someone is not out to family or friends, I appreciate them telling me honestly. If I like them enough to date them, they may be worth the hassle.

    Basically, many of these things would feel normal to me in starting any new relationship, poly or not. It takes a while for deep connections to form, and some connections never go that deep. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not worthwhile to me.

    So please pick this apart and tell me what you think, especially if you disagree! Thank you all in advance for the knowledge and learning. :)

    1. Vicki

      On a couple of these: I wouldn’t like the idea that someone I am not involved with directly could effectively dump me. If I don’t want to be involved with you, for whatever reason, I get to end things. That doesn’t mean I get to say “I’m not happy about your relationship with X other person, so you are ending that, even though I don’t have a good reason.” Not “zie is lying to me” or “s/he keeps picking fights” or even “I don’t like zir perfume,” just “dump zir.” Not going to happen. If you think that’s a reasonable way to run your relationships, warn people ahead of time; I’m not the only person who would decline to get involved in the first place because of that.

      Wanting a closed triad isn’t inherently a bad thing (though it’s not even close to what I’m doing), but if I was in that situation I would want everyone involved to be at essentially the same level of importance for decisions: not “the two of us are primary to each other, and you aren’t as important/don’t get the same input in decisions, but we expect you not to have a primary.”

      1. Stuart

        To the first point, I’ve been in a situation where it sort of applied recently (as hinted in my reply to kitwench) and even with hindsight I don’t think I have any idea of a right answer, because relationships, and people, are complicated.

        On the one hand, all of what you say is true.

        On the other hand… “I’ve been with [primary] a long time, and while I like you and I am excited for the possibilities, my relationship with [primary] is something too important to me to knowingly risk. I hope it won’t ever come down to me needing to choose, because that’s unreasonable and unfair to everyone, but if I DO ever have to choose between you, or between losing you and [primary] being miserable, and [primary] along with the both of us all try but between us we can’t work out a solution that works for everyone, I know what choice I would make and it would be to stay with [primary]” – is that really such an awful approach to take, especially if it’s fully disclosed in advance? Would it somehow be better to throw away a long term relationship because of a new one, or to not think it through in advance and leave the newcomer blindsided when you do have to make that choice?

        (In my situation: I did disclose it in advance and I did end up having to end things, although it was my own choice and my own feelings that were decisive in the end, not [primary]’s, although that was a factor too. Was I treating the new person as a thing by approaching the new relationship that way? My intention was the exact opposite – to respect the newcomer enough to give her plenty of information to decide if she wanted to walk away rather than be involved with me under those conditions.)

        1. Goddess of Java Post author

          I like to look for simple and do tend to black and white thinking a bit. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but yes, I am also aware of that.

          Even in the face of that, I do try to keep things as simple as possible.

          So, for me? Is there an investment in the longer-term relationships? Well, I’ve been married coming on to 23 years, what do you think?

          Most of the egregious behaviors that would cause me to cease dating someone tend to turn up earlier than we’d like to admit. Ferinstance, anyone who was prone to do the dickwaving dominance game with my husband probably was going to do it within two months — nowhere nearly enough time to have any real sort of relationship investment. If I were SMART (it’s clear that I often haven’t been, yes?) I would have decided anyone who needed to put The Prince in his place didn’t need a place in my bed for any of a number of reasons.

          What The Prince didn’t do was say, “If anyone does the dickwaving dance, you need to dump him.”

          What he does say is, “I’m not into hanging out with people treating me disrespectfully.”

          And it’s vice versa. He has a similar rule for himself.

          A lot of this is where you’re coming from with the behaviors. No-one’s saying you shouldn’t have an investment in certain relationships. That’s really different from being expected to tolerate being disposable!

          One of the authors of the card pictured has a rather good analysis of this when he discusses couple privilege. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to.

          1. Tybie

            Cool, I will check out the article. Thanks! And thanks for the detailed situations. Having little experience myself, details always help me visualize and understand these things better. Thanks!

          2. Stuart

            Thanks for the thoughtful response and the link. I read the article about couple privilege too, and it’s definitely good food for thought.

