Today we are pleased to introduce a new advice column by Clay Nikiforuk: Love 2.0 -- it's complicated.
I'm a single woman in my twenties living in the big city. I have never been in an open or polyamorous relationship before but as I'm ending things with one guy, a new and polyamorous guy has entered my life. Basically we've spent a few months having tons of fun platonically, and he has now become one of my best friends in the city. Recently, our friendship took a little side step into romantic territory and it was AMAZING. What I can't decide is whether or not I should trust him and go with the flow, or put a stop to it to save our friendship. I know what I should really do is just talk to him -- but I'm nervous because he seems so at ease with everything and hasn't given me the slightest inclination that this is some sort of "big deal" -- I don't want to scare him off. How do I decide if polyamory is for me without hurting myself or others? And there are so many different definitions of polyamory, how can you make sure everyone is on the same page? Also, he is engaged. Does this mean I'll always be the other woman?
Wow. Thank you for your questions and being open about where you are right now!
Making sure everyone is on the same page is like traveling in a caravan. There has to be checking in like your life depends upon it, constant communication, and slowing down if someone is getting lost, tired, or falling behind. This new and polyamorous guy should appreciate your willingness to talk about the situation and, in theory, should respond in kind. If he does make you feel strange for needing to talk, perhaps this is an indication that he is not the one you want to try out an incredibly new and sensitive form of relationship with. No one needs to feel vulnerability on top of vulnerability.
Does your friendship really need to be "saved?" If so, from what? It's a peculiar idea in our society that friendship and romance are mutually exclusive -- so much so that wandering too far down one road will permanently close off the other. A model to visualize is a Venn diagram where "lover" and "friend" find a place in the middle to mingle and ultimately create feelings of fun, love, and appreciation in both of you. If that doesn't work out, what's stopping you from transitioning back to platonic friendship? Get used to other people not understanding your relationship because it doesn't fit into a nicely labelled box! This is what happens when you start to work with relationships in a creative and playful way to design them just for you and your partners' needs.
Have you ever been at a Greek restaurant when someone accidentally smashes a plate? Opa! (A word that I used to think meant "Oops!" in Greek.) Any kind of relationship, whether monogamous or polyamorous, is very likely to cause pain to yourself and others. Be prepared to mess up royally and repeatedly, for wires to be crossed, communication to break down, and for others to unintentionally mess up and hurt your feelings like crazy. Opa! I like to call these "PolyFails." They are common occurrences with even the most seasoned of polyamorous folk, but with a forgiving and resilient attitude they can be worked through with compassion and humour. How will you decide without any pain? You won't. You can humbly sweep up the broken glass, say and accept apologies, ultimately strengthen the tried relationships and learn more about yourself than you thought possible.
Now, it depends upon what you mean by "other woman." Will you ever replace his spouse-to-be? Maybe not. But how do you feel about being a friend, a lover, and a welcome addition to an open couple's marriage? This is an honoured place to be, I feel. It means that a committed couple has carefully decided together that you would be a positive addition to what is, at the end of the day, their relationship.
Some people say that non-monogamy can be learned, while others say that whether one is "mono" or "poly" is an orientation that cannot be changed. I believe in a bit of both. The first times practicing poly are always a million times more awkward, confusing and painful than the second and third times, but within a few months you might find yourself floating along easily and bewildered at your friends' endless and strange monogamous problems. Or perhaps you will feel something in your gut telling you that no matter what you learn that you are not going to get what you need out of this non-monogamous relationship. That is perfectly okay, too. Do you know what you need right now? Ask yourself this first. Next, talk with him about it and see what you creative and capable folks come up with.
I wish you all the luck.
Thank you, D, for being the first brave submission to Love 2.0! I am happily accepting questions about sex, love, relationships, polyamory, sexual politics, communication and whatever else you see fit to throw at me at agirlnamedclay[at]gmail[dot]com