Guest Blog: Chemistry vs. Compatibility

Chemistry and compatibility are tricky things in relationships. Whether you’re mono or non-mono, you’ll likely come across someone you are super compatible with, but the connection just lacks that “va-va-voom”. Or someone that gives you the most intense case of being twitterpated . . . only to find out there are some massive compatibility issues.

Imagine going on a date and ending the night feeling all of the happy good feels. The chemistry is off the charts amazing! All you can think about is them. Naturally, you continue dating them. However, over time you discover attributes that make compatibility challenging. 

I’m not talking about them being an overt racist, but things we’re told “Love can conquer”. For example, you like a 40 hour work week while they are happy working 70+ and travel a lot for it. They have children and you don’t want them. They place the toilet roll on backwards (I’m looking at you, Red). All certainly reasonable and valid, but may present future conflict. And now you’re now faced with a decision to continue on this path or not.

For many, compromise is seen as the best solution

But what if we allowed ourselves to invest in the parts of the relationship that work, enjoy them, and not partake in the parts that don’t? Some areas are easier than others. For instance, I have a partner who has children and I am child free by choice. For this reason, we had specific conversations/negotiations around my level of involvement with her children. After a few years (and they were largely grown), I became comfortable with the idea of co-parenting. We were able to carry on a heavily enmeshed relationship without having to let an incompatibility interfere too much. And in a way that doesn’t compromise things that are deeply important to us.

One of the benefits of non-monogamy is the plethora of options available to you when compatibility and chemistry don’t line up. Just because those options are available to you doesn’t mean they’re going to work, however. 

This summer I met a woman with whom I have a high level of chemistry. It didn’t take long to realize there were a number of things that made us pretty incompatible in a conventional relationship model. We have different viewpoints on work/life balance, I’m non-mono and she’s mono, we live 1500 miles apart now, etc. For these reasons and more, I don’t think we’d have been very successful in a traditional relationship. At least not without large sacrifices on behalf of one or both of us. Instead, we negotiated a relationship that works for us. It’s fluid in its form and largely boils down to this: let’s stay in touch, see each other when it makes sense, and enjoy the relationship in ways that feel natural at that time. What’s happened in the past may not work in the future and things that may have been off the table in the past may work next time we see each other. We’re both very busy and eight hours of flights is not ideal, but we stay in contact and enjoy each other’s company when we have the opportunity.

When working to find balance it’s important to have strong boundaries and a clear idea of what you want/need out of that relationship, so you can better advocate for yourself. Without that, we may agree to things we don’t want just to get a piece of the whole. Unfortunately, that becomes a breeding ground for future resentments.

So what about when there’s compatibility but no chemistry? In my experience, good compatibility sans chemistry happens in two different ways:

The first one, I simply call friendship! With so much focus on “finding the one” for many, it’s easy to lose sight of this super important relationship. I once had a date that was SO MUCH FUN. We had over five hours of great conversation, to be exact. It felt natural for us to end this experience with a kiss . . . because date, duh. But when that kiss happened? Nothing. Literally nothing. We looked at each other in a bit of disbelief because we had just spent an entire evening having a great time! ON A DATE! We were so caught up in the idea of it being a date that we lost track of the notion that maybe we just get along well. After a good laugh, we confirmed with each other there wasn’t much there and said, “how about we give friends a try?” We took that path and had a good time.

The second is in long term relationships. I know multiple people who had long term relationships end in the last few years, but they’ve made it work as close friends since then. Compatibility wasn’t an issue, but the romantic and/or sexual chemistry no longer existed in that relationship for one reason or another. Thankfully, they saw value in what worked between them. Many see this as the end of a relationship, or worse: a failure. But what if we just saw it as a transition of the relationship? From a model that no longer works to one that does.

Regardless of which situation presents itself, you have options! A narrow or even singular focus strips us of different opportunities. If you’re too focused on finding one specific plant for one specific area of your yard, you’re going to miss out on a variety of amazing flora that could enhance your landscape in other ways! So stop to smell the rose bushes, lilac trees, fruit bearing shrubs, and perhaps a venus fly-trap here and there. They’ve all got something to offer.

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Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

When to Disclose

When do I tell someone I’m interested in that I’m polyamorous?

