Moving in Together: Social Dynamics

CW: Most anarchists will not like this post. Deal with it.

Especially in the US, we tend to fetishize freedom and equality. We congratulate ourselves on how egalitarian our society is, get really het up at any suggestions that we are not the freest people on Earth—and then we go and cheer the Patriot Act. God bless America because we surely need it.

I bring this up for a reason, and not because I am taking this blog political.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the US our fetishization of freedom and equality leads to many, many attempts to erase hierarchy. Now, I am generally in favor of doing away with hierarchies, but humans are good at self-delusion. Insisting that we can get rid of all hierarchies simply by declaring everyone is equal is like insisting that we can get rid of racism by being colorblind. It don’t work that way.

Human beings are social animals. And like all social animals, we form hierarchies. Not just the big obvious hierarchies like government and corporations where the elite rule over the plebes. Every time you get two or more people together, they will establish an unspoken social hierarchy.

Scientists who study social behavior say that human social interaction is a mix of troop behavior, similar to other primates, and pack behavior, similar to wolves and dogs. Given the way humans and dogs have evolved together over a couple thousand years, the mix actually makes a lot of sense.

But what does this have to do with moving in together?

Everything. When your and your poly partners get a home together you are creating a new social unit, and that new social unit will evolve a new hierarchy.

No, not a poly hierarchy of primaries and secondaries. A social hierarchy. The social hierarchy is usually based on a complex combination of factors I will short hand to “assertiveness of personality.” However someone who is skilled in playing social games can gain prominence over others who on the surface appear to be more dominant (not in the BDSM sense, though there can be overlap).

The social hierarchy of a group can be static, especially if you and you poly-partners are widely varying in how assertive you are. In a group where members are close together in assertiveness and trust/like/respect each other, the hierarchy can shift on a daily basis, with one person taking the lead and then another.

How can this affect your polycule?

Last week I talked about schedules and life patterns. Very often, the preferred schedule and patterns of the socially dominant member of a group will get precedence over other group members. Someone who is less assertive, less socially dominant, may have their schedule destroyed without anyone realizing it because their “voice” in decisions is smaller. Not because people are deliberately ignoring them, but because we (humans) automatically give less weight to the words of people at the bottom of the social heap and more weight to the words of people at the top of the heap.

I do not care how egalitarian you think you are, I do not care if you are a flag-waving, card-carrying, tattooed-on-your-genitals anarchist. You cannot undo this basic aspect of human nature. Deal with it.

These automatic social hierarchies can slide by unnoticed if they work well, and be a disaster if they don’t. And if you aren’t aware of what is going on, the disaster can sneak up on you and leave your relationship in a billion pieces.

The Husband Swap, which I reviewed earlier this month, contains a beautiful example of the way a socially dominant person can take control of a relationship, have everyone dancing to her tune, nearly destroy a less socially dominant member viewed as a rival, and have everyone blaming her victim for the destruction of the relationship.

For a less extreme but still painful example, in my first triad, Partner B and I were very assertive, constantly jockeying for control of the relationship. My Partner A was very passive. Because he was socially passive, he rarely spoke up about things that were bothering him. When he did say something, the fact that it “obviously” wasn’t a problem to Partner B and I, combined with Partner A’s inability/unwillingness to stand up to us meant that Partner A’s problems were usually dismissed and glossed over, and so remained a constantly simmering source of tension, unhappiness and resentment in the heart of our relationship. While it didn’t destroy our relationship outright, it did directly contribute to our unraveling slowly over a number of years.

How do you deal with it?

First, by being aware of it. Learn to pay attention to the subtle clues as to who is socially in control. Who always drives (if they want to)? Who always gets stuck in the back seat? Who strides into the room ahead of everyone else, and who holds back to let everyone go ahead of them? Who takes control of the conversation and who only speaks up when asked for their opinion?

