Introducing Your Polyamory Partners and Metamours

Introductions are fairly universal. You bring person A over to Person B and you say “Person B, I’d like to introduce Person A” or some variation on that theme. In a social situation, it can be good to add something about the person. “Person A is a big Star Trek fan.” Try to make this something that will give the two something to talk about.

Names

When introducing someone it is “proper” to give both their full name and their title or relationship with you. So a “proper” introduction between your mother and your poly partner might be:

Mom, this is my poly partner, Francene Brook. Fran, this is my mother, Wanda Stiles.

Keep in mind, however, that poly etiquette is based not on propriety, but on honesty and respect. Not everyone likes their given name, not everyone wants their family name to be known, and many people have chosen names they prefer to use. Part of respect is introducing people by the names they want to be known by. So a poly introduction between your mother and your poly partner might be:

Mom, this is my poly partner, Fran. Fran, this is my mother, Mrs. S.

In formal situations, for instance at a work event, you are better off giving everyone’s full name. Having your boss think you are being disrespectful generally goes under the category of a Bad Thing. However, you can still respect people’s name preference by saying something like:

Mr. Jones, this is my partner Francene Brook. She goes by Fran.

Describing Relationships

It’s usually a good idea to include relationships in you introductions so people know what kind of social situation you are in. Your mother’s interactions with your boss are going to be very different from your mother’s interactions with your poly partners. For one thing, your mother probably won’t be tempted to show your baby pictures to someone from work. (Or you can hope anyway.)

Not giving people an idea of the relationships involved can lead to awkward social situations. It is slightly more respectful to include those relationships to help people avoid that awkwardness. However, you should not feel like you need to give a relationship with everyone you introduce. There is nothing wrong with saying:

Mom, this is Fran. Fran, this is Mrs. S.

If you do describe your relationships, try to use terms that the people you are introducing identify as. Your mother is probably comfortable being introduced as your mother. But Fran may prefer to identify as your girlfriend, you SO, you fiance, or your friend.

Similarly, Steve, who is dating Fran, may prefer to be introduced as your metamour, Fran’s OSO, Fran’s boyfriend, a friend, or something else.

Order of Introductions

If you are introducing several people from your polycule the formal approach would be to introduce them in order of entwinement:

Mom, this is my girlfriend Fran. She’s another stitch witch. And this is Fran’s boyfriend Steve. He’s the one to talk to if you want to know about film production. Fran, Steve, this is my mother Mrs. S.

If everyone is equally entwined or in informal situations, just go from left to right (or right to left, depending on which direction your language reads in.)

Mom, this is my girlfriend Fran. Next to Fran is her boyfriend, Steve. And on the other side of Steve is my partner Nick.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Meeting Other Polyamorous Families

For children in minority families, nothing can be so powerful as meeting others like them. As an adoptee, I remember the first time I met other kids who were adopted. For the first time, there were other people who understood, really understood, what it was like. The questions and uncertainties of having other parents out there…somewhere.

I’ve heard similar experiences from mixed race children, children of LGBT parents, children living with chronic illness, and others. Not being alone is a very powerful thing, and especially powerful for a child, who has very little power over their own lives.

Meeting other polyamorous families can go a long way towards helping your child deal with any discrimination they face, to not feeling alone and misunderstood by all the other kids they know and more. It can give them their own community and peer group. They can talk together about the problems and challenges and joys of growing up in a non-traditional family.

So… meeting other polyamorous families is pretty awesome—but how do you do it? Most of us don’t exactly take out ads in the yellow pages! Actually, it may be easier than you think. Here are a few places you can connect with other poly families.

OKCupid

Yup, the dating site. If you’ve never been on OKCupid, you may not know that they have a search setting for “just friends”–that is, you can use the dating site as a way to connect with people locally for no other reason than to make a friend. OKCupid is also (as of this writing, and I don’t expect it to change soon) the go-to dating site for poly folk.

You can hop on OKC, do a search for folks with “poly” or “polyamory” in their profiles who are looking for friends. And see if anyone mentioned having kids in their profiles. If they do, send a quick message:

Hey, I see you are polyamorous and interested in making friends. We are looking to connect with other poly families in the area. We’d really like for our kids to have a chance to meet other kids growing up in poly families. Would you be interested in getting together sometime? I noticed you like Italian food, I make a mean manicotti.

If you live in a small town or rural region, you may need to search pretty far out. But kids today are real social media savvy. Even if you can’t meet in person, your kids can still connect through Skype, G-chat, or other online platform.

