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Old 09-24-2014, 02:22 AM
SuddenlyStoneElf SuddenlyStoneElf is offline
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: Boulder, CO, USA
Posts: 36
Default Unequal relationships / hierarchies (proportion instead of equality)

Hi everyone,

I have been pondering one of the general messages I've been getting from this forum: "it's not OK to have an unequal relationship as everyone matters equally".

Briefly put I have a problem logically seeing how this can be true, under the assumption that poly "rules" are supposed to be decided and agreed upon by / with *everyone involved*.

This means, if a mono couple opens up to poly where 1 partner now has 2, and this couple decides off the bat that to maintain the happiness of *both* elements of the couple, they will put each other first... this arrangement has to be discussed with any newcomer.

And if any of the three are no longer happy with the arrangement, for example in the case of the newcomer not having enough time with their partner, it has to be rediscussed with everyone involved.

Yet it seems as soon as this is rediscussed, any changes are now ironclad and supersede the previous agreement, which I am supposing was made most likely to ward against NRE weirdness.

My problem comes in where the 2nd element of the previous "couple" realizes they made a mistake renegotiating.

Now they are pretty much screwed and have to accept the new arrangement. Basically this has removed, in some capacity, their ability to say "Honey I made a mistake here, I care about you, please come back so we can work on us some more". By then, the other partner is involved with someone else and that "someone" would get the short end of the stick. I admit that sucks for them, too.

Logically speaking (only, for now--emotions are another deal), I would *never* accept to renegotiate an agreement to give another partner more space because if a mistake is made, one of the 3 people ends up very freaking unhappy!

I may care for the happiness of my partner, but if mine is also to be equally as important and I foresee a situation like the above, I would be really freaking crazy to put my couple at risk by accepting that my partner should have an "equal" partnership to ours with another person.

Because then it stops being equal to me+my partner (See below)! It stops taking into account the nature of our relationship--just because someone else comes along? How is that even sane?

Why does it *have* to be OK for my partner to redefine my life as they redefine theirs?? It should be their choice, sure--but somewhere they have to realize they're impacting their previous partner. And somehow they should not have to care about this? Talk about being selfish.

Life is decided by the order of events just as much as the people we meet--if I had met X before Y, I would have had different experiences that would have shaped me like such, but I didn't, I met Y first. This happens to everyone. Why is it discounted as unimportant in poly?

I feel it cheapens what a relationship is, on both sides--both the old and the new partner get a bad deal.

I feel it would be disrespectful to me AND to my husband to think "Sure honey, your brand-new shiny 3-month-old relationship is equal / the same as the 3/5/7+ years of hard work we've put on our relationship, and it's OK of you to see her as much as the partner you lived through all this with."

Heck no, it's not OK. Heck no, they are not the same.

They are not the same people. There has not been the same amount of experience on either end. They have not overcome an "equal" amount of trials, they haven't gotten to know each other as well, they haven't gotten to share the burdens AND the happinesses of being together.

And as such the idea that they would magically "require" equal splitting is preposterous.

Maybe I'm being too sharp here but it only makes sense to split equally once the new relationship has had time to mature. And given how the old one still exists, fudge, both need proportional amounts of time to stay healthy.

Maybe your proportions won't depend on time, but on depth--at least that's what I would hope for mine. Maybe you get to decide. But ARRRRRRRGH, I wish I could stop reading about "equality" so much.

Equality does not allow for difference, and difference is freaking precious, no? Isn't that one of the foundations of poly?

I feel this whole ideal of "equality" is just another way of making poly "shinier" than anything else. It's the wrong word and it gives a wrong impression!

Comments!? (If I have made you mad, please state that instead of insulting me or being passive-aggressive, thanks!!!!!
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Old 09-24-2014, 02:34 AM
WhatHappened WhatHappened is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 978

The problem is not so much 'equality,' as couple privilege...at least, I'm guessing, based on what you're saying, and not knowing for sure which comments or threads you are referencing.

Also, I'm not sure anyone here thinks that a girlfriend of 3 months should be equal to a wife of 10 years. The issue arises when we look down the road and have to ask at what point does the girlfriend get anything like a real relationship or the ability to make her own decisions about 'her' relationship, or is she expected to forever live by the rules two other people have made for her? What if we're talking about a wife of 10 years, and a girlfriend of 9?