I see this question posed a lot in online forums when the topic of dating is up for discussion. My answer is very simple: first thing.

I’m on one or two online dating sites, and my status as a non-monogamous person is very clearly referenced not only in the body of my profile, but also in any filtering criteria I’m allowed. When someone new expresses interest in me and I see potential there, my first message always includes a query regarding their awareness of me being polyamorous and if so, if they know what that means.

From what I’ve observed in the non-monogamous community I have access to, there are a large number of people who defer disclosing this information about themselves until after they’ve met a potential partner in person, claiming that being up front about being non-monogamous scares away too many people.

Well . . . sucks for them, but guess what? That’s not ethical.

As much as I would love to live in a society in which monoamory, polyamory, and the 537 shades of “open” in between were each as normalized as the other, I do not. I don’t owe anyone my measurements or my GPA or my profession or my star sign, but I do owe them the courtesy of not wasting their time and possible emotional investment in something that’s never going to be on the table for them: namely, a relationship with someone who will never be limited by anyone else in the number of romantic partners she has.

I think back to when my boyfriend and I were first chatting. I met him in person without his wife and he was very forthcoming about being married. That evening we struck up a non-stop conversation online that continued for weeks. To be quite honest, I started to fall for him immediately – and if he had been of the mind that disclosing his relationship status or polyamorous nature to me was going to ruin his chances, and I were someone for whom monogamy was the only option, I could have been hurt. Emotional investment happens on a different timeline for everyone, and if we can’t respect that, we have no business being out there accepting these interactions.

But it’s really more awful than just that . . .

If you say you’re inclined to wait until someone is invested in you to disclose what is in most cases a deal breaker in our society, then what you’re really saying is that you see emotional manipulation as a valid tool in your relationships. Newsflash: That makes you a bad person, and a terrible partner.

The moment you know you’re interested in pursuing a connection with someone, you are bound by ethics to disclose your non-monogamy to the object of your affection. I’m not going to get into when you should be telling your other partners about this new person – we all have different agreements there, and they may even vary from one partner to the next – but I am unwavering on this edict: You cannot claim to practice ethical non-monogamy and enter into an exchange with the intent to deceive in order to secure another person’s connection to you. The two are mutually exclusive.

That’s all I have to say about that.

 

Desperately Seeking Normal

One of the reasons I write this blog is to contribute in whatever small way I can to the normalization of polyamory. I want the way I love to not be weird to people. It feels normal to me, but at times I’m struck by how my treatment of it as normal is seen as aggressive by others.

If I talk about my girlfriend and my boyfriend, I’m “talking about poly” when really, I’m just talking about relationships . . . as you do. My ups and downs just look a little different sometimes.

If I use words that are specific to polyamory, I’m “talking about poly” when really I’m using words that make the most sense in my life. People “talk about mono” all day all night, but it’s not notable because that’s all anyone sees unless someone like me makes a point of being visible.

Being visible is how shit gets normalized.

I get that when something outside the scope of normal gets brought up over and over again it can feel like saturation or promotion. But what are my options? Do I pretend that I have only one partner? Do I pretend we’re monoamorous? Of course not.

No one needs me to pretend to be anyone other than myself because nothing I’m doing in my relationships affects anyone who isn’t in them, regardless of whether or not they think it does.

So why is normalizing polyamory important?

Because anytime people are allowed to be themselves, they flourish.

You cannot tell I’m polyamorous to look at me. The assumption is that I’m not. That is how our society views relationships and anything outside of that is taboo or unethical. I mean, there are plenty of unethical relationships happening in and outside of monoamory, but poly is not inherently so. It’s not even mostly so.

I have encountered more people claiming to be mono and lying about it than I have encountered those who are poly. Mono relationships don’t have a monopoly on ethics, by any stretch. In fact, I believe that if poly were more acceptable in mainstream society, we would see far more ethical behavior with stigma eroded in favor of honesty.

But there is no path to that without normalization.

And there is no path to normalization without visibility.

And there is no visibility without talking about it . . . so you will have to forgive me for insisting on being visible. If you don’t see me for who I am and give me an opportunity to show you I’m perfectly normal, ethical, happy, and healthy, then I won’t be able to hope that someday I won’t have to be a secret in certain situations.