            I think there’s an important difference between “I’ll give [primary] the option to veto or terminate secondary relationships” and “Because I love [primary], I’ll give her feelings a lot of weight when I make my own choices”, even if the distinction can get kind of blurry in practice. Seems to me that ending a relationship is something that should definitely only be done when it’s the choice of (at least one of) the people IN it, not someone outside deciding for them.

            But what that does mean is that, having that kind of commitment to [primary] and knowing (from new-forged hard experience) that the emotions involved in being poly-in-practice are harder on us both than we might have expected from being poly-in-theory for years, it’s important to be very careful about what kind of new relationships to pursue, and be very aware and considerate of the feelings of any new people involved.

          3. Goddess of Java Post author

            Now, you might be getting why a lot of people who have been poly in practice for a long time ITCH at poly-in-theory writings.

            Notice how I never really write an article about how to go poly if you’re in a monogamous relationship?

            There’s a reason for that. I can theorize all I want, but I have NO FUCKING CLUE how one does it, which is why my advice generally boils down to “don’t be an asshole.”

            I don’t think the distinction between considering feelings and vetos is really blurry at all, though. To me that’s a huge and obvious difference.

          4. Stuart

            Well, the scenario where the line can get blurry is when people’s feelings don’t necessarily match up with anything logical. What would you do if your primary said “I can’t identify anything about this new person that is bad, and nor are you doing anything wrong in the way you are treating me while the new relationship goes on, but for some reason I can’t explain, the fact that you’re in this relationship breaks my heart and I have been miserable and crying daily since it started”? And you trust your primary enough to know that he isn’t lying or emotionally manipulating you but really is heartbroken even if he can’t figure out why?

            Naturally you talk it through together, naturally you try to find the root of his sadness and figure it out and find a way for him to be okay without having to give up the new relationship But emotions simply aren’t necessarily amenable to logic. What if all that discussion and tears and love doesn’t get you to the point where he’s ok with the new relationship?

            At that point your choices are to end the new relationship, end the primary relationship, or ALL be miserable (because presumably if your primary is miserable you aren’t exactly happy yourself, and if you aren’t then nor is your new love).

            If you choose to end a new relationship in that situation, did your primary have a veto, or not? To me it’s not really clear…

          5. Goddess of Java Post author

            Honestly? I’d expect that person to get psychological help. If you’re freaking out and crying and can’t tell why, you need to figure that shit out because it’s really serious.

            Unless that person were almost super-humanly intuitive (and most intuitive people in my experience overestimate how intuitive they are),I would suspect someone in that situation of convincing themselves they’re okay with poly when they’re not really deep down. If they really were that intuitive, I’d start looking for “wrong” behaviors in my new partner, myself.

            But I think it is more likely that person is trying to make themselves okay with poly, and that’s a dealbreaker for me.

            Also, and God, this is going to be harsh: I don’t expect perfect self-awareness out of my partners, cause none of us have it, but I do expect them to be willing to examine themselves and what they feel.

            I’m not saying this as someone who is never buffeted by emotion — far from it! I genuinely do, no kidding, suffer from a pretty severe depression problem. It’s WHY I am so hard-core on the cognitive stuff. It’s why I think keeping things concrete is quite a good idea.

          6. Stuart

            Well, in my situation there was a bit of both, I think. “Fortunately”, the wrong behaviors in the new partner became obvious fairly quickly. (And I exaggerated the degree of ‘don’t know why’ from the real situation to clarify the point I was trying about whether that counts as a ‘veto’ or not).

          7. Stabbity

            Seems to me that ending a relationship is something that should definitely only be done when it’s the choice of (at least one of) the people IN it, not someone outside deciding for them.

            You know, I think that’s what makes me so ragey about people blaming a veto agreement for their decision to break up with their partner – it’s always the decision of someone IN the relationship to break up. Unless your primary partner is holding a gun to your head, you’re not actually being forced to toss your secondary out like an obsolete gadget (not that I’m bitter). You’re choosing to dump your secondary because your primary partner is unhappy. The very least you can do is have the decency to admit that.