Again, I think a lot of it comes back not so much to 'equality,' as to respect, realizing that outside person is a person, too, and avoiding couple privilege.
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Old 09-24-2014, 02:52 AM
Vinccenzo Vinccenzo is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 373

Yeah, lofty and pretend enlightened as anyone (in NRE) might like to think they are, even on the job, seniority should count for a lot. They KNOW you. The good, bad, and all in between and love you anyway.
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Old 09-24-2014, 04:22 AM
Candiedlove Candiedlove is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 272

I don't know that many poly folk that insist on "equality." "Fairness," yes.

If I'm the girlfriend of 3 years? I do expect to be more or less on the same level (assuming my partner and I have developed a relationship to the fullest extent) as the wife/husband. Most relationships fully mature in around 2 years (if not sooner).

I've always put two years as the evaluation point. If we haven't gotten to the point where we want to commit by then, I move on. I don't have time to waste on fruitless relationships.

I also expect my time to be treated just as importantly as the previous relationship. After all, when you and your husband first started dating, I'm sure he was considerate of your time and put that time as priority. I would expect the same from him (if you're having a bad day, and he and I have a date, you cannot cancel HIS date). I wouldn't expect as much time or depth of feelings of course, but than again I wouldn't WANT that much time, nor have those feelings for him off the bat.

I hope that makes sense.
Newly poly, but never monogamous

The "polyship":

Me 28F,
Sam 39M, my partner
Jen 38F, Sam's fwb & my friend

The former players:
Candi 41F, Sam's and my fwb/emphasis on the "f"/light on the "b"
Felycia 29F, Sam's and my fwb?/potential girlfriend
Leana 29F, Sam's and my girlfriend
Charlene, Sam's ex-wife
Paul, Charlene's boyfriend
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Old 09-24-2014, 07:18 AM
MightyMax MightyMax is offline
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 373

When I meet someone new, I outline to them what responsibilities and commitments I have already so they have some idea of how avaliable I am for them. I don't mean emotional availability, I mean physically avaliable. I let them know how often I'd be able to see them as well as maintain the other things I want in my life. I let them know, over time, how I can mesh and merge some things like taking a date to a friend's party.

For the most part, I've outlined what I can offer and I've found people who are happy with what I can give them. We've stayed under those initial terms and whilst our feelings for one another blossom, we haven't really changed how much we see each other or our level of entanglement. Sometimes though, feelings change, and what you can offer each other as things stand isn't enough. Both of you want more from each other and want to give more to each other. This is where things can become difficult.

What has happened before is that I've met someone who isn't compatible with my availability, and because I really want that person in my life, I've made sacrifices to make sure that we can achieve a sense of fulfilment from one another. I've given up hobbies, seen less of friends and family and I've even explained to other partners that I need to see them less in order to have what I want with someone else. Some of them have not been happy with that and we have split up. Others have empathised with our growing feelings for each other and think it's only natural that we'd want to spend more time together and share more of our lives. Some of my best partners have really thrived on compersion and they've tried to facilitate that as best as possible. They know it doesn't mean I feel less for them, I'm just also bonding with someone else.

Either way, if we didn't split or if they didn't allow me to do what I needed to do with other people and kept reminding me of what I promised at a time that I didn't have these feelings for this person, I'd be left very resentful.
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Old 09-24-2014, 10:33 AM
KC43 KC43 is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 2,030

Fair and equal are not always the same thing.

Hubby and I have been together since 2008. We married in spring 2010. We have a household together. We've been raising my kids from my first marriage. Hubby financially supports my children and me, because I'm unable to work for a number of reasons, some related to my own health and some related to my kids' needs. He's the one who's here to pick up the pieces if my 19-year-old or I has a panic attack or gets hit by a PTSD trigger.

Because of that, *at this point* at least, I believe he does deserve some considerations and input that S2, who I've only been seeing for two and a half months and who doesn't live with me, does not get. And even though Guy and I were together for a year and a half, he didn't have the same considerations and privileges as Hubby, partly because it was a newer relationship and mostly because it was primarily a long-distance relationship.