Secrets and Security

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that secrets are almost always colored with pain.

When people feel some level of insecurity in their own relationships, that feeling is intensified by witnessing relationships that don’t fit their idea of what’s normal and safe. Because if I’m doing something that looks scary, (say . . . oh, I don’t know . . . loving more than one person in a romantic way), then it’s possible their partner might want to do that too – and Holy Hannah, let’s just make sure that’s not a thing right now because OMG too scary!

The more secure someone is, the less they care how I conduct my heart-business.

My polyamorous experiences have included plenty of secrets. I’ve never kept partners unknown to each other, but I’ve been kept as an unknown partner – sometimes without my knowledge or consent. I’ve had to pretend I was not involved with people I loved in certain circles – both to protect the lies of my partners who were being dishonest (I no longer put myself in these situations), and more recently to protect the relationships my partners have with family and friends who do not know they are poly.

The latter is what I want to write about; I do not condone the former.

I am “out” as poly in most areas. This means I don’t hide my relationship structure on social media, in public, or with friends and family – the only place I stay relatively quiet is at work. But I am lucky: I am not in danger of losing any portion of my support network by being myself and that’s not the case for everyone. Not by a long shot.

In one of my relationships, there are times I need to appear less-than-girlfriend. There are family members, friends, and professional contacts who are not in the know, and in many cases that’s a secret that needs to be maintained out of security – both financial and emotional.

And I’m not gonna lie here: that’s hard.

As someone who freight-trains through life leaving haters in her wake, I’m not used to having to show up as anyone but myself. I’m torn at times – I want to be supportive and attend social gatherings, but I struggle so much with my feeeeeeeelings when my role in a loved one’s life needs to be kept under wraps.

So look – I’m a wuss about some stuff. This is one of those things!

I know I am valued and loved and very important. And I know, without a doubt, that it’s not about me. But there’s a nasty little voice in my head that likes to play with my emotions – even when I work so hard to remind myself to keep my perspective and focus on what I know to be true.

I’m going to share with you the awful things my inner emotional jerk-face comes up with in case any of you experience the same things – because I think they can be overcome, and I think it’s important to work on them instead of burying them.

A list of things my Imaginary Horrible tells me:

  • You will never be more important than the insecurity of others
  • Imagine a future where you hide in plain sight for the rest of your life
  • Oh, look at them showing affection to their other partner and not you
  • You would never ask someone else to pretend like this
  • This is a way to keep you “secondary” and prevent closeness

Lovely, aren’t they?

And so, after experiencing the heartache of that rigamarole on a regular basis, I let my poly pod know I would no longer put myself in situations that required me to pretend to be just a friend.

But that sucks, too – yeah?

On one hand, I’m trying to keep myself safe with an emotional boundary – I can’t lie, so I don’t want to put myself in situations that feel like lying or might require me to lie.

On the other, I want to celebrate birthdays and holidays and attend sporting events to cheer people on when they play! I want to see major accomplishments recognized and meet families and be a good friend!

We’re closing in on birthday, holiday, and sports season. I’m going to be invited to go places where I can’t reveal my actual status in the lives of people I care about. But I can take comfort in the fact that none of us are particularly pleased with that necessity, and that over time we’ve made some progress with being more visible. I can also adjust my self-talk.

I’m realizing that part of my poly is going to be learning how to switch gears as a way to love my partners.

Here’s how I plan to approach that:

  • Negotiate each situation beforehand as far as expectations go – can I ride to and from with my partner? Can I sit next to them? How can I answer personal questions without lying?
  • Share my feelings instead of locking them down – what are my worries beforehand and how did that go in the end?
  • Ask for understanding if I need to bail, and have a plan in place to facilitate that if need be. And also, to be gentle with myself when that happens.
  • Actively remind myself why I’m there – to be a good friend!
  • Bring another partner for support, if possible and appropriate – using people is never okay, but sometimes “the more, the merrier” is super effing true

For me, being a good partner means doing some extra work at times. I refuse to get down on myself for not being perfect at poly or feelings or anything, really. What I strive to do is find the greatest amount of happiness in any situation and the fact of the matter is, I’m happier with my people than without, no matter what that looks like!