            I’ll admit that things get a little sticky if before you ever met the secondary, you swore on your mother’s grave that if your primary absolutely couldn’t find a way to tolerate a secondary, you’d dump said secondary, but in that case all you can really do is be very, very up front about the fact that the secondary is disposable, and ideally not pursue polyamoury until you’re both ready to treat people like people, not toys you can throw out when they become inconvenient.

          8. Tybie

            Not trying to be a douche here (actually, I hope to learn how to NOT be a douche by talking more about it) but may I ask some questions that may be obvious and/or rage-inducing?

            In the context of disposability, how is being a secondary different from being in a relationship in general? Maybe it’s just my insecurity, but I’ve always felt in my mono relationships that I could be dumped at any time if the relationship starts to not work for my partner, for whatever reason. I don’t even expect to be given a reason (although I appreciate it). Having spent half my childhood in a well-divorced home, I’m a strong believer in breakups when needed. They can be painful and chaotic, but not nearly the kind of hell that ensues when breakups are put off because of guilt or trying to “work on it” when there’s nothing to work with.

            If dumping someone when the relationship is not workable means you are treating them like a toy, what would be the appropriate way to handle it? In my mind the other alternative I see is for everyone to grudgingly put up with each other. To me that sounds worse. But this is my wild imagination extrapolating from mono divorce, not based on any real poly experience.

            Maybe it’s useful to define at what point that feeling of “dumpable inconvenience” occurs. If it’s like, “my primary doesn’t want to take the time to sit through her first bout of jealousy and figure out her needs, so you’re out”, then that sucks big time and I could see feeling used. But if it’s like, “my primary and I are having a harder time adjusting than we anticipated, and despite our best efforts over the past few weeks/months [which discussions secondary has also been largely a part of], I’m feeling that I want to focus more time and energy on figuring myself out and learning to use better communication skills with her. I don’t feel I have the mental/emotional bandwidth to handle much else, so I’m feeling I want to break off with you now. I’m so sorry.” and/or “My interest and feelings for you were sincere but the dynamics we all have together is not working for me, I’m not liking where this relationship is going. I would rather just be friends at this point”…then I mean it sucks and it hurts, but what do I want them to say? If that’s how they honestly feel I’d rather hear it.

            I feel like there’s some elephant of data standing right next to me right now that I’m totally ignorant of…but that’s why I love being able to talk about this with such smart, caring, honest, and experienced people! Thanks for engaging a n00b in transformative discussion. :)

          9. Stabbity

            In the context of disposability, how is being a secondary different from being in a relationship in general?

            Good question! I see it as a difference in investment. If I have a secondary and then dump him, I don’t end up single, I still have my primary relationship.

            If I’m monogamous and I break up with my partner, now we’re both single. It feels to me like someone who already has a primary just has less to lose than someone who only has one partner.

            Also, I was looking at the card graphic again, and something clicked for me when I read the bit about “I will be dumped if another partner requests it, regardless of the reason.” I think that’s a big part of the feeling of disposability If I dump someone because my other partner told me to, I can’t have been very invested in that person.

            On the other hand, if someone were to say “I don’t feel I have the mental/emotional bandwidth to handle much else, so I’m feeling I want to break off with you now. I’m so sorry.”, I’m not sure that’s any worse than saying “work is eating my life and I just don’t have the time or energy for more than one relationship”, or “I’m taking care of my sick [family member] and I don’t have it in me to maintain another relationship.” To me, those statements are all very clearly about what the dumper can handle, not about what someone else told the dumper to do. It still sucks for the dumpee, but I’d rather hear “I don’t have enough hours in my day to be fair to both of you” than “I never really cared that much. Seeya.”

            And this bit “[which discussions secondary has also been largely a part of]” is hugely, *hugely* important. Seeing how hard your partner is trying to make it work for everyone is very different from having a decision handed down from on high, with no warning about just how much trouble your partner and his primary are having.

          10. Tybie

            Cool! Thanks for your thoughtful reply. So is the main issue of couples-privilege/treating-secondaries-as-things an artificial capping on commitment? When I think of the amount of effort I’d give before calling it quits in a relationship, for me that tends to be very low in the beginning and grows over time. So I guess I would expect that from a couple at the beginning because I would expect that from a single at the beginning. Does the issue come up when that shallowness is imposed/enforced by the couple when the commitment with secondary would otherwise be deepening? Like, “I’m poly enough to date both of you when it’s easy, but not poly enough to work it out when it’s not”. Is this the issue?