To me, being fair doesn't necessarily mean everyone involved gets *equal* time and consideration. It means each person is treated according to their needs and, sometimes, in proportion to the extent of their involvement in each other's life, as the original poster said.

But also, being fair *does* mean, to me, that all rules and agreements are negotiable. Hubby and I used to have a long list of rules, mainly because this journey started for us as an open marriage and we chose to take steps to protect the marriage above any connections with others. But one of our rules, right from the start, was "Nothing is set in stone; we can always renegotiate." Over time, as we made the transition from an open marriage to me having a polyamorous situation while Hubby returned to monogamy/sexual exclusivity with me, some rules have been thrown out the window entirely, some have been either completely changed or somewhat modified, and some have been discussed with the result that Hubby and I agreed to continue the rule as originally developed. And some haven't needed to be discussed yet.

Bear in mind that renegotiating doesn't necessarily mean giving in on every point your partner wants changed. You might compromise somewhere in the middle between the existing rule and what your partner wants. You might suggest a change to a rule, and your partner can outright refuse.

Renegotiating means hearing each other's changing wants and needs, and determining whether changes are warranted, and if so, how much of a change. Since life and relationships are in a constant state of growth and change, in my opinion rules and agreements should be as well. But that doesn't mean that every rule has to be changed for the benefit of one partner and their newer partner. It just means you should be open to hearing each other and at least *considering* changes, even if those changed aren't ultimately made.

But... also bear in mind that a couple opening things up so that one or both can have additional relationships is not the only model of polyamory. In other models, full equality might be not only possible but preferable.
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Old 09-24-2014, 11:16 AM
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Dagferi Dagferi is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 1,927

"Over-thinking ruins you. Ruins the situation, twists things around, makes you worry and just makes everything much worse than it actually is."

Stop worrying about equal fair and do what is right. Good relationships can handle ebb and flow. When you start trying to confine them to rigid structures is when things explode.
40 something straight female
Married in the eyes of the government to Butch since 2001...
Murf my monogamous second husband has been with me since May of 2012.
In a V relationship with an average 50/50 split of time between my two husbands.
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Old 09-24-2014, 03:59 PM
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LovingRadiance LovingRadiance is offline
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 5,510

I think it's more functional to consider things in terms of "how long has someone been putting in an effort".

So for example; I have close friends who have more "say so" in my life than a new lover.
Because they have been through the shit with me over the past 20 years. They know me, they know my weaknesses, they've proven their loyalty to me and to my family. They have more "seniority". Someone I just met-simply hasn't had the time to build such bonds yet. They COULD at some point be that close with that much leverage in my decisions. But it isn't going to happen JUST BECAUSE they are sexually involved with me.

This actually was true for my husband (to his great consternation) for a long time. I had friends who I KNEW I could count on to consider MY needs from a broader perspective. Early on he had some issues with the fact that my friends had more privileges, more say-so, more authority in my life and with my kids than he did.
He has reached a point now where he has those things. But he had to EARN it with time put in. JUST LIKE THEY DID.

A new person-regardless of if it's a friend, a poly dynamic lover or mono lover; has to earn their privileges with me by proving themselves over time. The timeline isn't precise, but it's pretty common that once they have put in 5-7 years of being HEAVILY involved in my life, they are pretty well immersed and have equality to all those who already had come before them. There are exceptions. Sometimes people don't ever get to that point because they just aren't responsible, dependable, reliable, enough. Other people move somewhat more quickly.
But the basic concept remains the same.

They ARE equal-in that they have to earn their way in just like everyone else.
They are NOT given the extra privilege of being able to "jump the gun" and become an equal party in the dynamic without putting in the time and effort that each other person involved has had to put in.
"Love As Thou Wilt"
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Old 09-24-2014, 04:17 PM
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nycindie nycindie is offline
Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: The Big Apple
Posts: 10,083

I am a solo polyamorist with no desire for a primary-type partnership. If I want to get involved with someone, especially a man who is married or partnered, I let him know what my personal boundaries are. I don't expect nor demand to be treated equally as anyone else he gets involved with. In fact, beyond using condoms, I don't give a shit what he does or says with other people (so it always puzzles me when people get upset after learning that their spouse/partner/bf/gf has told another partner they love them. What does it matter?). His other relationships are none of my business, nor are my other relationships his business, but I do expect that the relationship I would have with him be given as much respect, honesty, and consideration as any other human being deserves. For me, it isn't about comparison to other partners - it's about decency, maturity, and treating people right.

