Our little polycule–that is, those closest to me and with whom I spend most of my time–think a lot about the right way to do relationships. We slip up, now and then, and certainly have a lot to learn, but we aren’t douchebags. We know that not only other people have the same types of needs, desires, etc as we do, but also that when we don’t act this way the poly community around us has a memory.
You know, because we understand the basic idea of ethics and social dynamics.
Figuring out that you are actually attracted to, want to date, or are in love with more than one person is great. Pursuing relationships with multiple people is great too, so long as you communicate and remember that they are people. But the poly world is pretty small, and if you act like a dick it will eventually come to pass that potential partners will find out.
And eventually you will have trouble finding a date within the poly community, except, perhaps, with the other douchebags. This inevitably leads to sub-cultures, within polyamory, of various kinds of people. This would be a fascinating study for anthropologists. Behavior-patterns tend to clump people into types of groups, and those who make the same kinds of mistakes will end up, in the long run, with similar people.
Because bad-behavior is co-reinforcing, I suppose.
What kinds of behaviors will get you in trouble?
Not wanting your partners to have other partners is not good poly etiquette. For example, a guy wanting to collect a ‘harem’ of girlfriends, but making relationships those women have with others difficult via manipulation or some combination of rules or veto. Veto rules really are not good, people, and this is one example of how and why.
Breaking up badly. Ideally, when a relationship isn’t working, you should have a conversation and find a way to remain as amiable as possible. Communication is critical when breaking up, unless some egregious harm was done by the other, in which case you can just walk away. In the case of many break-ups, you may find that you just need to change the nature of the relationship. We need to be able to be mature enough to face the harsh realities of love, sex, and friendship and have hard conversations. People in the poly community around you will find out, eventually, about your bad breakup tendencies.
How do you treat your partners’ partners and their friends. You don’t have to be friends with everyone. You don’t have to like them. Hell, you don’t have to pretend to like them if you don’t. But are you honest with them? Do you give them an opportunity to impress you or do you keep a distance through some combination of intimidation, fear, and jealousy? Do you talk badly about them to your partner? And if so, are you aware that your opinion is valid, wanted, and possibly completely wrong?
There are many more ways I could articulate, but it comes down to this; are you being a douche-nozzle? Or are you making an effort to be open, communicative, honest, and are you making an effort to understand other people involved so that your conclusions, actions, etc are informed and mature? In short, are you trying to be an adult?
In the mono world, there is enough room to treat a few people like crap and get away with it for a while, even though you should not do so. You can simply hang out in a new crowd, move to a new part of town, etc. But the poly world is small (but growing), and being an idiot will get around faster. In order to have happy and healthy relationships for years to come, and be able to add new people to your life as they come around, you want to be surrounded by good people and have them respect you. They only way to do that well is to treat your partners, friends, and acquaintances well and to strive to keep getting better.
It will not always work. Some people simply are not ready to be adults and they will not wish to be around you anymore and they will be stuck in their world with similar people. But in the long run they will suffer the result of that, and we can only continue to maintain our life, struggling with what we carry and remembering that the good people we meet along the way help with the heavier stuff from time to time.
And in the long run those who make worse choices will find themselves older, not wiser, and stuck in the beds they have made. All of you out there who know people who get to the point later in life who still struggle with basic life and relationship problems know what I’m talking about. People hide, when younger, their issues they have not dealt with and they are able to carry on without significant notice. Those that struggle earlier with self-improvement will struggle less later, and it will show because the resulting adeptness/ineptness will become apparent.
This life is a struggle with the interaction of our issues with the issues of those around us. There are better ways to deal with these things, and their are worse ways. That is, there is actually an objective component to figuring out how to live well. The test is the real world; what works. Open and honest communication works better than lack of it. Facing problems directly works better than avoiding them. Treating people as complicated and real sentient beings works better than treating them as mere objects of your own desires. The truth works better than delusions.
Now, if only the delusional could grasp that….