    2. Brynn

      So, everything you said sounds very reasonable.

      But in reality, those checkboxes hurt like you would not believe if you’ve never been through it. For example, not being allowed to be involved with someone you’ve mutually fallen in love with because their SO is having a series of completely unrelated problems? Feels like having your heart dragged through broken glass. I had literal chest pains, like “time to go to the doctor and get this checked out” (it was in fact just the distress of the situation). I almost walked away from the whole thing, but I stuck around and things are OK now, although we’re all still healing from it and fixing the damage done.

      That’s the second part: no matter how reasonable these things are, they will do damage to the relationships involved. Yes, relationships – telling someone in a poly relationship with you that they can’t be with someone they love will damage your relationship too. Sometimes you have a really good reason for doing so (and the reasons in my example were all good), but be aware that you’re breaking things you’ll need to fix later.

      Relationships involve a lot of nuance, and for every rule there’s an exception. That said, this is a really good list of ways you can hurt people and damage relationships.

      1. Tybie

        Thank you Brynn! This is very enlightening…I have close to zilch actual experience with being in multi-partner loving relationships, and more experience roaming as a unicorn in swinging communities, so I think I unintentionally default to overlooking the emotional implications of my theories. Thanks for the reminder!

        1. Brynn

          Another thing your other thread made me think of: the willingness and effort to work through a rough time is greatly increased when it’s *your* heart that’s on the line. The cost-benefit ratio changes considerably when you’re falling in love as vs. watching your partner fall in love with someone else when you’re jealous and scared. Even when the other partner is benevolent, letting someone who likes me well enough but does not love me have control over my romantic relationships rightly scares me because they have so much less to lose if they end it than I do (even accounting for the relationship damage I mentioned previously).

          Part of the reason things worked out in my example is veto was taken off the table before things even got started. If I’d had that Sword of Damocles hanging over my head the whole time, I would not have been able to take it. As it is I’m still getting over feeling/acting like a third when we’re having SO-level feelings and forging that level of relationship (but I am getting over it, because everyone in my intimate daisy chain is aware of this and is OK with it).

          1. Tybie

            Cool. Maybe some of these things I will only understand with experience. Thanks for all the insights…some aspects I feel I still don’t fully grasp, but the seed of understanding is there now, I think…I think it will grow into understanding eventualy.

    3. Stabbity


      Like, “I’m poly enough to date both of you when it’s easy, but not poly enough to work it out when it’s not”. Is this the issue?

      Exactly! And that’s fine if everyone’s on the same page, but it’s a nasty surprise if you weren’t expecting it.

  4. Hazelthecrow

    I don’t think its unreasonable to spell out the depth of your commitment to an existing relationship. If the new person coming in is new to the concept of polyamory, I think its a good idea to spell it out ALOT to make sure they really have got the picture (and arent kidding themselves that eventually they’ll win you away from said primary, cheating style) Treating people like disposable things is really, really shitty; but surely making them aware of your existing commitments is all part of respect; if you know that certain situations would mean having to end the relationship then best be upfront, early on, while the new person has a chance to assess the risk of getting involved with you and run for the hills if necessary!

    Sometimes a veto is there for a reason. I learned a thing, and its a fairly specific thing: when your current primary is actually having a nervous breakdown already, and you nearly broke up not so long ago, that would be a bad time to bring a new person in. no matter how determined {primary} is to get over it and let you do your thing, its just a bit of a big ask to cope with all that uncertainty on top of loads of other shit, and are you sure you want to be putting yourself in that delicate balancing act position? I wouldnt. quite apart from caring for this person you supposedly love, have a care for your own emotional stability… and that of (new person}. If {new person} has any sense, they’ll be caring for themselves and very reluctant to get involved in such a delicate and unpredictable circumstance. And then, just supposing, if {new person} turns out to be rude, volatile, indiscreet, publicly disrespectful towards and quite clearly intending to displace {primary} because they’re firmly in the mono camp anyway and have no interest in learning about or respecting this other important person in your life? just saying. could happen….

