Polysaturation: Do I Have Enough To Give?

I appreciate the concept of polysaturation, a piece of wordplay I both admire for its cleverness and find useful in the discussion of non-monogamy, but I prefer to consider being spread too thin overall since the bandwidth I have for a relationship of any sort is entirely dependent on what else is going on in my life.

  • Chronic illness
  • Career/work
  • Parenting
  • Community engagements & commitments
  • Writing projects
  • Household maintenance
  • Self-improvement
  • Hobbies

These things take time, energy, and other finite resources. Sometimes an extended lull in my personal mayhem inspires me to go on a date with someone new, but I’m never far from feeling like I’ve made a mistake when my laundry list of life-stuff recedes out of reach and I begin to schedule myself out of any me-time. 

It’s never a certain number of people, or a shortage of any particular finite resource, but a feeling that creeps in when I’ve overextended myself. I struggle with a sometimes debilitating amount of anxiety when it comes to ensuring that the people I care about feel cared for by me. I’ve had to learn to trust that I do enough, and if my best isn’t good enough, then we’re not compatible anyway. . . but I also acknowledge that it would be irresponsible of me to engage the hearts of more people than I have the time to care for properly. Trying to locate where that line is can be a daunting task to undertake, and it’s usually my individual interests that suffer in the long run in favor of nurturing the relationships in my life.

Currently, I am in two very loving partnerships with people I anticipate having in my life for a long time, but I remain a very “autonomy-first” individual. For many reasons, I enjoy spending quite a lot of time with each of them; I never wish it were less. While my logic-brain understands that I am a pretty good partner, I still wonder at times if I have enough to offer. Enough what? I don’t know – the stuff folks want from partners I guess . . . 

Sometimes I miss that first-date energy but I’m honestly scared to meet anyone I truly like when I feel like any aspect of my life isn’t getting the attention I would feel best giving it.

When I had just one partner for an extended period, I wondered if other relationships had been short-lived because they needed more from me. But when I met my more recent partner, it became very clear to me that what matters *most* in this equation is the type of person I’m connecting with. 

It’s like I have a bucket filled with a collection of treasures – odds and ends I’ve collected through my life. Some take up a lot of space while others fit in where they can, but all of them are parts of me. When I meet the right people, I can pour what we create together into that bucket like water, and I want them to feel the same way about how I fit into their lives. 

I like to be together, but not tangled.

I love being emotionally enmeshed without codependence hobbling autonomy. I pair well with folks whose relationship ideology is based on individual autonomy and who have a strong sense of self. I don’t feel polysaturated when my partners aren’t looking to me to be their missing piece. When someone needs that from me, it’s akin to adding a heavy rock to my overflowing bucket. Not only do I not have the room, but I risk crushing or having to abandon other important things. I used to try and accommodate relationships that didn’t fit but quickly learned that throwing myself out of balance to try and make something work is not in anyone’s best interest.

I see questions from folks on non-mongamy forums regarding the ideal number of partners, or what a concerning number of partners may be for one of theirs. I don’t know that there’s a number you can assign to this metric, or that it should even be a metric. I know my concerns are that I have enough time to attend to my own wants and needs as well as ensure my important people feel loved, but others need more or less me-time than I do. And many folks enjoy fulfilling relationships on a less-enmeshed basis. It’s a good idea to know what you’re looking for and what you have to give, and then it’s advisable to have a direct conversation about that with the individuals in question. This is also an important topic to revisit as relationships and individuals evolve over time.

Just as I know I won’t pair well romantically with anyone whose idea of love is my idea of codependence, or who wants to cast me in the role of “primary partner,” I also know I’m not compatible with someone who could only see me the second Tuesday of each month for three hours but not in December, because my emotional attachments develop in person and that schedule would not allow for a fulfilling relationship. 

At the moment I spend one weeknight a week with each of my two partners and dedicated weekend time with each of them every-other weekend. As such, I don’t have that to offer anyone else without allocating the majority of my free time to others, and I don’t want to do that. I know this about myself, so when I do meet someone I might otherwise consider a potential romantic match, I am candid about not seeing another enmeshed relationship work out right now, if ever.

