'From 'we' to 'I': debating couple-centrism
I was browsing profiles on a poly dating site and noticed something. The way most guys describe their relation to poly really turned me off. It seemd like most profiles started with something 'we' related: my wife and I have decided to open up our relationship / we're happily married but feel there's room for more / we are investigating if this is right for us / we give each other freedom to explore other relationships etc.
Then I realized that two years ago, when I started putting up profiles on sites, I did the same thing and my profile wasn't that different from the ones quoted above.
So something changed and shifted over the past year. I still feel very much part of the couple that is me and my husband, but I no longer feel that when it comes to poly, we also operate as a couple - if that makes any sense. I remember a time this summer when my husband was in a crisis and he asked me to skip a visit to C, my BF. My husband was upset and hurting and I wanted to be there for him, so I did what he asked. But at the same time I felt he was pushing a boundary, and had he asked me again, we would have had a big problem.
That was the first time I felt that if he, or any other person in my life, would ask me to choose, I would not choose one particular other person - I would choose ME, even if that would mean losing one or more relationhip(s) with others.
I guess that more and more, I feel that poly, to me, isn't really about multiple loves and the relationship with them - it's about my relationship with myself. It feels like its becoming a kind of life-philosophy that is spilling over in all areas of my life - friendships, work, my family.
I was just wondering if anyone else experienced this? Being in a longterm commited relationship, opening up, and feeling this transition from 'we are a couple doing poly' to 'I am a person living a poly life'?
edited to add: I suppose I should've put this in the General Discussions forum, sorry.
Thanks for posting this--I find it very inspiring.
I identify as "solo" because I have never wanted to be a "we." For a long time, I thought that meant I would have to avoid "serious" or "committed" relationships. Learning about ethical non-monogamy and various forms of poly has given me a better understanding of the ways I can form relationships without changing my "I" to a "we."
I have found that (so far) I click best with men who enjoy being single and identifying as "I" rather than men who are already in committed relationships and think of themselves as part of a "we". I find it off-putting when poly men use a lot of "we" language in their profiles.
I have sometimes noticed a higher incidence of men using "I" language in online profiles when they identify as "practicing ethical monogamy" rather than as "poly." The men I met who described themselves as ethically non-monogamous had serious girlfriends who were also non-monogamous, were unmarried/ in their 20s/ no kids yet, and were open to more casual dating styles.
I felt like I had more in common with them than with the older, married-with-kids poly men who described how "my wife and I decided to open up our marriage, we are looking for love and commitment with other people." Not that there's anything wrong with that statement. It makes sense to be coming from a place of "we" coupledom when there is a longterm marriage and kids involved.
I think this is a good topic. For me, 'we' desxribes myself, dh and bf-because we are already a family. But-we dont date as a we. We do that individually.
On okc my dh has a notation about me, I'm unsure how its worded as I am not on okc. But its more a reference to ensure honesty and lack of confusion so noone thinks he's single and available for mono relationships.
But, I think your observation is valid and educationally intriguing.
Because we have avery tight family with kids at home-we do operate from a family centered approach. But that isnt a closed family and that aspect doesnt relate to sex.
Some women have struggled with frustration thinking they were competing with me for dh's time when in fact their time was only limited due to their unwillingness to participate in his life-specifically asking him to give up committed time with the kids.
With me personally-I dont ever date unless I have an established long term friendship-and friends spend time socializing with the whole group. So I haven't had an issue there.
A thanks from me too. :D
In my case, it wasn't polyamory that helped me to see things differently. Rather, it was a growing change and shift over time in my own attitudes towar the world. Then falling in love with an old friend.
We are in a committed romantic relationship now and just now we are monogamous (this may change in the future but we have no plans for an open or poly relationship right now).
I find that people are keen for us to identify as 'we' and sometimes I find that people expect my SO to turn up at things just because I am. What helps in our case is busy lives and lots of interests.
I consciously make more effort to maintain my friendships and interests as an individual than was necessary when I was single. I mostly also turn up to family events alone - if pushed, I sometimes offer to bring a friend. (the only exception this year has been my father's funeral).
I remind people also that I am a whole person on my own, that I love my SO but he doesn't complete me and he doesn't need to follow me around and do things with me unless he wants to.
It is working out so far I think.
Interesting. I never approached being open/poly as something "we" did or were, probably because MC is (mostly) mono. However, since we do have the years of marriage and the kids, house, shared bank accounts, etc there is still a lot of "we" in my thinking. I definitely try to approach anything that affects both of us or our family as a team, and I think MC does too. But now, I'm part of another "we" with TGIB. It's been complicated trying to balance what's best for me and MC versus what's best for me and TGIB. They aren't always the same thing, but thankfully they are both VERY supportive of my relationship with the other and everyone tries to do their best to find a middle ground. TGIB, especially, is still working on the idea of being part of a team and working together (he has a history of dysfunctional relationships, starting with his family).
