We went through a lot of theory in Part 6 of this series - and very little in the way of stories and practical examples. A lot of that theory still applies here, so I really recommend reading these two in order, unlike the rest of the series, that can be dropped into at any point.
Wider Vs, parallel relationships that run more firmly parallel, with many fewer interactions, maybe for the hinge partner’s birthday or even only over emergencies, are what we’re talking about today. The boundary determining questions we looked at the last time have very different answers today. As a reminder, those were:
What information are you okay with your partner sharing with their other partners about you?
How often are you comfortable interacting with your metamour? Does it depend on what the level of intimacy of the interaction is?
Do you mind interacting one on one with your meta for short periods of time?
Do you feel comfortable interacting in small groups (a three to six person dinner or outing, for example) with your metamour?
Do you feel comfortable interacting in larger groups (celebrations, parties) with your meta?
Where last time, those had a wide variety of answers that still dictated a pretty high level of interaction with metamours, even if mostly in large groups, today, we’ve got this smaller range of answers:
Somewhere between “only the information they need to make informed decisions about sexual safety” and “background information they needed to decide how strictly or closely parallel they wanted the relationships to go forward, and then nothing much going forward.”
“Not often” and probably “only at larger events, or a small group or in passing in case of an emergency with the hinge.”
“I don’t want to interact with my meta one on one”
“I’d rather not be in an intimate gathering with my meta; although I might rarely, as for a small birthday celebration for the hinge.”
“Again, I’d rather not, but for a project launch or an event the hinge needs support at, I would.”
These kinds of relationships might be someone’s preference in all cases, or might be a matter of a personality incompatibility.
So, let’s talk examples. As always, if I use a name, it’s a pseudonym.
I have a friend who prefers all his relationships be parallel. He as a hinge will acknowledge that if his partners want to meet each other, to assuage insecurities, or make sure everything is on an open and acknowledged level and happening with everyone’s consent, that’s fine, and give them contact info to set that up - but he doesn’t want or organize his partners hanging out, being good friends, all chilling out together with him. It makes him feel uncomfortable and pulled in too many directions to have multiple partners in the same space, and any PDA in front of other partners feels bad to him. He’s worked on this feeling in past relationships, because he feels like it’s underlying monogamous conditioning, but nonetheless, it’s where he’s at. So, he’s up front about it, and picks partners who also want that. When, on occasion, two of his partners who go for that “let’s just check this is really polyamory and not cheating” cup of coffee decide they have a ton in common and want to be friends, he tries to keep himself separate from that. It’s worked out really well, once he made it through the period of blaming himself for his feelings and hit the place of just being upfront with himself and others about it.
My friend Sarah is a single mom who, in addition to “dating like she’s divorced,” and only introducing partners to her kids when they’ve been in her life in a serious way for several months, prefers her relationships to be with her partners only, and doesn’t do more than meet a metamour for the meta’s comfort. She doesn’t mind hearing about them as part of a partner’s life, or a partner mentioning her in that context, but she doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to take on additional emotional weight in the form of friendships with her metamours. Having a couple of partners, kids, and her own existing friendships uses up all her resources. Sometimes this rubs a meta wrong, but to honor her own needs, that’s what Sarah needs and how she operates.
I’ve personally only ever been in a very strictly parallel relationship a couple times; and it was at my meta’s preference each time. My comfort zone lies in the modes between part 4, part 5, and part 6 of this series - every time I try to get more entangled than that with more than one person, it’s fallen apart in an ugly way as it ends, and I am not “enlightened” enough to not feel rejected when someone doesn’t want to have any relationship with me, even though in theory I know their feelings are theirs and I can’t control them. One of the times, I had the incredibly uncomfortable experience of a meta stating they wanted a friendship with me, albeit not a close one, and then one day (out of the blue to me) communicating through the hinge that they never wanted to talk to me or even see me in passing, so if we were seeing the hinge in a back to back way and they were earlier or we were later than expected, I was supposed to make sure to leave before they arrived or not acknowledge them. It was… awful.
The other was less awful in its execution and also, much more understandable. We were both in favor of a less extreme kind of parallel relationship - we weren’t hanging out alone but we were sociable at parties, and reasonably friendly with one another. However, our hinge partner was unhappy with this and kept trying to push us closer together; both in encouraging us to be more open to hanging out with just him alone, and in dropping really heavy hints about group sex that neither of us were interested in. Both of us gained a metaphorical bad taste in our mouths about it, and she drew the line first of not being in the same place, ever, from then on. She sent me a very kind message explaining why she was drawing that line with him, and asked me to let her know if he misrepresented it to me, because if he had, that would be a dealbreaker for her. He didn’t, and we both kept seeing him for a while longer - I stopped seeing him first, because he started pushing to see if I’d be into a threesome with one of my friends, and pressure for something I hadn’t been open to already hit a point of crossing lines for me.
Any relationship level of entwinement can be healthy or not, and I hope these little examples illustrated that for you.
Next time, in the conclusion of our series, we’re going to look at the most extreme version of parallel polyamory, and the one that I think gets unfairly held up as the “mental image” of what parallel is and means, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell relationships and their approximate analogs.
Kitchen Table to Parallel Polyamory Spectrum Series
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Extreme Kitchen Table
Part 3: Kitchen Table “With Extras”
Part 6: Mildly Parallel Relationships