Poly: My Ground Rules & Life Lessons

My rules started out as a joke -- Since I wasn't letting anyone make rules for me, I had to make some for myself.

Over the years, though, they evolved into something serious. These aren't the things that jump out at me and keep me from wanting to get involved with someone. These are the things that through experience I know will cause problems for me later down the line, things that I need to stop and think seriously about.

Now the joke is that my rules exist to slow me down. To some degree, it's true - some of them are hard and fast rules, but often enough I'll choose to get involved with someone anyway and take my chances on doing better with whatever the issue is this time.

My groundrules

  1. Don't go to bed with someone for the first time when sie is drunk (or otherwise altered).
  2. Don't get involved with people who don't have a primary relationship or other stable support structure.
  3. Don't get involved with someone if i can't get along with hir primary(s), or if sie can't get along with mine.
  4. Don't get involved in cheating.
  5. Don't get involved with anyone who is in the closet, or who won't acknowledge the relationship.
  6. Don't be someone's experiment
  7. Negotiate safer sex rules and stick to them.
  8. Don't get involved with anyone in my community

Don't go to bed with someone for the first time when sie is drunk (or otherwise altered).

When people drink or are otherwise altered, they make different decisions than they would if they were sober. Sometimes that means they are willing to do things that they will regret later. Sometimes it means that they will do things that they will later feel they should not have or did not consent to. People remember things differently when they are altered.

Why is this on my list? I'm never tempted to make the first move on someone who is fucked up, but I need to stop and think about it when someone who is fucked up makes the first move on me. This is especially true when it's someone I have the hots for anyway.

I've also been in a couple situations where people agreed, sober, that they wanted to do X - but then took a drink or a smoke to help them be ok with it. This is actually a pretty big turnoff to me, but it helps to have the 'rule' to fall back on and say "huh, I have a rule about that. talk to me again about it later." (which is also true for adorable drunk people hitting on me, damnit!)

This one also extrapolates out to "don't do new things with existing partners when they are fucked up", though after some conversation and consideration I think i'd be ok with it if it were clearly pre-negotiated.

Don't get involved with people who don't have a primary relationship or other stable support structure.

I've spent a lot of time talking about this rule on poly email lists because it pushes people's buttons. Regardless, there are a couple of strong reasons for it. The first and more obvious one is that someone who doesn't have a primary or other serious support structure is pretty likely to want more from me than I'm in a good space to give, given that I have a family that comes first. (Life lessons? oh yeah. both personally and in watching my partners get involved with people who then want more from them than is comfortable for my relationship with my partner. no fun.)

The second is one I've only really figured out more recently, and this is the flip side. Even if someone who doesn't have a primary relationship isn't looking for one from me.. there's sub-conscious stuff in me that wants to fill that space if it it is empty. This isn't always a bad thing - I've had relationships develop into really good spaces because of it. But this is what my experience shows:

If someone doesn't have a primary* relationship already, and a good emotional connection exists between us, either or both sie and i are likely to (want to) move the relationship into that space.

So the lesson to be learned here? Unless I'm ok with the potential of the relationship moving into that space,don't go there.

* That's "primary" as relationship description, not "primary" as hierarchical designator - if that doesn't make sense, remind me to write up what i'm talking about and add it to this site, ok? :)

Don't get involved with someone if i can't get along with hir primary(s), or if sie can't get along with mine.

calvinIt's important to me to be able to respect and support my partners' primary relationships. This is much harder to do if I don't like or can't get along with the person in question. It also makes it really hard for me to share space with the person and hir partner, which is often awkward.

Similarly, I need anyone I get involved with to be able to get along with the most important people in my life, which these days includes my kid as well as my partners.

(Of course, if this were a more predictable dynamic, it would make my life a lot easier. but at least it's a good place to start.)

Don't get involved in cheating.

It's very tempting to get involved in cheating. You have no agreements with this person's partner to break. You're not breaking any of your agreements with YOUR partners. Why not?