Maybe eventually I'll get to a point where I'm thinking more in terms of solely what I need for myself, but especially with small children, that time is not now!
Hi Cleo :)
You know... I think it really comes down to personal preference and I loved reading your current thoughts and feelings on it.
I don't believe that poly is a more enlightened way of life (though it can be a catalyst for becoming a more developed person)... I believe that some people feel more fulfilled as single people, in mono relationships, closed poly, open poly, or whatever else in-between.
However, I don't believe in the ownership that can come from from monogamy. I'm not into things being forbidden or off-limits. Honestly, I think people should be able to act how they want to act.
But... 'want' is a complicated term.
I can 'want' to strip the clothes off this sexy teacher who keeps making eyes at me across my toddler's music class ;) It doesn't mean I have to. Firstly, it might be a tad inappropriate. But, let's say I want to make a move now that my toddler has stopped going to that class. If my girlfriend wanted me to take it slow, or do certain small things to increase her comfort for a while, I would have two 'wants'..... the 'want' of stripping this sexy woman... and the 'want' of having my girlfriend remain my girlfriend.
So where does couple-centric start and end? Am I a 'we' because I 'want' to consider her? Or am I an 'I' because 'I' make whatever decision I make; even if that decision takes her opinions into account?
Maybe it partly comes down to genetic makeup, or developmental history and past-experience? Maybe individual needs to be in a couple are still individual.
For example, looking at my girlfriend (oh shit, I'm being coupley... hahaha ;) )... she dates more and is a little bit more focused on her personal immediate 'wants' than I am. They drive her more. Though, she is still largely focused on the couple-centric 'want' and her current discovery is how to balance her genuine 'want' for coupledom and her 'want' for freedom. She didn't have a great deal of love in her childhood and seeks the attention of multiple people in abundance. She is also very capable of loving multiple people. She hasn't always had the freedom to explore what she wants. So, for her, she's finding herself most fulfilled with two primaries that love and support her (love and support part being fulfilled), who also promote her freedom (freedom part being fulfilled) with other people (need for lots of attention and praise being fulfilled). If she was single, or more individually-focussed, she could fulfill her need for attention and freedom, but would struggle to find the stability and support that she needs. I wonder if that makes sense?
I do agree that poly, for me, is about my relationship with myself... but for me... this currently means learning about myself through the relationships I have. Could be a late twenties thing? Or could be my history, experiences and needs? I don't feel the need for attention from many; but do feel the need for stability and support. I've always been independent and still crave that, whilst still feeling that I have something steady and strong to be part of. Through the type of poly I am living, I am learning to be more secure, worry less, think about how I effect other people and what kind of person I want to be. I've learnt to analyse myself more. I am poly because I don't believe in the ownership that comes with monogamy. I believe in having the choice to act on an attraction if I want to. I believe in many things related to poly. But I don't necessarily 'need' multiple partners.
For me, as an individual, it's currently important to have at least one special person to share my life with. At least, I've met a very, very special person and want to continue having her in my life. She fulfills many of my needs. Not because she's my girlfriend and I need a girlfriend, per se... but because the individual she is seems to make me a better individual. I like having that influence around. Because that personal desire is so strong (to have her in my life), I am happy to compromise to achieve that where necessary. So, my individual need to have this other individual in my life drives my actions.
Perhaps that makes me couple-centric.... or perhaps I am focused on myself.... focused on what *I* want... which is to share my life with this amazing person who helps me discover myself... but still have the potential of others who might have a positive effect on me.
In conclusion... I feel that I am a person, choosing not to be monogamous and one of my relationships is currently a longterm, committed, non-monogamous one that benefits what I feel I need as an individual.
Whooo... complex.... thanks again Cleo, for a great thread!
A lot of great food for thought in all your replies. I am still thinking a lot about the subject and just thought of something else today. Ren and I never had a very 'couple-centric' marriage. We were always very autonomous - lucky enough to always live in a home that was big enough for both to have our own livingroom where we would spend most of our time. Also, we always our separate social lives - I have a lot of friends I like to go out with, Ren is content with staying at home more.
We don't have kids, which means we never had to negotiate the practicalities of who gets to go out when and who has to be home with the kids, or having to schedule enough family time.
In fact, the first year we opened our marriage, was the year we probably spent the most time together ever :) Because we started out with swinging, we were always checking online dating sites together, we were going on dates together, and then we had to talk about everything together, endlessly.
