Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Today, we have the basic idea of Kitchen Table Polyamory: being friendly among all of each other’s partners that could sit and have a cup of coffee together today, whether it’s a good day or a bad day for everyone involved.
I think this or the next couple levels I describe are where most people aspire to have their relationship networks land - it’s a beautiful thing when personalities happen to line up such that it’s comfortable and easy to all hang out across a big polycule, no matter how big or small the event that’s happening at is, and hoping that’s how things turn out is great. This doesn’t assume everyone is best friends; but it encourages everyone in a polycule to try to be genuine friends, to get to know their metamours and maybe even their telemours, and to generally show up in an emergency, not just say it’s OK for a shared partner to.
(Author’s note: In case you’re curious, the next couple levels I’m going to describe are a polycule with a mixture of idealized kitchen table and mildly parallel relationships within it, and mildly parallel individual relationships across a polycule. It’s a matter of opinion that these three are where most people want to land, but I’ve been in ENM and polyamorous relationships and interacting with lots of poly people for 12 years, and majority of the people I’ve met want to be in one of those levels.)
A person in this kind of relationship might only talk to their immediate partners before making a big life decision, but they’ll tell their metas soon after. I’ve been lucky enough to have this kind of relationship in a larger network once; and to be invited to be part of shared communities of friends that work this way that I didn’t have a partner in before as well. The ideal of kitchen table is essentially that you’re friendly acquaintances with your telemours, and friends, if not close friends, with your metamours; you can all conspire to do nice things for shared partners and people in your network; will be good friends and partners less affected than average by any awkwardness monogamous conditioning might try to impose on “but you have the same boyfriend!”
So now, a story from the time I was lucky enough to be in one of these relationships:
It is 2011. I am in the hospital, having been half-carried into a cab in the middle of the night on a Saturday by one of my partners to get there, and having been pushed straight through into the emergency room past triage because “three seizures in a row” is a magic phrase, even though I could now stand and answer questions and was insisting they should really just let me go home. (I’m stubborn. Never listen if I say “just let me go home,” about a health issue, until a medical professional has agreed.) The professionals were right and I was in a real room, and waiting for more test results and more specialists at about 10 am when my other partner and my meta woke up and saw the messages from James, who had brought me into the hospital and valiantly stayed awake through my installation in a real room, but now was snoring in an uncomfortable chair despite himself.
I was irritated, because believing medical professionals about flare-ups of chronic health issues when you’re 22 and have them mostly under control is harder than it should be, and the downside of kitchen table polyamory when you’re That Person is that you have six or seven reminders about taking your new meds when you get out of the hospital, and four people double checking if you’re following advice not to drink for three months after the flare-up ends. (Many people, including my mother, who sees no other upside, would say this is all a positive.)
The next three days, while I was in hospital, were the most vibrant illustration of how kitchen table polyamory can/should work that I have ever seen. My two partners and the one of my metas who was a close friend (and my introduction to her boyfriend) took turns spending days with me; and my other four metas brought food (And coffee - thank goodness for outside coffee in a hospital stay). Everyone was Team Laura for the few days I really needed a team, when I lived 7-10 hours from my family, and could mostly advocate for myself but needed the confidence boost of having a team.
So, where’s the downside of all this?
The downside comes from the possibility that your polycule and their friends are your whole social network. What if there’s a breakup in the center of this? Do you have the support of these metamours who may have become much of your social network? Do they feel they should be ‘sticking with’ the hinge partner over you, and you’re left isolated? If the network is interconnected enough, do you have partners who are also metas of your former partner, in especially awkward positions now?
In my personal experience, it’s awkward for a little while and then it clears up.
That same polycule that I described above? Was the center of a big social group. Those metas of mine had other partners, and a lot of us had friends-not-quite-with-benefits - about half of us were peak examples of Hookup Culture, and took forever to label partnerships, had a lot of flirty friends and a lot of “well we aren’t partners but you know, one time after a party” kind of connections in the social group. But also… a lot of us were each other’s closest friends.
James and I broke up, in part because he felt like there was hierarchy in my moving in with another partner that he didn’t want to deal with. The two of us didn’t quite know how to deal with each other in small social situations for several months, even as we tried to figure out being friends. He didn’t know how to deal with Steve, the partner I moved in with, even in big groups, for at least as long, even though they’d been close before. For some people, that awkwardness breaks the group down - there’s a spinoff into multiple little networks; or the person in James’s position plays “poly dominoes,” a term a friend of mine coined for a string of breakups that follow a central one and leaves a group of people down and out. (We saw it enough in our wider acquaintance that we made up a word for it - that’s why it’s worth calling it the downside of this system.)
We were luckier than that. We applied the same principals that had applied to our relationships to our friendships. We slowly made the transition from logically knowing that our awkward reaction was social conditioning, to emotionally knowing it. And once we got there, things got comfortable again. Things got comfortable to the point that Steve and I got married two years later, and James helped organize the bachelor party. It’s a real-life possibility to go either way; and both ways take a period of awkwardness and work.
As you can maybe tell, I loved having this experience, and I strive for it in a general way. But I’m a realist, and I’ve never since had the nice mix of personalities that makes this kind of network a reality. As a result, my actual expectation is that most networks I’m in will be a mix of the kitchen table and parallel styles of polyamory. I’m excited to share that, and its up and downsides with you, in my next post.
Kitchen Table to Parallel Polyamory Spectrum Series