    I learned a thing, and I still hate the idea of vetoes; however rather than saying to my partners ‘dont do a thing’ its now more like ‘I am going to empower myself to leave if my wellbeing is under threat from you doing a thing. You can choose to stop doing the thing till we’ve worked out the problem together, or choose to let me go’

    Poly + being mental* = requires 15 extra levels of self awareness and sensitivity all round. Safe sex aint just fluid control; IMO it should mean looking after emotional aswell as physical health, for you and your partners

    New to Poly + existing relationship problems = lots of stupids
    There doesnt have to be a hierarchy of importance, or any veto arrangement, but if you have one, make it very clear from the outset. Relationships may end as a result; better sooner than bitterer.

    – Goddess, what you said about dick-waving. Yes.
    – Stabbity, yes, that is rage inducing. If you are ending a relationship because you have decided another relationship is more important, that is still your decision. well done on making a decision! at least own the damn decision! it might even be the right decision. Floundering around not making any decision is really damaging all round.
    – Tybie, you are doing it right! Its a good idea to have thought about all this stuff already, in the hope that IF a horrible situation comes up with no easy answer, you will not be paralysed. I hope all your worst case scenarios never come to pass and you weather the rollercoaster and have a fun time of it overall :-D

    * I am mental. at least 1 in 4 of us will be at some point. Im not dissing the mentalists.

    1. Tybie

      Thank you Hazel! In theory poly is what makes most sense to me, but in practice I feel I have a long way to go. Always glad to hear when someone more experienced than I thinks I’m doing something right, that’s encouraging.

    2. Stabbity

      Sometimes a veto is there for a reason. I learned a thing, and its a fairly specific thing: when your current primary is actually having a nervous breakdown already, and you nearly broke up not so long ago, that would be a bad time to bring a new person in.

      I totally understand that sometimes it’s just not a good time to bring another person into the mix (and fully agree that example seems like an extraordinarily bad time to do so), but I actually don’t see that example as a “veto needed” situation. To my mind, if your partner decides to pursue a new potential partner under circumstances like that, the problem is thoughtlessness and selfishness to the point of cruelty, not the lack of a veto.

  5. Auros

    This is totally unrelated to any of the content of this post, or the fascinating discussion it has engendered: But would you consider migrating the blog to some new template where the comments would not get squished down into a two-word wide column? :-)

    1. Goddess of Java

      I had been thinking about exactly this when checking out the replies were nested so deep in this discussion.

      Since a reader has asked, I think that moving from pondering to acting is a good idea!

  6. Serina D

    I think, in the interests of keeping these comments from descending entirely into heartbreak, I’d like to say that sometimes, it really does genuinely work out. I’ve been the secondary entering into a relationship with a formerly-part-of-a-long-term-monogamous-couple person. They opened up their relationship about 6 months before he and I met. They originally had a veto, but after I discussed this with my partner, and the reasons why I felt uncomfortable with the concept (not that I ever asked him to get rid of it), he talked to his wife and they both agreed to drop their veto powers. And this is one of the things really convinced me that he took our relationship seriously, even from less than 6 months in. We’re still together, 3 and a half years later. I still haven’t met the in-laws though (and to be fair, he rather wishes he hadn’t either! He tries to take an ‘emergency’ trip – preferably to another city – when he knows they want to visit….)

    So you know what, my heart really aches for you folks that have been hurt so badly by previous partners. You deserved so much more. But there’s people who will do right by you, and people who might not quite be there yet but are getting better at dealing with this stuff. We’re all learning, every day.

    1. Goddess of Java Post author

      Yep, they weren’t treating you as a thing, but as a person.

      But holy mackerel, the newly poly who want a “woman to complete their marriage” do some really awful, objectifying crap a whole lot. Maybe not everyone does, but you simply would not BELIEVE the letters I get.

      I hope after three years “haven’t met” isn’t mapping to “still closeted.”

  7. joreth

    “You know, I think that’s what makes me so ragey about people blaming a veto agreement for their decision to break up with their partner – it’s always the decision of someone IN the relationship to break up.”

