Negotiating Interactions with Metamours - A Practical Guide
You may recall from several months ago, I had a list of questions to ask when you’re dating while polyamorous. The idea of this list was to give a guideline of things that might help people find directions they hadn’t considered questioning to look at internally, as well as conversations to have early in relationships. But, honestly, I’d also intended to come back to this list and address these topics as we went along. Some of them, I found when I recently went back over it, I’ve addressed in a very theoretical way but not in a practical manner almost at all. Today, we’re here to address one of those.
One compound question that fell into this category is “If your polycule is more kitchen table, is that a requirement or just a preference for group interactions of your partners? What kinds of interactions do you mean?” This question is really a lead in to a practical negotiation - expressing and hold your boundaries regarding interactions with metamours firm around the preferences and ‘requirements’ of prospective partners or prospective metamours. It becomes necessary because, as discussed in the Kitchen Table to Parallel Polyamory Spectrum series, people use the term “Kitchen Table Polyamory” in a lot of different ways, to mean a lot of different things, and clarifying what you each want becomes a lot more essential. In that series, we gave examples of examples that failed or succeeded, but didn’t get into a real how-to of how to have these conversations with your metamours or your partners, established or prospective.
As a note, I don’t suggest having these conversations and negotiations directly with prospective metamours before a relationship with a hinge partner begins unless that’s a procedure/rule of their ongoing relationship without checking in with the prospective partner if that would be welcome first. Some people, even if they mention they’re going out on a date with someone and so meet minimum honesty and openness due diligence, don’t share that the dates are going well enough that they’re negotiating what the shape of the relationship will be like until they’ve started those negotiations and have their next get together with a pre-existing partner to feel out their reaction. While I don’t recommend that approach… it’s remarkably common and ‘dropping the bomb’ that you’re having those negotiations can get the messenger killed.
But, let’s start the negotiation from the premise of the question(s) asked. Do we prefer kitchen table relationships, or require them, from our polycules, and if so how many degrees out? If I’m going to be 100% honest, I have a preference for a mildly kitchen table style of connection - that level that we simply called “Kitchen Table Polyamory” in my theoretical description, which may reflect my biases. But it’s definitely not a requirement, and I like it to grow organically and to follow the building of the romantic relationship so I don’t tend to try to make friends with metamours until 3 or so months after I start to feel secure in a relationship - so this means sometimes I alienate a metamour who needs effort to start sooner but I didn’t know that because I forgot to ask or because they didn’t want to complain to my partner about “such a little thing” early on.
Admitting that things are requirements is a little bit taboo and out of style, but the more specific you get about your negotiation and your questions, the more honest both your prospective or new partner’s and your own answers will be. So, when we narrow it down from “is kitchen table polyamory a requirement for you?” to “is it pretty much a requirement for you that your partners all come to special events for you?” and “Is it a preference or so strong that it’s basically a requirement that everybody be able to hang out for a weekend?” and “since you have a nesting partner, do other partners need to be a certain degree of close with your nesting partner to spend time with you at home?” we’re more likely to get and give sincere answers. My requirements are more anti-requirements, or requirements of what I won’t accept in treatment, rather than structural requirements. But now, onward to the how-to I promised.
Step 1: Break down questions into concerns that are more specific so we’re more likely to give and get sincere answers.
Step 2: Discuss all these concerns with the prospective or new partner.
Step 3: If they don’t match up neatly, see if they match enough that it can be talked through or if it’s an immediate dealbreaker.
Step 4: If it can be talked through, here’s where the work starts.
You begin by figuring out what is actually a point of disagreement. Then look at what kind of disagreement it is. Is it a matter of the prospective partner wants everyone to be best friends and you want to hang out at parties and on holidays? That’s a valid boundary to hold, and not letting your partner pressure you into “but it makes everything EASIER for me” or any metamour come in and say “don’t be so MEAN to me, if you LIKED me you’d want to hang out all the time.”
If the disagreement is in the opposite direction, you want to be able to see your partner on holidays and special occasions and parties and your partner wants full compartmentalization of metas and multiple days of celebration of all events and you’re not primary so you won’t ever get the “official day” or a metamour wants extreme parallel and so you in wanting your want are “how dare you step on my boundaries by wanting to be in the same place as me.” There becomes a lot of case by case negotiation, if one or both of those isn’t a dealbreaker.
If the disagreement is about the definition of kitchen table itself - about what is included once you get past “we all hang out as a polycule” in being a kitchen table unit. When I run classes on the spectrum of parallel to kitchen table polyamory and all the permutations in between, one of the exercises we do to open the class is make a little list on one of those easel flip charts about what members of the class think kitchen table automatically includes. Common answers include grabbing a cup of coffee with a meta, metas calling each other instead of communicating through the hinge, all sharing meals occasionally. Less common, but much more common than I’d expected before I started running the class about every 3 months, answers, include all members of the polycule being expected to be sexually intimate with each other regardless of their romantic relationship; metamours being expected to run interference when a hinge partner is “in the doghouse” with other metas; and triads, quads, and other multi-partner groupings being more likely to result out of them.
Step 5: Once you’ve talked it out and reached a compromise that’s amenable to all parties or determined which parts need to be negotiated one by one later, make sure you guard your boundaries. - Don’t people please by saying yes to everything the first time you’re asked, because it sets precedents you don’t want; guard your yes and use no without feeling selfish for it. It is not selfish to take care of yourself, to be true to yourself, and to be honest with partners and metamours so you don’t let resentment build up until it’s a problem and a fight.
I hope the ideas of how to negotiate out the type and timbre of your interactions with metamours were helpful or are helpful when you need them in the future.