Kitchen Table to Parallel Polyamory, Part 5: The Polycule With a Little of Everything
Most extended constellations or big polycules are actually a mix of kitchen table and parallel polyamorous styles. You hit a point where someone gets into a relationship with someone (let’s say Fred - like always, all names except my own are made up to protect the innocent and the guilty) who says “oh, I love you a lot, but I don’t have anything in common with your partner Adam, so I’m happy to see them at a party but not hang out regularly” and the hinge partner thinks that’s fine by them, so they’re the fulcrum of a parallel relationship between two kitchen table networks, one containing Adam and one Fred.
Or Fred is solo-poly or in parallel relationships in general, so that hinge is the turning point where a parallel series that could describe a big constellation (but usually doesn’t bother to, except for sexual safety purposes, or maybe someone’s birthday), connects to a kitchen table unit.
I’m in one of these right now; for a bit of both reasons. I met my partner Gene when we were both in nesting relationships with other people. Since then, my nesting relationship has ended and I identify as having my children as my first priority, and then myself and any partners. I haven’t figured out what that means in terms of my polyamorous identity - am I solo poly? Am I seeking another nesting partner but being very cautious? Regardless of all that, the reality is that I’m dating around but don’t have any labelled partners except Gene.
His relationships are still shaped how they were when we met - in fact they’ve all gotten stronger. I was very excited to be invited to a commitment ceremony of his nesting triad with his wife Maria and his husband Charlie last year; and the two of us have been going strong for four years now. But, while we all spend time together for the occasional special event or holiday, and Gene doesn’t feel that he has any particular relationship hierarchy among us, I’m friendly, not friends, with my metamours. We don’t drop in on each other for coffee; we haven’t been out alone together in years, and really only did early on in my relationship with him to figure out whether we could be friends. None of us have any bad feelings, we just don’t have much in common that isn’t Gene, and it’s hard to build more than “the level above civil - basic friendly” on “we both love a person.” We spent Thanksgiving and New Years Eve together this year, along with Charlie and Maria’s other partner. But outside of these and big parties, we only see each other in passing - because they’re a nesting triad who share a bed, if Gene and I want overnight dates they happen at my place unless Charlie and Maria are away or it’s a big holiday sleepover, with kids and all polycule members along and around the house.
I guess the point I’m making is that it’s pretty easy to be grownups and be friendly in big groups and in passing, even if you don’t have enough in common to be deep friends with your metas, and that it doesn’t affect the ability of a kitchen table unit to exist for someone to not want that with the whole polycule.
I don’t want to make it sound like most polycules are one shape or another, but when you get into extended social networks of polyamorous people, you can, depending on how you define a partnership, build enormous constellations of 20 or 30 interconnected people really quickly, by finding one kitchen-table-oriented extrovert who has 5 partners who each have 3 partners, and each of those two who isn’t her per partner has at least one other partner… just at that point you’ve hit a minimum of 26 people that the extrovert is aware of, who have a central kitchen table fulcrum. I’ve often known 26 people who will come together for a birthday party or a big function, but seldom without several of them feeling like “oh, I only know X and Y here, I came for them;” at some point in the group the connections get parallel; and may lead into another kitchen table unit that considers itself separate or not. Whether all those partnerships fit a socially typical image of a relationship is questionable; they may not all be romantic, or they may not all be sexual; one may be the kind of loving friendship that you know will be in your life come hell or high water and both of you are relationship anarchist enough to define that as a partnership together. Relationships are defined by the people in them, and because of this, you could probably play six degrees of <insert polyamorous person> and find just about anyone, unless they’re in a polyfidelitous unit, depending on how you define a relationship.
But any relationship structure has the possibility to go badly…
One potential downside of parallel structures outside a kitchen table unit is the possibility of getting hit with “grass is always greener” feelings on both sides of the hinge. If the kitchen table unit is a literal living together unit, the nesting partners might feel like the outside of the unit partner gets the “fun time,” or “more dates;” and the person on the outside might feel negativity or jealousy about not getting time to “just veg,” less time with their partner in the hinge’s home.
