Poly 101: Equality and Equity

Lately, I've been writing some 101 articles for the blog; you can find them using the poly101 label on the site. In this article, I'm addressing a key idea behind polyamorous relationships.

Okay, now, who here believes that life ... is fair?

That's right: fair.

Balanced? Equitable? Egalitarian? Proportionate? Equal?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Like you, I learned somewhere in my teens that life wasn't fair and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. And this is why I'm amused by folks new to Polyamory who come seeking a relationship model that guarantees fairness, and frankly, why I'm even more amused by experienced polypeeps who insist Polyamory is a path to Great Equalization.

Consider the following epic snippets of dramatic dialogue:

"Okay, you can date her because I've got this guy. I'm comfortable with that. It's fair." Hardly. You can't green-light your partner for acquiring another partner only when you've got somebody else to keep you preoccupied. Your fear and insecurity can't become the basis for partner's romantic life.

"You have three extra partners and I have none. That's not fair." Polyamory isn't an excuse to keep a scorecard. One, three, six, or nineteen: just because your wife has lined up more fulfilling extramarital relationships than you isn't really relevant. What's more relevant is how she's meeting your needs.

"I'm in another relationship. You should go out and get another partner, too, just to balance it out." Certainly nobody would use Polyamory as an excuse to distract a principal partner so they can selfishly have more time with a new-shiny? What, no one? Hopefully not. That would be a Red Herring -  avoiding responsibility and accountability towards your existing partners, and that would be bad.

"You slept over with her two nights last week. I should get at least two this week!", or, "You were out four nights last week and I was only out two. That's not fair." Ahh Lex Talionis: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and very soon, everyone ends up blind and needing dentures. It's nearly impossible to attend to all partners equally and at all times. Sometimes, one person may be in a deficit of time while others ride a surplus; at other times, special occasions, emergencies, the crisis du jour may demand unbalanced time and attention. Counting, I'm afraid, is pointless. Instead, should you mistrust your partner's judgement or feel in a chronic deficit of attention, now's the time to have a very direct conversation about what you need most of the time.

"I've got room for a third partner in my life, but you don't." Sorry, you are not Supreme Cobra Commander. You don't get to make a final judgement on your partner's capacity or capability. Of course, you are entitled to an opinion and might - in fact - express your concern over acquiring more mouths to feed, but you don't get to limit your partner's entanglements because of your sole judgement.

"She always gets laid at play parties. She gets all the attention. I never get laid. I hate going to parties. So I'm not going." Awww. Suck it up, buttercup. Women almost always get more action at parties. They usually have more opportunities for dating, too. It's called supply and demand. Better to consider what you're doing (or not doing) at these parties.

"You see me all the time - we live together. She only gets to see me eight hours in a week!" I've even seen some analytical types go so far as to add up the hours they spend sleeping, eating, engaged in family activities, etc., and then present a spreadsheet of their findings to their partner. You know, you may have committed to bigger things with your primary partner like shared financial obligations, kids, family, chores, cooking and cleaning, laundry, household projects, work. You're not really allowed to skirt your responsibilities - some core commitments you've made to a primary domestic partner - just because your spreadsheet doesn't total up. Sorry, Charlie.

"You live with her - she gets to see you all the time and I only see you eight hours a week!" Consequently, the secondary doesn't get to redefine those obligations and thereby command more time, or, demand a re-alignment of those priorities. The secondary is contending for time and energy already committed to a primary relationship. That should be clearly understood going into the relationship. Many compromises might need to be made on everyone's calendar in order to negotiate for more time.

Polyamory isn't fair.  It's not really about equity or fairness anyway. At times, it'll feel extraordinarily unbalanced.

  • There will be moments when you're at your lowest of lows while your partner is riding the euphoric high of NRE
  • There will be times where you sleep alone and feel lonely; 
  • There will be times where your husband is getting more sex than you are :)
  • There will be times when flirty attention is lavished upon your wife;
  • There will be times where your dates are cancelled for family emergencies; 
  • There will be times when your partner has a bigger dating pool than you;
  • There will be times where a life event demands more attention be poured into another relationship; 
  • There will be nights where you're getting all the attention and your partner languishes;
  • There will be times where everyone in a network musters up all of their resources, drop what they're doing, and converge on a single metamour, to simply help them in a moment of crisis. 

Ultimately, fairness and equity are ideals that justify controls, rules, and constraints. The big hurdle is trust. Once everyone within a network realizes that they're not struggling individually for more control but learn to yield control for the benefit of all in the network - in hopes that consideration could be shown to them some day. We trust our partners. We trust that they would make decisions in our best interest. Thus you don't have to ask for what you want or protect it ... it's given, freely. In Polyamory, we're all in this together. It's through honest negotiation, communication, sacrifice, and compromise that we all try to get what we need.