Local Polyamory Groups

There are two ways of meeting other polyamorous families through a local poly group. The first is to go to group meetings and connect with people directly. Some local groups having Family Nights and other kid-friendly gatherings. If your local group doesn’t, you can always suggest they start one or volunteer to host or organize one.

If you can’t make it to the group meetings, you can join the local groups mailing list and connect with other families that way. Let folks know that you can’t make the meetings for whatever reason, but would love to meet other polyamorous families. Would anyone in the group w/ kids who’d be interested in meeting send you a message?

MeetUp and Facebook are both good places to find local poly groups.

Polyamory Conferences

Cons are always a great place to meet people. Some poly cons have activities specifically for kids. When I want to APW a few years ago they had a kids and family room set up. Parents took turns helping out, and volunteers ran kid-friendly activities. Other cons set up informal networks for parents to trade kid-sitting while attending adult-only parts of the con. Parents can also arrange activities together and generally let the kids hang out. You can find a list of poly cons for the next year on Alan’s List of Poly Events.

Be aware—some cons and poly events are 18+ (or local equivalent) ONLY. If you aren’t certain, make sure you check with the con organizers before bringing your kids.

 

My family will be attending Loving Move’s Poly Living 2016 in Philadelphia. We’d love to meet you and your family. If you plan on attending, please get in touch!

 

This post is part of  the Raising Children in Polyamorous Families blog series.

Book Review: Stories from the Polycule, edited by Dr. Eli Sheff

I once again owe Eli Sheff an apology. For whatever reason, I am not able to get reviews of her books up in a timely manner. Granted, “timely” is not something I am good at the best of times.

With that out of the way, let me actually talk about Stories from the Polyculestories from the polycule.

Stories from the Polycule is a collection of stories, essays, poems, and pictures from polyamorous people and their families. Stories of what happens when polyamory goes wrong, of what it’s like when it works. Of raising children in polyamorous families. Some entries are barely a page long, others could be chapters in themselves.

Each one gives a unique and insightful look at polyamorous life.

I could point to specific entries that touched me. Or areas that maybe didn’t work for me. But like all anthologies, what is meaningful or important will be different for each reader.

What I will say is that Stories from the Polycule is the first collection of our stories. The stories of life and love in polyamorous relationships. It is the answer to every “what is it like” question. To “what about jealousy?” to “but don’t you want kids?” It is the collective answer of dozens of poly folks to the question “What does polyamory mean?”

It isn’t a perfect picture of polyamory. It doesn’t show every nuance, every relationship, every challenge. But it is a picture of who we are. And that picture is pretty awesome.

Stories from the Polycule is published by Thorntree Press. I am a contributor to the anthology, and received a free copy in return for my review.

Child Custody and Polyamory: Who is at Risk

Losing custody of their children is many parent’s nightmare. And I don’t mean losing custody as in “joint custody where you get your child every other weekend.” Granted, joint custody is rough on everyone, and there are very few parents who would happily opt out of over 50% of their kids’ lives.

But at the end of the day, there is a difference between losing custody in a dispute with your ex where you both need to be grown-ups and work out a schedule in the best interest of the kids, and having your kids taken from you by an ex, grandparents, or social services, with little to no say in their lives and upbringing, because your relationship is considered inherently unhealthy and grounds for declaring you an unfit parent.

Folks who remember the early 90s and prior will remember when it was practically routine for LGBT parents to lose their children simply for being who they were. It has happened to poly folk as well. And as the people around us become increasingly aware of the existence of polyamory, it seems to be happening more often.

The short version of “who is at risk” is “everyone.” There is, to my knowledge, no country or jurisdiction that explicitly prevents children from being taken on the basis of their parents polyamorous relationships. This includes countries where polygamy is legal–I know of one custody case in a country with legalized polygamy where a polyamorous parent is in danger of having their children taken due to their relationships. (Details withheld for privacy)

However, there are various levels of risk.

  • Every poly parent is at risk from their local version of child services, but this risk is usually low
  • Most poly parents in the US (and several other countries) are at risk from grandparents and other relatives, this risk is moderate and varies with the local laws
  • Many poly parents are at risk from their exes, and this risk is usually high.

Child Services

Child services goes by slightly different names everywhere. I’ve dealt with child protective services (CPS) and division of youth and family services (DYFS). I’ve heard of a number of other acronyms. These government organizations are charged with ensuring children have healthy homes and are not being abused or neglected. How they meet this charge varies.

