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Differing Opinions in a Polycule

Sometimes, when you’re coming up with an agreement or a rule that a hinge is going to have to apply in more than one relationship (say, a concern over communicating before dates that you’re going out with someone new, and what contact or sexual events might happen on the date) a hinge is going to have to make agreements over multiple relationships in a polycule. The hinge will have their own understanding of how this situation should be handled that they bring to the table in making this decision, and each spoke partner is going to bring theirs.

So, let’s look at this example. In the example, we’re looking at the point where you have to tell a partner that you’re looking at going out with someone, and whether you’re intending to engage physically/sexually with them and to what degree. One “spoke” partner of our imaginary hinge - for simplicity, let’s call our hinge Bea, and our spokes Adam, Connor, and Dan - so, Adam, he is very into a liberal, autonomous model where no one owes anyone explanations of anything ahead of time, and the only information that needs transferring is information that affects sexual safety. He proposes that he’d like to tell Bea once he has had an encounter that would potentially affect his STI status or risk level- when he has a new sexual partner, as an FYI or heads up, but nothing if he’s going on dates, getting emotionally close to people, or “just” from his point of view doing things that are preludes to those being eventual sexual partners but aren’t sex that changes his risk level.

Connor, on the other hand, feels basically the opposite. He thinks that to be consenting in a polyamorous relationship, you need to be aware of pretty much every step of the relationships your partners are in - and that includes things like “I asked Ethan out for coffee;” “We kissed at the end of our date and I’m really excited for another, I think I’m going to see what his STI concerns are and if he’s comfortable with sex now;” and “We’re having sex now.” None of that includes a ton of nitty-gritty or salacious detail necessarily (although some people are into that and I don’t want to yuck your yum!) but Connor in this example wants to know when all the steps start and stop and is happy to volunteer that information himself, with any new partner. He’d consider it cheating to, say, plan a date and go home with that date afterward and have sex without checking in first, even if you used agreed upon barrier methods of STI and pregnancy prevention.

Dan lands somewhere in the middle. He’s not that concerned about hearing about every flirtation and coffee date and might not tell you about them, but if one looks pretty promising or one of yours does and he thinks it has an opportunity to be physical, or you think yours is likely to, he’d like a heads up and will give one - even if it’s just a text message. This kind of compromise position sometimes seems like it is more complicated because immediate worries or jealousy don’t have space to be talked out - as in Adam’s scenario - where they have to be dealt with post hoc - but also they have the possibility of derailing an inprogress situation and implying or applying hierarchy or existing relationships over a new one. If you have a hierarchical relationship, this isn’t a problem - it’s a feature - but if you have a non-hierarchical relationship, it can be really problematic.

For the hinge, Bea, if she wants to create one “policy” for herself in all her relationships or for the polycule, sitting everyone down to make a decision about how to handle this issue is going to be nearly impossible. They’ve got very different positions. What’s hers? Is hers matching one of theirs going to determine where the polycule as a whole lands by whoever doesn’t agree with her compromising to her position as a dyad and whoever does having an easy time? Is the “still more different” middle path of giving a heads up before you head out on a date that you think will be escalating a new relationship and otherwise disclosing afterwards if something unexpected happens, and giving your partner the benefit of the doubt that they’re doing their best to do this going to be where they land? Since this is a hypothetical, no one will ever know.

The complication level of all of this in a polycule of four people and three dyads is why I generally suggest making agreements one on one. There are a few things where it’s simpler or less frustrating (or less likely to make one partner or another go “Wait, why the heck do you guys do it that way?!” when they realize you do something differently with another partner) when it’s the same across a polycule - and disclosure of dating, disclosure of new sexual partners, and STI and pregnancy prevention practices are pretty much the Big Ones. Some people have more or less, but those are the ones where opinions or definitions of what’s an appropriate disclosure or action may differ but a certain amount of getting on the same page, or at least into the same chapter, needs to happen.


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