Managing Parallel Polyamory

Let’s talk parallel polyamory.

Parallel polyamory refers to poly relationships where the relationships run in parallel and don’t interact. I’m in a relationship with you, and you are in a relationship with your other partner, but the two of us aren’t friends and may never meet. Our two separate relationships progress without connecting to each other.

In theory, the etiquette of parallel polyamory is straight forward. If you don’t interact, you don’t need to worry about etiquette, right?

But parallel poly covers a lot of ground. Not wanting your relationships to impact each other doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them far apart.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Parallel poly is the default way poly relationships work. Yeah, yeah, there’s no one way to do poly, every poly relationship is different, yadda yadda. Hear me out.

No one has the right to require you to be in a relationship. You do not have the right to require anyone else to be in a relationship. This should be a no-brainer. But apply that idea to polyamory. We’ll look at three people, for simplicity. The same idea applies no matter how many people are in your network.

Angela is dating Raoul and Janna. By default, Raoul and Janna do not have a relationship. By default, Angela’s relationship with Raoul does not give him the right to invite himself over to her home for coffee. By default the two relationships and three lives run in parallel. It is up to them to make the decision to change this. Angela can say “Hey Raoul, you’re welcome anytime. You don’t need to call or schedule, just drop by and hang out.” Janna can say “Hey, Angela, I’d like to get to know Raoul, he’s a bit part of your life and that makes him important to me. Do you think the three of us could hang out sometime?” But if nothing is said, if they don’t invite each other into their lives, the relationships continue to run in parallel.

This is also true with highly entwined relationships. Let’s say Angela and Raoul live together, and Angela is dating Janna. Angel and Raoul’s lives are intertwined and run together. Janna’s life runs separately and in parallel unless she and Angela choose to entwine their lives. And the relationships also run parallel unless Raoul and Janna choose to interact with each other.

parallel polyamory
All of these lines are parallel, but some are closer together than others.

Now, entwinement can make it harder for relationships to run in parallel. The more entwined Angela and Janna’s lives get, the closer Janna and Raoul’s lives move together because they are both entwined with Angela. If they are entwined enough, Angela might want to spend holidays with both of them. Now they will need to decide: do they stop practicing parallel poly, take turns spending holidays with Angela, or otherwise come to an arrangement that works for everyone. If Angela throws big holiday parties every year, Raoul and Janna can both come to the party and keep their distance from each other. Parallel courses maintained. If Angela has intimate holiday get-togethers with a few select friends, some choices need to be made.

Discussing Your Preferences

Don’t assume parallel polyamory. Yes, it’s the default. That doesn’t mean it’s what everyone wants. You and your poly partner(s) need to talk about what you want and how you want your relationships to work.

Angela and Raoul talk. Raoul feels weird about getting to know other people Angela is dating. Angela agrees that it is up to Raoul if he wants to get to know Janna or not. When Angela and Janna talk, Janna says she’s curious about Angela’s other partners, but if Raoul doesn’t want to spend time together, that’s up to him.

How Will Your Parallel Work?

The discussion needs a bit more detail than this because there are lots of ways relationships can be parallel.

So Angela says, “I love having our time together, but I really need to keep our relationship separate from my family and work life. So I’d prefer to stick to just stick to our date nights.”

Janna’s cool with that. When Angela talks with Raoul, he says that he’s not going to push in on her life, but he’d love for Angela to meet his family. How would she feel about being invited to a summer barbeque or holiday dinner?

When Parallel’s Meet

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to keep it parallel, shit happens.

Maybe Angela and Raoul drive their own cars to meet at the restaurant because Angela isn’t comfortable with her poly partners coming to her home. What if one night her car breaks down? Raoul can drive her home, but that’s a space Angela had previously set aside as off-limits.

If Angela asks Raoul to drive her home, the best thing he can do is not push past her boundaries any more than necessary. Stop the car, let Angela get out, say good night. Don’t get out of the car unless she invites him to, don’t ask if he can come in.

What if Raoul pulls up to drop Angela off and Janna comes rushing out of the house to meet her, worried that something is wrong?

Well, Raoul wanted to be more a part of Angela’s life. He might be hurt or upset. Angela let Janna stay at her house when Angela isn’t even there but isn’t comfortable with Raoul coming by to pick her up. Raoul’s feelings are understandable and he and Angela can talk about it. Later.

For now, he waves politely to Janna. Janna doesn’t focus on Raoul or take the chance to try to get to know him. If she comes out to the car to meet Angela, she says hello to Raoul. That’s it. She certainly doesn’t invite him in without Angela’s say-so. Raoul greets her politely. He and Angela say goodbye, and he drives away.

Just two people who happened to bump into each other. Yes, it might be awkward. But you respect the boundaries everyone has laid out. Raoul respects Angela’s not being comfortable with him at her home. Janna respects that Raoul isn’t comfortable getting to know her. Angela doesn’t change the way she treats them because no one has any boundaries about PDAs. They say goodbye, and continue moving in parallel.

Etiquette for parallel polyamory is crazy simple. Respect boundaries, don’t assume you know what your partner(s) want, and if the parallel breaks down briefly, don’t make a big deal of it. Use stated boundaries as guidelines for how to handle the situation and move on.

Discuss problems or discomforts with the specific person or people you are in a relationship with at a later time.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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