A state like New Jersey is a tossup. On the one hand, New Jersey (DYFS) is liberal enough that taking kids just b/c their parents have an odd relationship is frowned on. On the other hand, if a DYFS worker doesn’t take the kids, and it later turns out there was abuse, they can go to jail as an accessory to the abuse. So there is a lot of cover-your-ass among DYFS workers and kids taken on the slightest evidence. The good news is the kids usually return home sooner or later.

No US state that I am aware of classifies a parent’s adult relationships as child abuse. You can’t be accused of being abusive just for being poly in the US. I don’t know of any country where you can be accused of abuse just for being poly, but my experience has been entirely within the US. Anyone remember the polygamous ranch in Texas that was raided about 10 years ago, and over 100 kids taken by child services? They were pretty damn clear in the media that the reason they took the kids was the polygamy. But if you dug into the details of the case, not one of the abuse accusations was actually about polygamy. The legal paperwork all focused on child sexual abuse (child brides), forced marriages, neglect, and other forms of physical abuse. Even in Texas they needed something more than “their parents weren’t monogamous” to actually take the children.

My experience with child services has been that even if they could take the kids just for being non-monogamous, they usually don’t want to. These people are dealing with cases where they find kids locked in cages in attics, kids that keep ending up in the hospital with broken bones, kids that are actually being sexually abused, etc. As long as they believe the children are healthy and happy with you, they don’t want to waste their limited time and resources when there are kids who really need their help. The exception to this is, of course, the bigots, who you will find in every line of work and see anything outside the norm as inherently abusive. Thankfully, at least in my experience and the experience of other poly parents I have heard from, these are relatively rare.

Grandparents and Other Relatives

In the US, most states have something called “grandparents rights” which allow grandparents (and sometimes other relatives) to sue for visitation or custody under certain set circumstances. The circumstances vary from “anytime they choose” to “only if the parents are divorced” to “the kids must have lived with the relatives for a year w/o their parents present.”

In parts of Great Britain, grandparents must petition the court for the right to sue for visitation or custody. Six provinces in Canada allow grandparents to sue for visitation as well.  If anyone has information on grandparents rights in other countries, please leave a comment.

To the best of my knowledge, Pennsylvania in the US is the only jurisdiction where grandparents can’t use polyamory as a reason to gain custody. This is the result of my own custody case. The appeal from my case set a state precedent establishing that polyamory is not a valid reason to overturn the presumption of children being better off with a parent than anyone else. Details of my case, and the appeals ruling, for those interested.

Your Ex

Per every lawyer and legal expert I have discussed this with, here’s the short and sweet version. If your ex is polyamorous, or previously practiced polyamory, they generally can’t use poly against you in court. If they are monogamous but gave their approval and acceptance of your poly relationships, they generally can’t use poly against you in court. If your ex is monogamous, and either did not know of your poly relationships or has made it clear from the get-go that they do not approve, then they can use polyamory against you in a child custody case.

No one I have spoken with knows of a jurisdiction which explicitly protects poly parents in a custody case with the other parent. Legal experts say my case’s precedent may apply between two parents. But the wording isn’t explicit.  It’ll probably take another appeal and Superior Court ruling to decide one way or another. With no protection for poly parents, the judge (or other decision maker in other countries) can use polyamory as a basis awarding custody to your ex. In extreme cases, they can also use it as a reason to deny or restrict your visitation.

In my case, the appeals court ruled against the trial judge based a law that did not explicitly protect poly parents. However PA law does say that a parent’s relationship which does not involve or negatively impact the children is not relevant. The combination of my children’s therapist stating on record that the children were not harmed by polyamory and the grandparents inability to prove evidence of harm, allowed the appeals court to invoke this law. Thanks to he work done by the LGBT community, many US states now have similar laws. These laws may or may not protect poly parents depending on their wording, interpretation and the judge you are dealing with.

An ex doesn’t need to prove you are unfit, or in any way a bad parent. They just need to prove they are a better parent or more fit. Unfortunately, bias against anything non-mainstream are come. Even in the best custody cases, poly parents facing a monogamous ex have the scales weighted against them.

Standard disclaimer

Next week, we’ll look at steps you can take to keep from losing your kids because of your poly relationships.

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Laws and legal practices affecting our children

If you’re been following this blog for a while, you’ll understand why today’s topic is a personally painful one. I’m not going to go as in depth as a usually do, in an attempt to avoid triggering myself.