When you learn to see the social dynamics going on around you, you can also catch the power-players who are deliberately or maliciously using those social dynamics to manipulate and twist things to their way.

You also learn to recognize who is not being heard, and who is disproportionately “loud.”

Once you have done this, you can create a safe space in your home for those who are on the bottom of the social hierarchy to talk about their feelings and their problems. Those who are on top of the social hierarchy can be aware of the power they wield in the home and can be careful not to overwhelm or overwrite the voices of others. You can be aware of when the status quo is shifting, and why. And you can catch many problems before they start. Or at least, before they become destructive.

This is nearly twice as long as most of my posts, and I’ve barely touched on this very complicated topic. Consider this an introduction and a warning: be aware and communicate, damn it.

For a surprisingly good introduction to pack-based social dynamics, check out Patty Brigg‘s Mercy Thompson series. I’m still looking for a good fiction/story-based introduction to troop-based dynamics.

 

The Polyamory on Purpose Patreon is holding steady at $55/month, so there will be no third Wednesday post this month. To get three Wednesday posts in March, and every month, please become a Patron and help me reach $65/month.

 

(Recent research may have changed the understanding of just how human social dynamics work and how they compare with social dynamics of other animal species. The fact of social dynamics remains.)

Moving in Together: Schedules and Patterns

Almost everyone’s life is built around schedules and patterns. Some patterns are as simple as going food shopping every Tuesday and doing the cleaning on Thursday. Others need by-the-minute calendars to keep track of what is going on when.

When a poly family moves in together everyone’s patterns and schedules are going to be disrupted.  The goal is for this disruption to allow a settling in period for everyone to evolve new patterns and schedules that work for everyone.

As always, communication is your watchword. Your poly partners will know part of your patterns and schedules, but not all of them. You need to keep them informed and stay informed.

Google calendar has long been a go-to for polycules to keep their schedules running smoothly, but somethings Google can’t help with.

Let’s look at food shopping. Carla does her food shopping on Sunday. This way it doesn’t interfere with her work week. Tomas has an irregular schedule and usually just picks up the next day’s food on his way home from work. Dani has a monthly meal schedule and goes shopping twice a month to get everything they need for their meals.

All of them know they have different ways of handling meals before they move in together–but how will they handle food shopping?

Of course, you could always just share the shower. Image copyright Toni Bremmer

What about bathrooms? If the three of them get a place with only one bathroom, and both Dani and Carla prefer to take showers first thing in the morning, they are going to have some conflicts. Maybe Tomas likes a late night shower–great! He has plenty of hot water and he and his partners are not in conflict. But what if the sound of the shower and the water running through the pipes keeps Carla awake?

I’m an early riser. By preference, I’m up before 6, and lately I’ve been getting up before 5. This lets me wake up, exercise and get an hour or so of work in before the kid gets up and I need to turn into Super-Mom. With both Michael and the kid being sound sleepers, this has worked the past few years (well, except for the part where Michael is a night owl and excitable video gamer. Getting up at 5 doesn’t work when I’m getting woken up at 2 am by “Noooooo! Damn it!” as a creeper destroys the latest Minecraft project. We eventually sorted that problem out).

Well, what happens when we start living with Hunter in a few weeks? Hunter isn’t the sound sleeper Michael is. What if, no matter how careful I am, I end up waking him up when I move around in the early morning?

These kinds of things happen when two people move in together. When three or more people move in together, it’s just compounded. If possible, discuss as much of this ahead of time as you can. And if you can’t, discuss it as you go, keep the communication flowing after the move so you can work out new patterns and schedules that work for everyone.

A warning for polycules where an individual is moving in with an established relationship:

Basic social dynamics, when two or more people have lived in a household together, and someone starts to live with them—whether the new person is moving into an existing home or they are all getting a new home together—the patterns of the established household will tend to have more “weight” behind them. It is very important for the people in the established household to be considerate of the new person and the possible need to adapt their routines and habits. It is equally important for the new person to speak up if they feel they are being forced into patterns and schedules that do not work for them.