I also ask what rules he and his wife/partner have that would affect me. If coming together means that anyone's rules or boundaries would need adjusting, we would have to talk about it - but I am not about to get into something where I would be the only one to compromise. If a metamour is unyielding and expects me to do all the bending and flexing so she can convince herself she is in control, or if any of my personal boundaries will not even be considered, I would not simply get involved with the guy. I would rather walk away than put up with any dismissal of my concerns.

For example, my main boundary is that I feel respected in a relationship. They can't just say they respect me, I need to see and feel that I am. One of the most disrespectful rules that a couple will have with each other, in my opinion, is veto power. So I will absolutely not get involved with anyone who allows their wife/partner a say in who he gets involved with or if he can continue seeing me. Another boundary of mine is that my relationships with someone are managed only by me and the person I am in relationship with. In other words, I will not tolerate a metamour dictating what sexual acts I can do with this person, how emotionally involved I can be, etc. I have no problem with working around schedules to handle family needs and whatnot, or having a day or two a week when I cannot text or call, but if I see a lot of cancellations of dates with me happening due to requests from a metamour of mine, that is a red flag that indicates possible manipulation on her part of my relationship.

I am older, in my fifties, so I probably wouldn't be hooking up with anyone who is part of a couple with children at home and all kinds of issues around being new at poly. I would rather avoid people who aren't grounded and together enough to accept that having multiple lovers means letting go of a certain amount of control over what a partner does.

That all being said, I could get involved with someone that looks good on paper, such as being someone I am hot for and respects my boundaries, etc., but if at some point he dumps me, well, I might not ever know the reason and there is nothing I can do about getting dumped. There is always the chance of getting hurt when one takes on the risk of loving someone. What do you do? Learn from the situation and move on.

My personal criteria for whether a relationship is working, fulfilling, and satisfying to me, is the following:

I am respected,
I feel valued and appreciated,
I am heard and acknowledged when I express myself,
I feel safe and free to be myself,
I can share my affection in a way that works for me,
I look forward to being with the person, and
there is way more fun, caring, and quality time when we are together than "hard work" and the processing of "issues."

I am not someone who needs to be in contact or see a lover every single day, and I feel that the frequency of seeing someone can fluctuate, but hopefully we can get together enough to allow for development of all the points above. Do I ask myself whether or not someone is giving me the same kinds of time, love, and attention he gives anyone else? No. The important thing, to me, is that my relationships meet my standards and no one else's.
The world opens up... when you do.

"Oh, oh, can't you see? Love is the drug for me." ~Bryan Ferry
"Love and the self are one . . ." ~Leo Buscaglia

Click here for a Solo Poly view on hierarchical relationships
Click here to find out why the Polyamorous Misanthrope is feeling disgusted.

Last edited by nycindie; 09-25-2014 at 06:37 AM.
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Old 09-24-2014, 06:12 PM
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A2Poly A2Poly is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 319

Originally Posted by KC43 View Post
Fair and equal are not always the same thing.


Renegotiating means hearing each other's changing wants and needs, and determining whether changes are warranted, and if so, how much of a change. Since life and relationships are in a constant state of growth and change, in my opinion rules and agreements should be as well.

Renegotiating isn't giving in to everything the other person/people want. It means that something has changed. Something fundamental enough that it requires changing existing agreements. You probably can't go back to exactly what you negotiated away from last time, because you aren't the only person who has learned new things about themselves since the agreement changed. But that doesn't mean that the new agreement won't fulfill the needs you currently have.

Things are changing hard and FAST for me in my relationships right now. Things that felt "iron clad" two weeks ago are now in the process of being renegotiated. And will be renegotiated again in the next few weeks when we have learned a bit more about how we work together.

Change is hard. And scary. And having to admit that you made an error of judgement about what you could (or couldn't) handle is also hard because it points out to ourselves that we DON'T know ourselves as well as we thought. But it isn't impossible to cope with. The only solution is honesty and open communication. Again.
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autonomy, balance, couple privilege, egalitarian poly, equal treatment, equality, fairness, managing relationships, primary/secondary, privilege, respect

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