If anyone else has knowledge or personal experience in this area, please feel free to share in the comics.

Our children are, for many people, both our most precious gift, and our greatest vulnerability. “Think of the children!” is an effective rallying cry for the defense of the status quo because even criminals want nothing to do with those who harm children.

I’ve previously covered how there is no evidence that polyamory is harmful to children, but until legal shit catches up with the research (and for tha matter, until we have more extensive and definitive research), people who are in poly relationships will face threats to their children.

Custody Laws

This will vary widely by jurisdiction. In the US there is no state that fully protects poly children in a custody dispute. Pennsylvania as some protection, but the precedent setting that protection is full of loopholes, and it’s going to take another poly family being dragged through the mud to determine the full extent of that protection.

Anywhere else in the US, the judge can summarily give your children to your ex just because you are polyamorous. In states that have grandparents laws, or otherwise allow third parties to sue for custody or visitation, your relatives, in-laws, and in some cases friends, can use polyamory as a justification to ask the legal system to give them control of your children.

From what I can tell, in the European Union the “best interests of the children” rule applies, leaving the door open for exes to claim that being raised in a poly home is not in the best interests f their child. How “best interests of the children” is determined will vary from country to country. I have no knowledge of custody in the rest of the world, and invite those with experience or knowledge to comment below.

Child Protective Services

Again, varies hugely by jurisdiction. Personal experience and anecdotal evidence is that child protective services usually don’t want to get involved in polyamory or non-monogamy. They have really cases of child abuse that puts kids in the hospital to deal with, they don’t want to worry about kids who are healthy, happy, and cared for, who just happen to have an unconventional home life.

That doesn’t mean a particularly bigoted or closed minded child protective agent can’t fuck with your family. Child protective services usually have broad powers to take children, and prove the abuse afterwards. Needing to prove abuse first leaves the risk the child will be further injured or even killed during the time needed to prove anything. Most child protective reps are careful exercising this power, because if a judge determines later they overstepped, they will be in trouble. But some reps may think they can trump up  reason to take your kids, and in some jurisdictions poly may be ruled a sufficient reason to take your kids–especially if the judge handling child protection cases is bigoted or closed minded themselves.

Paternity Laws

Laws establishing paternity, and a father’s responsibilities, vary widely. In some jurisdictions, the law assumes that a woman’s husband is the father of any children she has. Jurisdictions with this kind of law will often have hoops poly families need to jump through to establish a non-spousal father.

Not getting a legal marriage can avoid this issue, unless you run into common law marriage statutes.

Two Parent Laws

The assumption that every child has two, and only two, parents is legally common. it is also very hurtful to children raised in poly families who may lose all contact with a beloved parent due to their lack of custody or visitation rights.

A recent towards allowing three parents on a birth certificate has developed in the US and England, though only in limited cases.

 

Standard disclaimer– I’m not a lawyer, talk to a professional about any legal issues/concerns you may have.

 

Again, please leave a comment if you have any experience or knowledge to add to this topic.

 

More on laws affecting polyamory.

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.

Book Review: Raf and the Robots

Raf and the Robots children's book for poly familiesRaf is a young boy who loves to write. He even writes at the dinner table where he sits with his family. A family which includes three adults and two other children. Raf’s latest story is about robots, but when he tries to find someone to read it, no one has time! Thinking no one cares about his story, Raf crumples it up and throws it away, but when they finish they’re chores, everyone wants to hear Raf’s story.

Raf and the Robots is an illustrated children’s book featuring an unconventional nuclear family. What kind of unconventional family? Who knows? The three adults in Raf’s life aren’t labelled, allowing chidren to decide for themselves if Raf’s family is a blended family, poly triad, couple with surrogate, couple with friend/relative living with them, of anything else they can imagine.

When I first heard about Raf and the Robots I was hopeful but not excited. Writing children’s books isn’t easy (says the author who can’t manage it), and to do it without introducing the adults as fitting some pre-defined category is even more challenging. I was delightfully surprised when I read the review copy I received. Raf and the Robots is a well written and engaging story. Unlike many children’s stories about non-normative families, it doesn’t focus on Raf’s family. The story is about Raf’s need for someone to pay attention to his story, and how he learns that just because someone says “not now,” it doesn’t mean “not ever.” In this, Raf’s experience reflects what Dr. Eli Sheff found when interviewing children of poly families–family is just a part of Raf’s reality, not what his life is about.