To start with, I have a Thing about honesty. For folks who don't know my history, this is in great part because I spent a long long time being fundamentally dishonest about my life to just about everyone. (it's a long story)

When I talk about honesty, I'm not just talking about not-lying. I'm also talking about not-being-dishonest, where dishonesty includes intent-to-deceive - omissions and half truths and all that. Which isn't to say i never am dishonest - there are times when the pain that would be caused by full honesty outweighs the drive to be honest. But, I don't ever make that call casually. Being honest also doesn't preclude being tactful or gentle, though I understand that there are people who think I mostly fail at those.

Not getting involved in cheating is partly about the honesty thing. Chances are good that getting involved in cheating will mean at some point having to be dishonest to someone about it -- it's the nature of the beast. But even more it's about the karma -- contributing to Bad Shit is just not a good idea.

So.. No getting involved in cheating. Ever. Not even casually.

Don't get involved with anyone who is in the closet, or who won't acknowledge the relationship.

What does it mean (to me) to be in the closet? It means intentionally deceiving people about who the people most important to you are.

Someone asked me recently if a woman who identified as het but was involved with me would count as being in the closet - the answer would be "it depends" - if she were hiding her involvement with me because of my gender? Yes. I had the experience once of being told that I ought not to kiss a lover at a party. If it had been 'because this is a casual thing and i don't want to confuse people', it would have felt a lot different from 'because of your gender'. Not a comfortable thing.

Interestingly, my first experience with this was flipped - one of my first lovers (male) identified as gay, despite being involved with me. He was prone to saying things like "it doesn't count if i'm pretending you're a boy", and generally denying that his relationship with me counted as being involved with a woman, for other similarly nonsensical reasons. (he did shift to identifying as bi a couple years later, surprising none of his friends)

Someone else asked, roughly how out of the closet i needed a lover to be. It's essentially a minimum of the people we overlap with, and a fairly strong preference for no attempts to hide the relationship. I've also learned that not being able to meet a partner's kids is very hard for me.

(I should be clear here that even though the first couple examples are about gender preference, this is totally an issue for poly as well. And I'm including poly under 'queer', below.)

There are three pretty highly charged emotional reasons for this. The least charged of the three is the "political" - I am strongly strongly in favor of people being out of the closet as the right thing to do for other queer people, even when it's hard for them personally. I don't feel like I need to impose this piece of my worldview on everyone around me, but it's something I feel strongly enough about that a *partner* being in significantly different space on it is hard.

The more emotionally charged stuff - honesty, and feeling like the people i'm involved with can be trusted to be honest, which is harder if they're actively deceiving people about important stuff in their lives. And, shame. I've been in too many relationships where I felt like the person was ashamed to be involved with me. It sucks, and I don't like it. Someone not acknowledging their relationship with me, for closet reasons or others, is pretty likely to push those buttons.

Don't be someone's experiment

Beaker and lightningThis is a rather hard-learned lesson, and one that I still seem to need to keep exploring (which may translate to "haven't learned yet", huh?). I'm still working out what level of 'experiment' is ok.

Things I know.. getting involved with someone where I'm either the first woman or the first poly person sie has been involved with is a terribly tricky thing, and has often led to grief. On the other hand, there are times when it's worked out beautifully

So what I look for here is.. how does it feel? Does it feel like this person is trying [poly/queer] on for size? Is this person getting involved with ME, or trying out the [poly/queer] thing?

I have something of a history of people being attracted to me who are usually more/entirely attracted to men. (I assume that this has something to do with being somewhat genderqueer.) That is sometimes very positive, especially during. Sometimes after the fact this has had really nasty emotional repercussions for me. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, that set of people correlate reasonably well with people who have some degree of shame/hiding about the relationship, which is certainly not good for me.)

So this one is pretty vague, and a tricky one.

Negotiate safer sex rules and stick to them.

This rule is sometimes modified to "Negotiate with your clothes ON."

I don't think I have anything to say about this rule, except that it's utterly clear that I need to be involved with people who are at least roughly on the same page as I am on safer sex issues. (Sometimes I wonder if we're even reading the same book!)

Don't get involved with anyone in my community

It seems like it would be a pretty bad idea to get involved with anyone in my community. It also seems important to me that the monogamous people in the group, and prospective members, know that they aren't "targets".