Sometimes, if both partners are in that “oh, my partner(s) at home don’t really want to be friends and we aren’t going to hang out with them a bunch” position, logistical problems of having to go out, of inexpensive dates being fewer and farther between in the winter, and of needing to have really honest, really detailed conversations about where and when alone time and sex can happen, because there is no playbook, and lots of people don’t have guest rooms. This all ends up being an issue, because very few people have money for constant hotels, and even if they do, that then dramatically raises the level of “you go on these crazy expensive hotel dates with <Parallel Partner>, and those of us at home have takeout and a movie with you on Friday nights,” and it can make the parallel partner feel like an affair, which stops being fun REALLY FAST, if it was at all, so resentment can fester, and compersion (joy at your partner’s joy with someone) withers on the vine in the face of resentment. So, in fact, can relationships, if those early conversations reveal that the logistical challenges will be many.
One more story, dug out of recent history for you.
I have a pair of friends named Evan and Susan. They’ve been in a romantic and sexual polyamorous relationship for years, and nesting for a couple of those. They live with two other adults, who are also polyamorous but not involved with them, Erin and Cole. Their household decided that it was up to each couple to decide how they were going to handle bringing people home or not, but if anyone was considering moving anyone into the house it had to be a joint decision; so the four of them are in effect a kitchen table household with a very chill group of people in terms of what they consider seeing people in passing - so long as someone is wearing some pjs or clothes when they find them having coffee in their kitchen, everyone is alright with them having been there; but an invitation to holidays would get a talk.
But, within that unit, Evan and Susan share a room. To try not to mandate displacing someone from their bed or needing to have dates on the same night (because that seemed to them like a patch of quicksand for jealousy), Evan fixed up half their basement and put a new door on, and with a rug, a bed, and good coat of paint, a guest room was born. They made a “Use the guest room” Google Calendar, and invited Erin and Cole to book guest room dates too. This didn’t just work great for partners of Evan and Susan’s who were close enough that everybody could make dinner and watch a movie together and then split up for the night with a wink and a laugh, but also for parallel partners - it made seeing someone in passing a lot easier to go see a movie or go for a walk, and then come back straight into the basement.
Everything was going great - until the basement flooded. That “guest room” wasn’t a real room to their insurance; and everything in it was wrecked. It’s a year later and they’re still self-rehabbing that basement to get it back to where it was. In that year, they’ve had to do the things they were trying to avoid - only schedule dates where someone wanted to come home with their date if the other had somewhere to go; figure out getting hotels with partners who had nowhere to bring them if they couldn’t manage that in a week or two week period. A couple early-in-things connections crashed because of those logistical challenges, or because it made the outside partner feel unconsidered to have a nesting partner not be willing to give up their bed for an overnight date or have to limit time frame of time literally in bed so a nesting partner could get to bed before work tomorrow. Their relationships that flourished the best were their medium-distance ones that operated on occasional entire weekends together, because they could sync those up.
Some people might argue that’s not a kitchen table and parallel in the same network problem, it’s a hierarchy problem or an inflexibility problem; but having been someone who lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a partner while polyamorous, I generally wanted to go out and stay out while my partner was having sex with people I wasn’t close to; and didn’t mind just throwing on headphones and doing things in another room or crashing on the couch when it was something that was happening if I came home if the person with my partner was someone I had closer feelings toward. Closeness of relationships can make a real difference to people’s boundaries - and sometimes, like when you have no guest room, the situation just isn’t shaped in a way where you can imagine your partner is your roommate, and what would you think if a roommate did this? And apply that standard - and respecting everyone’s boundaries is always the goal in managing any relationship’s actions. Sometimes, that means people end relationships to respect their own boundaries, and it’s the right choice for them, at the same time as involving hurt feelings for them, and their ex-partner, and maybe for their ex meta(s) who may feel responsible for part of those breakups.
Next time, mildly parallel relationships and their pitfalls and upsides.
Kitchen Table to Parallel Polyamory Spectrum Series
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Extreme Kitchen Table
Part 3: Kitchen Table “With Extras”
Part 4: Kitchen Table Polyamory