I highly recommend Raf and the Robots for children and families. For children whose families include more than two adults, it will be a welcome chance to see their family reflected in the stories they read, for conventional families, it will show children that other family styles exist, and for all children it’s just a good story.

Raf and the Robots is the first book in the Stories for Unique Families series. It’s available as an ebook on Amazon, Apple, and Kobo, or as a hardcover on the Stories for Unique Families website.

 

(Originally posted Sept 28, 2014. This post contains affiliate links.)

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.

Relationship Space

Every so often I come across a discussion about designating something (Usually a bed, sometimes a restaurant or other outing) as being only for a primary couple. The idea is the primary couple needs something special and just for them, which is off limits to any secondaries (these discussions almost always involve hierarchical poly). These discussions can get heated. Some people chime in to support the right of the primary relationship to protect itself and its space. Others defend the secondary relationship and saying the couple’s bed makes OSOs second-class citizens in their own relationships.

When I was growing up, my mother had a room she set aside as an office. No one went into her office without first knocking on the door and getting permission. Even my dad, who ran the house in every other way, didn’t go in unless he needed to.

After I moved out of my parents house, I always had ‘my’ chair. Usually a comfy chair I could sit in for hours at a time, relaxing, reading, or napping. More than once, when I was sick or in my third trimester, I slept in my designated chair. It wasn’t discussed, but my partners, friends and roommates understood that the chair (whichever chair it was at the time) was my space, and they respected it.

My current partner’s space is his computer and desk. I can rearrange our whole home, paint the walls, tear up the floors, change everything and anything, and he won’t care. Touch his desk? Don’t. Ever. Touch. the Desk. I may (rarely) ask permission to use his computer if I need something I can’t do on mine, but his computer is his space. I respect that.

People need space. Whether literal space (their own room, chair or desk,) or metaphorical space (not being disturbed while they watch their favorite show, having a spa day once a month, whatever it is extroverts do to take care of themselves), everyone needs some bit of personal space.  In a healthy relationship, people respect that need for space and don’t intrude.

Relationships need space too. This is, I think, where the ‘couples bed’ idea comes from. The need and desire to set something aside for a relationship can be as normal and healthy as claiming a corner of your home as your personal space.

Some relationships don’t an official relationship space. My partner and I share so many things, from medical insanity to video games, we’ve never felt the need for a set space for our relationship. We need space away from each other more than we need space together!

On the other hand, my first triad needed couple spaces. I was so intent on our doing everything together, I didn’t realize the relationships between us as individuals were being neglected. If we had designated “Mondays w/ partner A, Wednesdays w/ partner B, Fridays they have guys night and Saturday is family day for all of us to spend together” our relationships would have been much healthier.

As you might have figured out by now, in theory I support a couple or relationship saying they need a specific space to be just for them. However, most discussions I’ve seen about ‘couple beds’ and other relationship spaces have problems. They are less about establishing personal space for the relationship in question, and more about excluding other relationships. Relationship space can be healthy–but it can also be exclusionary and damaging.

My mother having a room of her own wasn’t a big deal because we lived in a big house. Claiming a room just for her would have been a big problem if we lived in a small apartment, or if her office was the only room with an internet connection. My claiming a single chair in a living room with three chairs and couch, also not a big deal. Claiming the only chair in the apartment as ‘my space’ and making everyone else sit on the floor would be a really crappy thing to do.

A couple (or triad, or quad, or…) bed can be healthy if there’s a guest bed for OSOs to use when they visit. In a home with only one bedroom, a couple bed may mean going to your secondary’s home (assuming THEY don’t have a couple bed) or going to a hotel. This kind of restriction can make it difficult or impossible for the secondary relationship to function. Your relationship space actively interfering with other relationships is exclusionary and damaging.

There is nothing wrong with a couple (or triad, or whatever) deciding a certain restaurant will be their space which they always go to together. However when you are saying things like this: “We need space to protect our primary relationship!” “No, I will not be excluded from someplace just because you go there with your girlfriend!” You are demeaning the other relationships, saying they must respect your space, but do not deserve their own space.

Just like people, some relationships need more space than others. And like people, some relationships will use ‘needing space’ as an excuse to push others away or close themselves off. If you need designate relationship space, make sure your space is not crowding out others, and you aren’t using ‘needing space’ in an unhealthy way. Once you’ve done that, go ahead and establish the space you need.

And remember to respect the space others need too!