Moving in Together: Personal Space

This may be a personal quirk, but I firmly believe everyone needs some personal space, a spot in their home that is “theirs.” Much like Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” but it may actually be a chair, a spot on the porch, a corner of the attic, or any place else that works. Unsurprisingly, introverts seem to place more importance on having personal space than extroverts, but I’ve known many an extrovert who had their favorite chair to curl up in while they talked on the phone, an god help the person who was sitting that chair when the extrovert wanted to call their best friend.

I don’t fully understand the psychological importance of having a personal space. I expect that this need is at least partly cultural, and people who grow up in more communal cultures will experience personal space very differently from those of us in the very individualistic US. I do distinctly remember reading a New Yorker discussing the way everyone in NYC public transit so pointedly ignores each other and never even says hello—a practice that many newcomers to the city see as rude. In crowded New York City, this “ignoring” each other is actually a way to create some psychological privacy, in a place where physical privacy can be near-impossible.

In any case, when polyfolk move in together, everyone will sooner or later lay unofficial claim to a spot in the home as “theirs”. if you are moving into an entirely new home together, this is usually a fairly smooth and unconscious process. Denice gravitates towards the sunny spot in the living room where she feels most comfortable, while Dave finds himself spending a lot of time at the kitchen table, and Danny (and Danny’s iPhone) put down roots in the office.

Of course, Dave’s personal space also being the kitchen table can cause conflict between Dave’s need for whatever he uses the table for and the rest of the family using the table for cooking and meals. This kind of thing will just need to be negotiated as it comes up.

On the other hand, if Danny is moving into a home that Dave and Denice have lived in for five years, Danny may have trouble finding a spot. Maybe Dave and Denice have put every corner for their home to use. Maybe Danny feels like he’s intruding if they pick a spot as “theirs,” even an other-wise unused spot. Maybe Danny gravitates towards the spot that Denice’s best friend always sits in.

Normally, tis kind of thing will sort itself out naturally. If it doesn’t, then don’t be afraid to sit down together and talk about it.

If one of your poly partners is having trouble finding a spot to be “theirs,” I would consider that a sign that they aren’t feeling comfortable/welcome/at home. Humans are creatures of habit. We like having our own little “nests” to come back to. So if you need a space and haven’t found one, don’t be afraid to talk with your partners about it. It may be a sign of deeper problems in the relationship or it may just mean that you need to rearrange the living room furniture so that one comfy chair catches the afternoon sun.

Polyfolk Moving In Together: Should you get a new home?

As I said in my last regular post, I’m going to be writing a series on polyfolk moving in together. To start us off, let’s take a look at where your polycule is going to live.

Generally one of two things happen when a polycule takes the step of moving in together. Either everyone moves out of their current home and gets a new home together, or part of the polycule keeps their home and everyone else moves in with them.

Both options work, and both have their challenges. In short:

  • If someone has a home big enough to fit everyone comfortably
  • If people can move into an existing home without creating feelings of intrusion
  • If money and resources aren’t available to get a new home

Then everyone moving into the current home of a polycule member will work.

  • If no one has a home big enough to fit everyone comfortably
  • If feelings of intrusion/invasion/possessiveness will be problem when a new person moves into an existing home
  • If money and resources are available to get a new home

Then you are better off finding a new place you can all make into a home together.

Obviously, this isn’t hard-and-fast. Irene may worry about being too possessive of “her” space for other polycule members to move into her home smoothly, and there may not be enough money to get a new place.

Or everything may be perfect for the polycule to move into Charles and Diane’s home–more than large enough now that the kids have moved out and no worries that having Ann and Ronald move in will feel like an intrusion, or that Ann and Ronald will feel somehow like it isn’t “really” their home. But between them they have plenty saved for a security deposit on a good sized apartment closer to the city.