It seems like now, when we both have our separate, committed relationships with other people, we are going back to the model that has always served us so well. I feel like poly has helped me grow and become more independent, confident and strong.
When I came out to my parents recently about poly, I very much focused on the 'we' of my marriage. To soften the blow, I focused on the fact that Ren and I are still very happy together, are not getting a divorce, and that this is something we agreed to do together. I knew this would make it easier for them to understand, and isn't NOT true.
But when I come out to new friends or co workers etc, I will never say 'we have an open marriage', I will say 'I am married, and I also have other relationships' when this is someone who already knows that I'm married. When its someone who doesn't know anything about me, I will just say 'I am in more than one relationship' and when they ask more questions, get into specifics.
Not sure why this is such a big deal for me right now.
I'd have to say that poly has made me think less in terms of "I" than I did before. I'm not more independent now. On the contrary, I have more responsibilities, more obligations. Every choice I make is going to affect more people. I can't behave as a free agent, and I don't think of myself as one. I'm a wife, a girlfriend, a lover, a friend, a sister, etc.
I really feel that poly is about building a family, not about having separate lives with separate people. I don't want to add anyone to our dynamic that can't relax in it. Potentials don't have to want sex or love or independent relationships with other people in the group, but they have to be able to spend time with our poly family as a group and be reasonably comfortable with situations where they aren't the center of attention. Group hangouts are the norm for people in relationships with me, and their partners are always invited.
Poly for me is knowing that I am not the center of everything. I am a part of something beautiful, but just a part. My sense of "we" is not a couple "we" but a family "we".
Our marriage isn't very couple-centric either, but I think that's completely independent of polyamory. We're just both very independent individuals. We're both pretty selfish. It just so happens that one thing that brings me joy is seeing my husband happy, and vice-versa, so that works out well.
I believe there was a phase in there somewhere that we were a little more "we" than "he and I." Perhaps it's something that a lot of people go through, before growing out of? And I totally get how having kids forces that "growing out" stage to include "kids growing up." i.e. it's not uncommon for people to face Empty Nest Syndrome and then be forced to basically re-invent their marriage and their individual selves to accommodate the new found freedom from responsibility?
As it relates to polyamory, I think it could definitely be a "we" stage in dating. Some people aren't ready to deal with their partner going out on their own, dating solo. So dating as a couple is a way to bridge that gap, dip your toes in the water without letting go of the life preserver that is your spouse. Just a thought...
However, that's only one way to approach polyamory, one style of polyamory. Many poly people feel that poly IS about having separate relationships with separate people. A big "we" isn't right for everyone. Some people would rather form multiple separate "we" couples. Others would rather have a more autonomous approach to developing multiple relationships that are not "we" couples.
But I don't understand why you equate autonomy with needing to be the center of attention. I have an autonomous approach to dating because I can't stand the idea of being the sole object of someone's attention; in a traditional "we" couple I would have to be the center of my partner's world.
Autonomy is not the same as being self-centered. Granting my partner(s) complete autonomy is in fact a very unselfish act. It means that they are free to conduct their lives in ways that works best for them, without limits from me.
Nor does being a free agent mean that I have no obligations or that I am obligated only to myself. It's more like being my own primary partner--I still have other partners and other obligations. But my own needs are my responsibility to take care of; I am responsible for my own happiness.
Being a free agent gives me more time for multiple partners, rather than a primary devotion to one partner. And more time for non-romantic obligations, such as taking care of my grandmother, working on my writing, etc.
Just for an example: when I had a boyfriend a few years ago, we were approaching dating from an autonomous standpoint rather than feeling obligated to everything together just because we were a couple. We had a long-distance relationship and we were both writers, and there were frequently writing conventions which we both sometimes attended. But we did not demonstrate that we were a couple at these conventions, because we both wanted to focus on meeting people and discussing our work independently.
Also, because of my other jobs & other obligations I could not attend every convention that my boyfriend attended. One time I chose to take a trip with my aunt instead of going to a convention. I was shocked when the mutual friends I shared with my boyfriend made the assumption that something was wrong with our relationship. Why would I not want to spend every minute with my boyfriend??? (Funny, they never questioned whether I had a problem with the professional aspect of the convention--in fact, once or twice I skipped a convention because I was frustrated with my own writing at the time).
I found it bizarre that there was such a strong expectation that my boyfriend and I ought to be a "we" that did absolutely everything together.
One more thing: I just want to point out that if you ever meet a partner who isn't comfortable with poly family group hangouts, they might just be very introverted or prefer more solitary time. It doesn't mean that they need to be the center of attention.
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