    This is why I actually wrote a blog post somewhere (I’ll have to look for it) where I bitched at the “hinge” person, not the “evil” spouse insisting on the veto. The person in the middle who is allowing the veto to happen can, basically, just be avoiding responsibility. “Oh, sorry, it’s not MY fault, really, my spouse made me!” No, it’s not – YOU decided that I was disposable and not worth the effort, and your decision to “honor” your pre-existing partner in this way was YOUR choice to treat another human being like a tool or servant.

    I’ve never been willing to get into a relationship that had veto power, so I can’t even blame my rage on being bitter from a bad experience. I’m just really tired of seeing people get hurt over stupid things.

  8. Shadow

    Ok, as someone new to poly, here’s my reaction: there’s a blurry line between poly and swinging – especially when shifting into poly. SO some of these checkboxes make sense to me and are understood between me and my partners. I guess perhaps what it comes down to is I’m more in a place for casual secondary relationships, not a committed one. Does that make me a douche? Am I treating my ‘secondary’ as an object because there’s a boundary we both understand exists from the start? Will my poly membership card be rescinded?

    1. Goddess of Java Post author

      Not being a member of the Poly Police, I can’t do anything about your card, so you’re safe there. :)

      There is nothing in the world wrong with wanting casual relationships. We may only have a certain number of hours in the day, after all.

      The problem comes in when there are constructs set a manner that sets up expectations for people that they really wouldn’t agree to!

      It’s about expectation and entitlement, really, and boy howdy let me tell you what, couples can do that — especially when long-established. (Saying this AS a member of a long-established marriage, ‘kay? Not a high horse).

      But if anything starts to smell of “I expect my secondaries to know their place,” you have a problem.

  9. nonny

    Stabbity: Yes, that.

    I’ve been working through a lot of that in my own life over the past year or two (my long-term partner and the woman who was dating both of us decided to effectively commit to each other without admitting that was what they were doing or checking in with me about it–then when she and I broke up, my partner’s subsequent choices were a nasty surprise. All this while I was super stressed out about grad school and dealing with depression and anxiety). I’m angry with her because some of the boundaries that she set were unreasonable in the context of her boyfriend being in an existing relationship that she said she valued and supported, but I am most angry with my partner for making the choice to not support me or maintain our relationship through all this because he wanted to be with her more (and not admitting his priorities to anyone, including himself).

    I finally, after over a year of trying really hard to be ok with all of this, got to the point where I told him that I would not be in an intimate relationship with him while he was with her. I don’t know what he’ll choose, but I finally feel like I can move forward with my own life in the meantime.

    And I think that some of my difficulty in dealing with this, and the fact that I tried so very long to make it work, comes from side effects of this argument that the primary partners need to be extra special careful. When something’s not working in the primary partnership that is directly caused by the choices of the person in the secondary relationship, actual concerns are easily turned into “well you’re not valuing our relationship, we can do no wrong because we’re the non-privileged relationship” and there isn’t much discussion of what the other member of the primary partnership can do in response (because vetos are bad(TM), and can be defined very, very broadly in many of these discussions). To be clear, I agree on the general “don’t treat people like things; be honest” premise, and that primary relationships tend to be privileged. There’s just splash damage from some of the ways this argument tends to go.

  10. Dorian

    Please post this one instead, bad editing on my part above:

    Thank god/dess/trees I’ve never taken anyone up on doing this, though I’ve been asked a few times. This chilling list of things that could go wrong once again reminds me of how gory it is having friends live through being hurt by people claiming to practice polyamoury but actually just being incredibly cruel. I’m not against it in principle but I just repeatedly don’t see it done well. I see people simply using one another, and often capitalizing on people in vulnerable situations such as being recently divorced. I do have one set of friends who has done this well, and about 15-20 who have been harmed by it. All of the super cool poly websites that I’ve seen giving tips of what not to do have such huge, long lists of insanely horrible “not to’s” that we all have to realize a lot of people are being really hurt by this general trend. A lot of people are simply stepping on one another in calculated efforts to play things to their advantage, never be alone and not have to take responsibility for hearts broken. Enough said.

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