Ultimately, it is up to you and your polycule what will work for you. While we most often hear about a third moving in with an existing couple, every polycule’s situation is different. I’ve known triads to form from three single people and get a new home together, quads from two couples that merge their households, and giant open-floor commune-homes for several dozen polyfolk, even a couple of dedicated solo-polies getting a place together as roommates to save on rent and utilities.

And just because two polycules are both made up of three people doesn’t mean they have the same needs, resources, or desires in a home. The big thing to remember is unless life is forcing your hand (as does happen sometimes) DON’T RUSH.

Yes, NRE is urging you move in together IMMEDIATELY, and it would be so awesome and a nice boost to your finances. But take the time to find the situation that will work best for you and your partners. If you can’t create that situation immediately–if, for instance, you would feel most comfortable getting a new place together and can’t afford it right now–you might be better off waiting and saving money for a time rather than moving into an existing home as a second choice.

From “Yours and Mine” to “Yours and Yours and Mine”

I haven’t talked about it much, but I have a new boyfriend, who for privacy reasons I’ll call Hunter. Hunter and I have known each other for a while, but our romantic and relationship is new.  In spite of the newness, we have clicked really well, and Hunter spent most of the last few weeks of November with with me and my family.

(Life has gotten crazy since then, and we’re in temp housing where Hunter can’t visit, but we hope to have our own place again by early February.)

Anyway, Hunter spent several nights in November sleeping on the floor of our bedroom. Not because I or Michael wanted to make him sleep on the floor, but because we didn’t have anything else to offer, and he said he’d rather sleep on the floor at our place than go home alone. I didn’t argue very hard.

Michael doesn’t always sleep well, and eventually, on the nights he stayed up until all hours, Hunter would often curl up in bed with me. We started talking about getting a place together somewhere around the last week of November. A few days after those first discussions, Michael stayed up late again and Hunter and I curled up in bed. However, this night was somewhat different. Instead of staying up most of the night and crashing after Hunter left early in the morning, Michael was ready to go to sleep shortly after midnight. He asked me to wake Hunter up so Michael could use the bed.

Michael has several chronic illnesses affecting his muscles and nerves, and if he were to sleep on the floor, he would be crippled the next day. So leaving aside any discussion of courtesy or fairness or anything like that, asking Hunter or I to move was the only option is Michael was going to sleep, and as our relationships are more hinge than full triad, Hunter and Michael curling up together wasn’t happening.

But something in what Michael said bothered me. He emphasized that he wanted to sleep in his bed. Emphasis his, as in not Hunter’s. Possessiveness of any sort rubs me the wrong way, so it stuck out in my mind. Especially since, if we were going to get a place together sooner or later it was going to be “our” bed.

All of which is a kind of long-winded intro to what I really wanted to talk about today: making to transition from ours to, well, ours.

In our society, couples are encouraged to view their property as joint. It’s our house, our bed, our dining room table, our TV, etc. There are exceptions–in a two-car family it’s my car and your car, and most couples don’t have ‘our’ clothing.

Some couples don’t have ‘our’ bed.

Now, it sometimes happens that a live-in poly relationship forms when 3 or more single-folk come together an explosion of compersion and a triad or quad or group is born. In the ten years I’ve been involved in poly, I’ve heard of it happening once.

Far more often a live-in poly group forms when there is a couple, or triad, and a single, or two couples, or some other combination of highly entwined people living together a while and person/people who are moving into the existing household.

At which point somehow people need to figure out how yours and mine becomes yours and yours and mine. And not just how, but what and when. Are the two cars used by three people now communal property when they used to be claimed by one person each? Is the computer which belonged to a newly entwined person available to the people they have moved in with? Whose bed is it, anyway?

Of course, who lays claim to what in a poly home is only a small part of the adjustments and insanity that occur when a poly-group gets a home together. Life being the mother of inspiration, and me looking at getting a new home for a new triad in the near future, I’m starting a new posting series on the joys and horrors of moving in together. See you in two weeks!

