I want to bang lots of people. I want to bang my buddies’ partners, my co-workers’ spouses, my partners’ parents. But I don’t, out of a personal choice to limit the risk of grievances. Setting and respecting boundaries is what builds any good relationship, polyamorous or otherwise. In setting these, it’s always good to be flexible. However, there is one preference I have where I’m significantly less flexible:
I strongly prefer to not share partners with my friends.
When I explain this to people in the poly community, they are immediately polarized. Some see this as the kind of exclusivity that belongs in the world of monogamy and does not fit with the independent spirit of the polyamorous mindset. Some see this as a brilliant method for preventing enmity from arising between friends and partners in a community with much less structure than conventional dating.
This isn’t to say I don’t like to be friends with my metamours. Quite contrary, I love to become friends with my partners’ other partners! We clearly have a similar taste, probably have a lot in common, and it makes group sex that much easier! That being said, I want to become friends with my metamours. I don’t want to become metamours with my friends. I’ve tried polyamorous relationships in both of these styles and found this way works much better for me. It keeps my partners in an active-dating head space, which prevents them from just getting involved with whoever is in arm’s reach. It keeps my friends more conscious of their place in my life. And it keeps me sane because I am less entwined in my partners’ other relationships.
I used to be of the opposite mindset. Back when I was first wetting my feet in polyamory, we agreed to only be involved with people that we both knew. And for a first-timer, it was a decent method. When you think about your partner being with someone else and you don’t know them, it’s easy to see this other partner inaccurately. I would imagine them as the most impossibly handsome, brilliant, skillful lover. When I know that my girlfriend is actually just dating Rob, the guy with the Cubs hat from physics class, I felt more secure about my place in her life. It worked well, but only as a crutch.
What eventually ended up happening is what my brother refers to as “Hamster Cage Syndrome”, which is when people end up dating whoever they surround themselves with most. Not always out of overwhelming attraction either, just because they’re always around anyway. This could be their friends, classmates, co-workers; or in the case of polyamory, their partner’s friends. So my partners would just become content with the idea that they could have a partner whenever they wanted with little to no romantic investment. My partners felt like they had secured a future with me, and didn’t want to build that with another person, only casual encounters. Dating was unnecessary because they gauged my stamp of approval for friendship was evidence enough. Because of this, I found that my partners grew increasingly uninterested in being an active partner. I understand why. The need to be an active dating partner requires first-impressions and aggressive interest in your attractiveness. Things that should be standard for a regular partner and sometimes slump. But when you’ve always got a circle of people with whom you are not dating who are willing to remind you that you are fuckable, it’s easy to let yourself become unfuckable to the people you are dating.
When your friends realize they can have the sex with your partners without having to be their partners, it changes the dynamic that’s shared between you two. While I’m certain it’s not always the case, it has always been the case with me that friends who you let date your partners run a number of risks. Firstly, most relationships fail, and plenty of them don’t end civilly. So whenever your partner is involved with one of your friends, there’s a good chance you are going to lose one of them when all the dust settles. This happens when your friends date your other friends. It was tenfold worse when my friends were dating my partners. You also run a risk of being used for your partners. Sharing partners with your buddies means you could potentially have people in your social circle who are there primarily as a meat market. It’s like being that kid that the other boys only hang out with because he had a Sega Genesis. I felt very used when I saw it happening.
More rarely, but certainly not uncommon, is the risk of comfort. There’s a familial comfort that comes from sharing partners. While it’s an excellent avenue for getting acquainted with your metamours, it can be a very disruptive motivator for your friends. I’ve often seen sharing partners ascribing an undue level of comfort. I feel like you should always treat your partners’ other partners how you would treat your partners’ parents. That means being considerate and respectful. Two very uncomfortable mindsets to have. I’ve had bros become eskimo bros, and they started patronizing me like they were my big bro and I was their little bro.
Whoa. Sorry for all the bros, bro.
I have a very different kind of relationship with my
bros friends, my friends’ partners, my partners, and my metamours. Each one is complex and needs constant attention. When I shared partners with friends, there was so much overlap in the intricate layers of maintaining good communication. When people embody so many different aspects for you, it can be dizzying trying to keep up with their place in your life.
Many polyamorists I talk to don’t like this policy. Especially men, I find. Not being able to sleep with my partners is probably a deciding factor. But in speaking with them, there are some other hesitations about it that I didn’t realize. Among them, that they don’t like delineating preferences on their partner that they wouldn’t want placed on themselves. I strongly respect their efforts for egalitarian preferences in the relationship, but I don’t think the preference would be as constraining as they think. A man is massively less likely to be accosted by his partners’ female friends than a woman is likely to be accosted by her partners’ male friends. As a guy, if you want absolute freedom, that’s fine. She’ll get more use out of it than you will, though.
Another hesitation is the idea that there simply aren’t that many polyamorists. While this may be the case in some towns, I live in Chicago. And of the Three Million people here, there is an ample supply of polyamorists to be involved with. And twice as many polycurious people who could be swayed to be on our team. There is no such shortage of potential matches that my partners need to risk queering my social life for a date. And none of my partners are so unappealing that they need resort to it.
The final hesitation is that of limiting your partner going against the founding principals of polyamory. This is the most legitimate hesitation of all of them. After all, my partners’ feelings for my friends don’t devalue their feelings for me. If one of my partners ever fell in love with one of my friends and needed to be with them, my preferences could certainly take an exception. But until then, I don’t want to anticipate an ideal world. I’m going to anticipate a world full of people who make mistakes and act selfishly sometimes. I’m banking on a world where having sex can take two normally stable people and make them behave completely illogically. I predict it’s a world that needs a little structure.
Otherwise, I’d just be single.