The topic “freedom and polyamory” has occupied me again and again in the last months. Especially after I was on the road a lot, gave lectures and workshops. Again and again people have approached me who had the feeling that they were failing polyamory because they didn’t process their feelings well enough or fast enough or simply didn’t know how to deal with a situation. Often the fear of losing a relationship person or overwhelming them with their own feelings was in the foreground. And again and again such conversations revolved around a concept of freedom, which I can’t understand well or where I find it difficult to understand why this is used as an argument in polyamorous relationships. Very often these concepts were expressed in sentences like “You restrict my freedom”. This means that someone wants to feel free to have relationships and/or sexual contact of any form with others at any time.
I would like to try to explain why I have my difficulties with this.
On the one hand it was very often Cis women who came to me and told me about their dilemma. Their relationship persons, very often Cis men, were the ones who pronounced the sentence in various variations. Why does gender play a role here? Because to be socialized as a woman constantly means to be educated in relationship and emotional work. I get angry at such moments because the sentence leaves no alternative but for the Cis women to take on exactly this role and emotional work. Sentences that allude to the fact that someone has a fundamental right or claim to something are often paralyzing in a certain way. After all, they leave no room for discussion or confrontation. Instead, they create a great deal of room for guilt, because the participants usually remain alone with their feelings or no longer dare to talk about them with their relationship person. Introducing a freedom argument can only work for one person at a time, because if it were introduced by two or more people at the same time, it would be unnecessary. This makes it a one-way street for one person.
On the other hand, freedom as an argument does not give the possibility to actually allow feelings. Instead, any feeling is branded as bad and undesirable. I find this quite unfair, because after all – at least frequently – it should not be a question of forbidding an action, but of having a discussion about different needs. This argument can be tricky, I admit. Sometimes one person has to take more distance than the other, sometimes someone feels disadvantaged and sometimes one or more people are afraid that responding to feelings might mean practicing monogamy for an indefinite period of time because there is no room to live polyamorously/openly. Ultimately, however, it is a question of negotiation and rapprochement.
For me, having open/polyamore relationships does not mean being able to do what I want to do at all times. Says: “If my relationship person(s) should have difficulties with this, it is their problem, I am not considering stopping whatever.” This kind of relationship is not mine. And I also find it hard to give people any form of advice or tip when they ask me what they can do when their relationship person refuses to listen to their feelings. I find it unfair and selfish, in a negative way, that only a person’s needs remain in the foreground. For me, a relationship of any kind means a joint project, something that two or more people create together and develop out of and together with these people. That is why it is so difficult for me to understand that people use this knockout argument. For me, that no longer has much to do with mutual shaping.
I do see the difficulty(s) when it comes to negotiating and reconciling different needs. When my relationship person and I opened our relationship from monogamous to open for physical experiences with others, I refused for a long time. I was afraid that everything would change between us, I was afraid of rejection and I did not (yet) want to face this new experience. That’s why I kept putting it off, giving her the feeling that I needed more time, but time wasn’t the problem.
That’s why I know very well that sometimes it can be difficult to talk about needs and find negotiations or compromises, because sometimes it doesn’t seem clear from what feeling or motivation someone is asking for more time. Sometimes it also means that one or more people will be dissatisfied for a while, but that’s how compromises are, they’re not always fun. I think it’s important not to forget that compromises are a small “sacrifice” for everyone involved, sometimes more, sometimes less, and often nothing they would decide for themselves if it were just their needs. This means that everyone has to take a step towards each other. If, for example, I agree to call my relationship person after a date with another person, then I do so because I know that it is important for them to hear my voice and thereby experience security and affection. For me, it’s no big deal to make a call, but maybe this seemingly small thing means a lot to my relationship person. Depending on the situation, the call may even be a compromise between “see you right after the date” and “don’t hear you at all”.
By this I mean that I like to make compromises and try to take the feelings of my relationship person(s) as seriously as possible. For me, this does not mean that I immediately take every one of my needs into account instead of or only the needs of my relationship person(s). But it can mean that I don’t want to go from 0 to 100 immediately. For example, if I would like to sleep at my date’s place, but my relationship person(s) do not feel so comfortable with it, it may mean that we are slowly moving towards it. Step by step we would get closer to staying overnight. So my original need is not rejected, its satisfaction is simply adapted to our common pace.
In the end, I think it is clear that a person can theoretically (I’m choosing theoretically because practically people can’t do everything they want considering capitalism and all sorts of inequalities in our society) do everything they are able to do. This is not a question of freedom. It is not at all about the sentence “This is my freedom and I am allowed to do this”, but about the addition that is not pronounced, namely “and you can’t do anything about it”. And that’s what I find so difficult to understand, because it just doesn’t fit with my understanding of polyamory (and relationships at all) and often Cis-woman – as described at the beginning – are confronted with the emotional work behind it. I’m not saying that people of any gender can’t make this argument. I have only noticed recently that many Cis women approached me with this problem. I don’t want to have the right to something in a relationship, regardless of the consequences. It is not a matter of winning or being right on principle. I want to find solutions and ideas together, at least that’s how I understand relationships. And for me, a knockout argument is anything but constructive or helpful.