What’s Your GOTH Plan?

Sometimes I think most polyfolk are certifiable optimists. Let’s face it, the dating game is an emotional masochists wet dream, but we keep going back, even when we already have healthy and happy relationships. As some friends of mine would say, “That’s just wacked.”

Now, combine that insane optimism with a good dose of NRE, and the result is that most polyfolk don’t put nearly enough thought in what happened when a relationship ends. For lots of poly relationships, this isn’t a big deal, but when you are living together, it’s a problem.

While information on poly relationships is mostly anecdotal, a few things are generally agreed upon: MFM triads are damn common, quads tend to fall apart, and while there are group relationships that last for decades, they tend to be the exception. (I’m not knocking poly or polyfolk—factor in every dating and sexual relationship mono folk have, and the ones that last for decades are also going to be severely in the minority.)

The GOTH Plan

polyamory plan
I have a plan…

Veteran’s I’ve known have occasionally referred to the GOTH plan. No, it has nothing to do with painting your nails black. And it doesn’t involve ancient barbarians either. It stands for Gone to Hell (or go to hell depending on who you talk to). It’s the plan you need for when Murphy, God, and the enemy all decided the screw with you at the same time and you are completely FUCKED. For the military, pulling out your GOTH plan often means that not only i the mission totally screwed, but your retreat is destroyed and all that is left is to take as big an honor guard as you can manage before the enemy takes you down.

In polyamory, a GOTH plan is for when your “mission”—the plans and direction your relationships were heading in—just can’t work. Where your and your SOs lives are in danger of being completely destroyed, or are being completely destroyed, by the end of something you have all come to rely on.

For this reason, a GOTH plan is mainly for live-in and other extremely entwined relationships.

What Is a Poly GOTH Plan?

Imagine a triad who has lived together for five years. For whatever reason, there is a falling out. The relationships split into a couple and a single, or even three single people. What happens now? At least one person needs to find a new place to live. They need to untangle their finances. They need to figure out who takes what of their joint possessions.

They could go the stereotypical monogamous route of one person gets kicked out to land wherever they can, fighting over everything, bags of possessions sitting on the side of the curb…

Or they could plan ahead.

I met one poly family whose GOTH plan consisted of a savings account with enough money to cover security deposit and three months rent for a local apartment.

For my long term partner, Michael, and I, our GOTH plan is flexible. I could stay with my ex and his wife for a month until I find a plan, or he could go stay with friends of his across the country. I would retain primary physical custody of our son, but Michael would have joint legal custody and visitation. We would work together to get paperwork filed with the Department of Human Services to seperate our households.

GOTH plans are unique to each situation, but here are a few questions you and your SOs might want to discuss:

  • Who will keep the house/apartment?
  • Where will the other(s) go?
  • Can we create a savings account to help someone who leaves the relationship cover expenses until they find their feet?
  • What friends and/or family do we have who will help with a move?
  • How will we divide up our possessions?
  • If there are children, how will custody/visitation be handled? Will partners who aren’t legal parents of children get visitation?

Why You Need a GOTH Plan?

Relationships end. It doesn’t matter how much you love each other, how careful you are, or what promises are made. Sometimes things end. The ending of a relationship is always painful, but when the ending of a relationship is also the end of a way of life, it is devastating.

The biggest danger of a healthy relationship ending is the risk that in the middle of that devastation we turn each other into the enemy. Sitting down together when you are still on the same ‘team’ and planning for how to handle the end of a relationship ahead of time can help you move away from each other without attacking each other.

Having a GOTH plan also protects you from the worst devastation of the end of a way of life. By knowing how the end can be handled, the worst of the fear, uncertainty, and temptation to attack each other can be avoided. The end of the relationship(s) will still be sad and difficult, but you can approach the end as teammates facing a difficult situation together, not as enemies tearing each other apart.