I used to worry if my partners kept adding partners that what we had would need to grow smaller, but that isn’t the case. Relationships built with intention are able to add and subtract in a way that doesn’t push out what’s already there and important to us. Additional relationships might mean less flexibility in scheduling, but focusing on what matters in each one allows for more than you might imagine.

Ultimately, I know I have enough to offer more than one person because compatibility is more than chemistry. It’s the way two whole people fit together, and the ease with which that connection flows – exactly as it’s supposed to, finding its own level, like water. But while love is infinite, my personal vessels have limits, and my awareness of and respect for those dimensions ensures I don’t find myself polysaturated and unhappy.  


Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

Guest Blog: Finite Resources in Relationships

Love is abundant and not a zero sum game. That is, loving others will never reduce what’s available for others. We experience this all the time with friends, children, siblings, etc. It truly is an infinite resource. 

But while love is an infinite resource, our lives are full of others that are. Regardless of your relationship structure, you’re going to have to decide how to allocate them in a way that works for you and those you care about. Time, money and energy are three of the most common ones people struggle with.

Society tells us that once you find “The One,” your resources should largely go to them. Different people have different needs. For instance, I put the extra in extravert and enjoy giving my time freely to others; by contrast, an introvert may want to devote more time to themselves, or a parent to their children. The dominant narrative would have us sacrificing things that enrich our lives in order to allocate these resources to a romantic partner as a demonstration of our love. But love shouldn’t require you to suffer. Healthy relationships lead you to feel fulfilled, not stifled.

Divvying up finite resources can be a challenge. Obviously, multiple non-platonic relationships present unique challenges. It’s natural to want to commit much of your time, energy, and/or money to each of them. Sometimes this division will come easily, other times it may stretch you so thin that you snap. Ask me how I know!

Time is the resource I struggle with the most. When I have people in my life I enjoy giving time to, I do so without stopping to think if I should or even can. Spending time with people literally fills my cup but I need me time now and then. I used to book myself solid months in advance, but would grow frustrated at the complete lack of time and flexibility for me. Since the pandemic forced me into a more relaxed social schedule, I’ve discovered a newfound appreciation for time spent playing narrative-rich video games, doing side projects for work, riding my motorcycles, catching up on miscellaneous household projects, and much more. I’d let much of that slip over the years and the pandemic actually helped me realize that. As restrictions have loosened, I’ve done a solid job of keeping my schedule a touch lighter.

At one point in my life, hardly a day went by when I didn’t spend most of it with at least one of my two very enmeshed partners. While I loved my time with them, I resisted carving out time for myself because I felt obligated (personal and social pressure) to give them whatever I had to give. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually with their encouragement and my recognition of my own struggles with codependency, I grew more comfortable doing just that.

Money is another finite resource that can get tricky. Some people have none while others have more than they could spend in one hundred lifetimes. Like many of you, I had a partner with whom I shared finances and assets. As we developed other relationships the need to have our finances separate grew. We found a method that worked well for us: a monthly allowance from our pooled funds combined with anything above and beyond that coming from our individual accounts. Eventually we separated our finances completely. Whether you’re working on de-tangling finances after decades or discussing who pays for dinner on a first date, a direct conversation with your partner is always a best practice.

Energy is perhaps the most difficult resource of all. In a world that idolizes self-sufficiency at all costs, we often find ourselves running low. The more enmeshed relationships you have in your life, the more energy you’re prone to spending. People have a tendency to put so much of themselves into relationships where they don’t get much back largely because of the romanticization of self-sacrifice in relationships. We can’t pour from an empty cup; make sure that you’re replenishing yours in ways that work for you. For instance, I find it important to find relationships that have a relatively even exchange. I’m a giver by nature. And if a new relationship doesn’t give back at a level that feels good to me? I’m going to modify my effort to a level that feels more equitable. It doesn’t need to be the same level, just one that feels more equitable to me.

Personal agency is paramount in finding a good balance to your finite resource allocation and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Having a solid grasp on your wants and needs as well as the courage to advocate for yourself is also important. Understand that they can and likely will change over time. Trust your partners to handle changes in your wants and needs like adults. Whether you’re talking about time, money, or energy, budgeting is in your best interest . . . we all have a finite amount of each.

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was polyamorous 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.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash