When I was monogamous, I rarely thought about rules within relationships. Other than the standard ‘no cheating’ which is pretty much a given for monogamous relationships – although definitions of cheating may vary – I was happy to go with the flow. Boundaries shifted as each relationship progressed, and much of this was unspoken. However, moving to a non-monogamous set up meant that all this had to change. Everything I’d learnt up to that point about how relationships worked was now pretty much open to discussion. It was like starting again. We had a blank slate with which to build our new idea of what a relationship should be and, along with that, came a set of initial rules.
‘Physical intimacy only’ is sometimes the first rule when opening up. For example; partners can agree to only play together, avoid penetration, only play with women, or only at parties. Everyone decides what they’re comfortable with and that list forms the basis of initial rules. And, yes… one of these rules is often a veto. Having a veto is a way of saying to a someone you love that you are uncomfortable with anything which makes them unhappy, so much so that you would stop what you were doing if they requested it. This is all well and good when everything you are doing outside of your initial relationship is physical, but it takes on a whole new meaning when things get emotional.
Venture into polyamory and rules like this are not always so useful. At the start, it’s pretty easy to say what you’re OK with, but all bets are off once love enters the picture. Love is a wonderful emotion, but an unpredictable one which really doesn’t like to play by the rules. These days, I just can’t see a situation where a veto would be used. Just as you cannot tell a dear friend who is madly in love that you think the person they’re dating is no good for them, you really can’t do that to a partner. You want them to be happy and so, if this other person makes them happy, you end up doing everything else you can think of to avoid using a veto. There is always a way around it, and so the veto ends up simply being a safety net for those who are starting out.
Relationship rules are a bit like the assembly instructions for flat packed furniture. Once you’ve built the thing and you know it’s sturdy, you don’t keep those instructions any more, do you? You don’t need them, because they were only useful when you were starting from scratch. The thing with default monogamous relationships is that many people assume that they only need these instructions once ever, instead of once at the start of every relationship. Each time you find someone new, you have to build things up to that point where you can throw away the rule book and trust that everything’s sturdy. Re-negotiating boundaries as and when needed is far more satisfactory than drawing up a strict set of rules. It just takes a while to get there.
Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers – ALBJ, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, One Sub’s Mission, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.
“Relationship rules are a bit like the assembly instructions for flat packed furniture…” <-- This! Yes! That's an excellent analogy in a fantastically clear post. One to bookmark and bring out to help others with this problem in the future, methinks 🙂 x
So far we seem to be in the first stages of exploration. Physical play only etc…. I have no idea where this will lead us but I grateful that I have the opportunity to find out. We have been married nearly a year and so everything is still fairly new but I think the fact that we have a strong D/s relationship means we are good when it comes to negotiating, communicating and exploring boundaries.
This is a great post… and I love the flat pack analogy. You are so right about that.
A lot that is written about rules in polyamory is about how rules are bad or rules are good, and I like the way you've explained how both can be right at different times.
One thing though: how much of this relationship assembly is about building the relationship, and how much is about building our own approach to relationships in general as our comfort with non-monogamy settles in?
I guess your approach to relationships changes with every experience you have – monogamous or not. However, I don't think that anything I have built with Topper is relevant to any other relationship I enter into, because that will be different. My approach to relationships is always haphazard at the start. I know what I don't want, but often only when I encounter it!