It’s a Plan, Not a Promise

A GOTH plan is a plan. Not a promise, not an agreement, not a contract. Like all plans, it may need to change.

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men. Gang aft agley

Don’t approach your GOTH plan with the idea that it is to be cast in titanium or anything like that.

 

Do you have a GOTH plan? Share it in the comments!

Open Relationships Need House Boundaries, Not House Rules

In my last post, I touched on why I prefer boundaries to rules, and the way boundaries apply to a lot more than just relationship stuff. Today I’d like to look at poly homes, house rules, and the clusterfuck that can be moving in together.

My first triad lived together in a large duplex. We had an extra bedroom in the basement, and when the rent got to be a bit much, we invited some of our friends who were house-hunting to come live with us. A few days after they moved in, my partner and I were in the kitchen when one of our roommates came in and tossed a soda can in the garbage. My partner immediately fished the soda can out of the garbage and said to our roommate, “In this house, we recycle.”

I was mortified. We had invited our friends to live with on the understanding that we would share this home, and the only thing we expected of them was helping with the cleaning and paying their part of the rent. But my partner felt free to dictate to them how they would live while in our home. Apparently, in his mind, the living agreements our triad had come to automatically extended to our roommates, even though those agreements had never even been mentioned to our roommates. Much less discussed and agreed upon.

What really horrified me, however, was when I realized that he and I had done the exact same thing to my other partner, when he entered our lives.

I distinctly remember a discussion when I was pregnant with our first child. We didn’t know who the father was, and didn’t care, but we got on the topic of school and I thoughtlessly told Partner B “We already agreed we would homeschool any children we had.”

Excuse me? What the hell was I thinking? The three of us were planning on raising this child together, but I was imposing on Partner B the agreements Partner A and I had come to on our own.

In hindsight, this is the danger of house or family rules or agreements in an open relationship. When you are open to bringing new people into your relationship and/or into your home, you need to be open to letting them decide how they will live and interact.

Poly partners aren’t pets–they don’t need rules for how to behave.

I could have said to Partner B, “I want any children I have to be homeschooled, this is very important to me and I hope over time you’ll come to agree with me.” I could have said, “Homeschooling my children is a hard limit. If you can’t agree to that, we will not be able to raise our children together.” I could have not said anything then, because the kid wasn’t even fricking born yet. Any of those things would have been fine, because those would have been me stating my boundaries regarding raising my children. My imposing an agreement between Partner A and I on Partner B? Completely not okay. But I wasn’t thinking in terms of boundaries, I was thinking in terms of agreements.

The same applies to the way my partner treated our roommate. He could have said, “There’s a recycling bin out back, would you like me to take this can out for you?” or “It bothers me that you don’t recycle, I’m not comfortable living with someone who just throws away recyclables.” Or if it was that important to him, he could have brought it up when we were discussing having our friends move in, “I like our friends, but I don’t want to live with people who don’t share my values. I’d like to talk with them about their feelings on recycling and the environment before we agree to this.”

Not everyone in a relationship will have the same boundaries–I recycle myself, but it didn’t really bother me that our roommates didn’t. This makes rules and agreements seem easier than boundaries–everyone in the home or everyone in the family agrees to them, and that’s the end of it. But think about this—if you have an open relationship and rules or agreements, you have two choices:

  • Impose the existing rules and agreements on everyone new who enters your home or family
  • Renegotiate every one of your rules and agreements—down to whether or not it’s okay to leave the toilet seat up—when someone joins your home or family

It’s actually a lot easier for each individual to establish their boundaries, and maintain those boundaries. When someone new enters your life, they can learn your boundaries, you can learn theirs, and you can all decide for yourselves what your comfort levels are.

If I had told Partner B that homeschooling my children was a boundary, he could have chosen to accept that boundary, to take some time to learn about homeschooling before he made a decision, or to say that if I was going to insist on homeschooling, we would not be able to raise the child together and needed to come up with a custody agreement.

