Minor edits here. I think my space bar was broken when I wrote this because SO MANY extra spaces. Sadly, Matt Bullen stopped writing his blog (or possibly moved it without a forwarding address) a few years ago, but you can still find him on Facebook and Twitter if you look. Revised 2/10/2017.
Giving a shout out to Matt Bullen, who recently started the blog “Matt Bullen: Polyamory Next Door.” In addition to a great sense of humor and enjoyable writing style, Matt put up a post last month that gave me an insight into a practical polyam problem that never occurred to me (and probably should have, given past experiences.)
Y’see, Matt had a problem a little while back. He was trying to decide whether or not to shave, knowing that one of his partners likes him shaved, and the other likes him scruffy. Now, I’ve never been in Matt’s position, cause these days I tend to have an attitude of ‘I am who I am, and if you don’t like it, there’s the door.’ But I have been the partner in this kind of situation – and with questions a lot more volatile than whether or not the guy I was with should take a razor to his beard.
This kind of situation can range from the humorous (ok, if I just shave half my face, A can sit on the left, and B can sit on the right and they’ll both be happy, right?) to the destructive (A wants to come with me on my business trip, but B doesn’t want him to go and no matter what I do one of them will be pissed at me!)
Stuck in the Middle?
Obviously, a lot of these situations you will have your own opinion on. Hell, I’m pretty sure that Matt has an opinion as to whether to shave or not. But he wants to do what will make his partners happy. Which makes him a good guy to be in a relationship with, and puts him in a tough position. I doubt he would be that accommodating in a discussion of whether or not they should move to . . . oh, I don’t know, Zimbabwe. Probably have some pretty damn firm opinions on that one.
Before we get into navigating conflicting partner preferences, I’m going to break what some people say is a cardinal rule of polyamory. Sometimes, negotiation and compromise are not the answer.
It’s about boundaries. It’s one thing to negotiate your relationship: how much time to spend together, sleeping arrangements, etc. But you do not give up your identity when you become a part of a relationship. Unless you have negotiated a power exchange as part of your relationship (and often even then), some things are your decisions.
What you wear, your friends, your hobbies, how you style your hair, whether or not you shave, and a host of other things should not be things your partners feel like they should have a say over. Sure, they can express a preference. If it’s something you don’t have a strong opinion on (or even if it is) you may choose to do what they prefer because you want to make them happy. But that is your choice and not something they should ever feel they have a right to dictate. (Again, some power exchange relationships excepted.)
That said, whether it is an issue that your partners do have a legitimate say in or a situation where you want to make them happy, navigating mutually exclusive preferences can be a major mess. Especially when you factor in that you have to keep yourself happy too.
A few thoughts:
Remember yourself – whether it’s a move across the country or what to wear for a night out, don’t focus too much on making your partners happy. If you let your own preferences get overlooked, all you will do is make yourself miserable.
Bow out – alternately, if you really don’t have an opinion, bow out of the discussion, and let them sort it out.
Find a third way – while this isn’t always possible, thinking outside the box can come up with a lot more options than we tend to realize. For instance, Matt could have decided to grow a goatee. They can both come with you on the business trip. You can use Dr. Doolittle’s trick for deciding where to go on vacation (close your eyes and point to a spot on the map).
Stop trying to make everyone happy – sometimes, it isn’t possible to make everyone happy. When that happens, work out the best solution possible, and trust that your partners are grown up enough to recognize that sometimes you have to give in gracefully.
Not sure how much help any of this is. (I get tired of writing about potential problems and not being able to offer real solutions to them, but this is the real world and not fairy tale land, and most problems just don’t have neatly packaged solutions.)
For those of you on the Atlantic Coast, I hope you are tucked away safe and come through Irene’s visit without any major problems. I’m heading to bed. Night all.