I’m openly polyamorous. I don’t currently adhere to the idea of a primary partner. The result is a group of people I consider partners. There are three criteria I use to identify my partners.
- A partner is ok with being described as my partner publicly
- A partner is someone I take with me in my heart wherever I go
- A partner is someone I have a specified commitment to
The first is quite obvious. If the term partner is mostly a label used to describe relationships to the world. Then someone can only be a partner if they allow me to describe them as such. What I mean by taking with me in my heart is that I consider them in my decisions. If I’m about to do something risky on my snowboard or I’m thinking about moving to a different country, then I will take the feelings of my partners into consideration. There needs to be at least one specified commitment. It can be an easy commitment like seeing them if we are in the same city, or maybe committing to staying polyamorous (this one I don’t go without).
In many cases there are feelings of passion or desire with my partners. In many cases there is physical intimacy. But not in all of them, and sometimes it is love without physical intimacy or vice versa. Indeed it may just be someone I’m practically committed to; a very important friend who fills up a very unique role in my life. Or it might be that we are going through a period of being apart, and so passion and desire are in hibernation. My way of identifying a partner is not one based on love or physical intimacy, it’s one based on testable conditions. Because I’m not monogamous, and I never make commitments based around special rights, I don’t need the title of partner for anything other than communicating with the outside world.
If you put this together you may ask whether or not any person living up to these criteria is a partner. And my answer to that is a loud booming YES THEY ARE! And this is essential. I am not trying to find partners, by asking someone to be my partner. It is simply that when the three criteria are met, that is when someone is identified as my partner. I discover that they are a partner, not because I want them to be, but because they happen to be.
Recently I was chatting with someone I feel myself moving closer towards. She is someone I could see myself identifying as a partner somewhere down the road. She described the feeling of closing the distance between us like this:
It lacks the feeling of rush, ambivalence and expectations, and that feels good.
The above sentence inspired this entire text. It succinctly described how I like relationships to feel. Below I will address rushing, ambivalence and expectations. I included my way of identifying partners above to give some context to what comes below.
What often feels rushed about relationships is the hurry to chisel them in stone, or get to third base. We express our desire for something manifest, a title or a symbol, that will tell us that the relationships really is. Instead of simply observing and identifying what is, we seek to make it come into existence by adding expressions that speak of and about the relationship. When haven’t kissed yet, that first kiss seems a symbol of the relationship. When we haven’t had sex, then this must be the expression of it becoming more real. Finally we need our partner to give us a title, and then express that title to the world. Then finally we can accept that the relation is. All this is strange because isn’t it really the feelings we have towards each other that makes us kiss, hug, have sex and put on various labels?
My approach to this is different. I admit that it causes frustration with some people, but I take this frustration as a sign that we don’t really fit together. It is simple: I just wait and see what is. I don’t mind waiting a long time. This waiting may seem a bit like abstinence for the sake of it, but it’s not. My method is pretty straight forward: I begin by building a friendship. Once I identify the person as a friend I will kiss that person when it feels right, and only when I don’t feel like the friendship is at risk. If I believe the friendship may get hurt from a bad kissing experience, I’m not willing to risk it. When it feels good, then I might observe that I feel like having sex with the person, but I will only do it when I feel safe that it won’t hurt the fact that we can be friends-who-kiss. If all goes well and that happens, then I may do it and it may be really nice. From there I feel safe that we can slip back and forth between being friends and lovers without friction. This entire process can easily take between half a year and many years. I can only say that I think it is really worth it, and that relationships built like this have a tremendous staying-power.
I am not saying that friendship must be the base of any relationship. But you should be aware of what you consider most fundamental with another person. Also if you do not agree on the most fundamental aspect it may be hard for you to find an equilibrium. One person may be looking for the friendship and the other for the physical intimacy, as they each consider that the most fundamental and foundational aspect of the relation.
Ambivalence seems to arise when we fear that we will not get to the next level. Our efforts of rushing are failing and we are losing momentum. Our fears drive us towards acting without full disclosure, and this lack of transparency leads to ambivalent feelings in others. We are hunting for that special person to become what we have envisioned them like in our private fantasies, Instead of accepting that it may not be, we attempt to change ourselves to fit what we believe they will be drawn to. While the actor may not be caught lying directly, the underlying sense of incongruence gives rise to ambivalent feelings in the other.
The frustrations that a relationships are not moving forward can also lead to explosions of anger or implosions of sadness, and these can lead others to either shy away or loose respect. It is a big thing to ask someone to love us while we are angry that they do not, or to ask someone to desire us while we are sad that they don’t.
My approach to this is to go for less. I treasure the friendship above anything. It is what I try to preserve rather than feelings of desire and passion. I will not actively engage in physical or emotional intimacy on the foundation of a shaky friendship. Then I will focus on strengthening the friendship. This can sometimes feel cold and distanced to those I engage with, because I enter into fixing the friendship before the partnership. This again is a price I’m willing to pay. Whenever I feel myself wanting the relationship to be, I focus on what it is. I treat it like one of my plants, I can’t force it to grow, only place it in the sun and give it water and care.
I see now that all this is about expectations. Expectation is to know what you will get before you have it. This works well with ordering pizza, and sometimes when making wishes for your birthday. It works pretty bad when it comes to relationships. Let’s imagine we are two people painting a picture together, and we can’t talk while we do it. Having expectations is like me pushing you away in the beginning and drawing all the outlines, then nodding and pointing, urging you to fill in the spaces with color. It’s not really painting together anymore, it’s more like I dictate what will be, and you must fill it out. When you know what you will get before you have it in a relationship, it is truly your relationship. There is no quicker way of killing a relationship than by owning it. I may be verging on stating the obvious here, but relationships are all about relating, and this is a reflective two way process. One relates to the other, and the other relates back.
I think expectations rise when we really want her/him to be that special someone. My approach to quelling this desire for someone is to trust that wonderful people will come my way, and that they will naturally also consider me wonderful. In other words: I trust that those I love will love me back.
This is a blind decision, not a delusion. There is no proof for this, it is simply a thing that is so constructive to believe that it seems foolish not to. It may be completely false or it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. But even so, I believe you deserve to trust it as well. You can only make this decision yourself, and no one can tell you anything that will convince you that it’s true. But I find it unlikely that we would even have a word for love if it wasn’t the case.
To me love is respect, friendship, transparency, passion, intimacy, commitment and trusting that you will be loved by those you love. And as the song goes: This is the hardest thing you will ever learn.