Instead, I imposed a prior agreement on him, and that imposition poisoned every discussion of our children’s schooling for the next seven or eight years. Ironically, once I stopped pushing for homeschooling, he came on his own to the conclusion that he would prefer homeschooling—and then got trapped in a custody agreement that forces him to put the children in public school.

Polyamory Living Options

(If you found this post looking for bedroom/sleeping arrangements, click here.)

When we talk about living arrangements with poly partners, we usually focus on two options: living together or living apart.

There are very few truly binary choices in life. You almost always find a third (or fourth, or fifth, or….) option if you look. Sometimes the other options are all bad options, but thy are always there.

When it comes to poly living arrangements, here are some extra options you usually don’t hear about. Whether they are good or bad options will depend on you.

Entwinement Levels

Entwinement refers the how much two peoples lives are intermingled. For many living together automatically comes with high levels of entwinement–you eat together, have joint bills, share living space, etc. In contrast, living apart usually includes lower levels of entwinement. Even if you see each other every day, much of your lives remain separate.

Entwinement tends to be a big part of the relationship escalator, with sharing everything being a popular top step (along with marriage, of course). But for those of us who’ve stepped off the relationship escalator, here are a few living options that offer “middle ground” entwinement levels.

Duplex/Multi-Family: You and your partners could get a pu** duplex or multi-family house. With separate living spaces in the same building, you can have a wide range of entwinement: food shop toegether and share meals, but still keep your bills separate, see eachother every day after work but have your own area to retreat to and close the door when yu need, share backyard cookouts and hangout on the porch, but keep your living areas and “inside” lives seperate. Lots of options.

Apartment life: Get apartments in the same building. This allows similar varieties of entwinement to the duplex arrangement, but puts more physical space between you, so yu don’t need to hear each other’s music through the walls, can’t just shout down the hallway, etc. Basically if sharing a duplex would leave you feeling crowded and pushed together, having other people and a bit of distance between your living spaces maybe a middle ground that works for you.

Co-Housing: There are several types of co-housing communities, but all involve a common living space supprrounded by a number of individual living spaces. Members of the community hang out, cook, relax, and “live” in the communal spave, but have private bedrooms, bathrooms, and (sometimes (kitchenettes) for when theyneed alone time. Co-housings spaces can be converted apartment buildings, or a  intentional community with one big building for the communal space surrounded by a bunch of cottages.

Migrating Living Options

Someones we want to live together, but life, personality conflicts, and prior/other commitment make living together full time unreasonable. And while our culture prefers a sedenetary lifestyle, peoplehave migrated for thousands of years. From ancients herders to modern long haul truckers. If life is flexible enough to allow you and/or your poly partners to migrate, here are some alternative living arrangements that might suit you.

Shifting pivot: One person with multiple partners who can’t live together (whether due ot job, geography, or other reasons) can live with all their partners in turn. Spend the week with one partner and weekends with another, alternate month to month, or on any schedule that works for you.

Anchored pivor: One person with multiple partner’s lives in a single home, and their partners live with them when they can, returning to their own homes when they need/want to. Can work in rotation for partners who don’t get along/want to live with each other, or overlapping if partners are fine together and life is just not letting them move away from other commitments.

Summer Home: polyfamilys/polycules that can’t live together can kepp a home somewhere centrally located that they can all go to and use when/as life permits. Might be a traditional “summer home” set up where everyone goes there for the summer, or more variable, whatever works.

Keeping two homes: for simplicities sake I’ll describe this with a quad made of two couples, it can work for a number of relationship styles. Couples A & B keep their own homes, but sometimes couple A stays with couple B in their home for a week, and sometimes couple B stays with couple A for a week. A good option for polycules who live close together, but can’t have a group home due to custody agreements, health codes other restictions.

Furnishing a Poly Home: Dishes (and things that come in sets)

Thanks to Walmart this isn’t as much of a problem as when I first entered a poly relationship, but I want to take a minute to talk about dishes, utensils, and other stuff that you can (traditionally) only buy in sets. Until Walmart started selling dishes one-off, and the various dollar stores followed suit (or maybe it was the other way around), dishes were usually sold in sets of four. For good-but-not-great quality stuff, they still are. The fancy stuff, of course, has always been sold by serving sets.

How much of a pain in the ass these sets are depends entirely on the number of people in your polycule. For a triad with two kids or a five person poly-network that eats together frequently, buying dishes in sets of four can mean paying nearly twice as much as you need too. Of course, the extras can come in handy for breakage or visitors. Now, the 24 set of glass tumblers my mother got for my old triad was a lovely thought–and insanely more than we needed.

So with all that in mind, here are a few suggestions for places you can pick up dishes, and other “set” furnishings one piece at a time, and get exactly what you need:

  • Walmart
  • Dollar stores
  • Antique and Thrift stores
  • Garage sales
  • Local artisans
  • Flea markets
  • Craft fairs

Okay, so this may be a combination of me being slightly OCD and being poor for so long that the idea of buying any more than I absolutely have to makes me cringe. If you are happy buying 24 glass sets and dishes in fours, go for it! Personally, I prefer to have enough dishes and what-not for the people who share my home, with enough extra for our regular guests. See you at the antique store!

Family Meals

I am a big believer in time for the whole polycule to sit down together and enjoy each other’s company. But as most polies find out eventually, schedules are a bitch. This is definitely a YMMV thing, but I highly suggest added regular family meals to your calendar.

If everyone lives together, and work schedules aren’t too insane, you might even manage a daily meal. Tradition would have it be a family dinner, but at one point when I was working second shift and my family was spread across both halves of a two family house, we would have a family breakfast every morning.

If you don’t live together, try getting together once a month, do a potluck at someone’s house or meet up at a local buffet.

If you have a small polycule, you can probably manage to get everyone together pretty regularly with a bit of scheduling. If you have a large polycule, you might want to just a regular day (say, the third Saturday of each month) and whoever can make it, makes it.

If you don’t do the group relationship thing, you might ask why you and your SO, and your OSO, and your SO’s OSO, and your OSOs OSO, and your other OSO should bother doing this. I have two answers, one is is philosophical, one is practical.

Get to Know Each Other Before You Need To

Look, in an ideal world, you would never need to get to know your metamour unless you wanted to. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where unexpected pregnancies happen, people get into car accidents, and, in general, stuff changes.

Let’s take a look at two changes, one (potentially) positive, one negative

Positive Change:

Your SO has grown really close to both you and your metamour. In fact, your SO loves both of you so much, they are talking about wanting all of you to live together. Maybe you like the idea, maybe you don’t. Either way, if you’ve spent some time with your metamour, your are in a better position to respond to your SO based on actual experience, not just guesses about a person you’ve said hi to in passing once in a while.

Negative Change:

You get in a car accident and end up in the hospital. Imagine your SOs sitting together waiting for news of your condition. Do you want them to be near-total strangers, or acquaintances (maybe friends?) who know each other and maybe can offer each other some support?

These situations are just easier when you know the people involved as more than a face you see in passing from time to time.

Spending Time Together Builds Relationships

This is a philosophical thing. Maybe you don’t care if the other folks in your polycule interrelate at all. Maybe you aren’t interested in getting to know your metamour.

But polyamory is difficult enough to juggle when you aren’t part of a complicated network with near-strangers. Spending an hour or two together a month can help strengthen your network.

As an added bonus, it can also reduce some types of jealousy. Sit down to dinner with your metamour, watch them slurp their soup, pig out on ribs, and tell horrid jokes. And if you thought of them as a paragon of perfection next to your bundle of insecurities, you won’t anymore.