Thoughts on couple privilege and ‘real’ polyamory

I was exposed to a very interesting idea last night when I read Poly Pride’s post, “Unicorn Hunters are a ‘larval form’ of poly“. That post then lead me to More Than Two’s post about polyamory and couple privilege and let’s just say I recognised more of my relationship there than I really wanted to.

As stated in More Than Two’s post, privilege isn’t necessarily something you do or take advantage of on purpose but it can still have a negative effect on people regardless. Often in our discussions about becoming a triad, we’ve spoken about how we’d protect ‘our relationship’ and how if the third person was causing drama or one of us wasn’t getting along with her, it would be more important to preserve what we have (the primary relationship) than potentially losing everything. In hindsight, I can see how much privilege we’re attaching to our current relationship. Yes, of course if someone is being malicious or trying to cause trouble then it’s best you break up with that person but I’m sure many problems can be solved by having an adult discussion about what’s bothering everyone rather than just ejecting the newbie from the mix.

That’s where this wonderful quote found by Poly Pride comes in:

“To many in the poly world, Unicorn Hunters are thought of as a ‘larval form’ of poly, as a stage couples go through before they become ‘real’ poly.” – Comment by – C Scott Morris on polyspace.wordpress.com

When seeking a unicorn, you’re essentially asking someone to be equally attracted and interested in both parties and is it really poly if you have to do everything together? As a current unicorn hunter, I see how this form of poly is a stepping stone, a baby step couples can take before they’re ready to spread their wings and fly off into the full blown world of polyamory. A world that can seem scary, confronting and seemingly lawless compared to the much ‘simpler’ act of finding a unicorn to take care of in your easily controlled small-scale poly unicorn stable.

But without recognising and working to reject privilege, it would be easy to leave a swathe of broken hearts in your wake. Whenever things get too difficult, get rid of the unicorn. If one person doesn’t get on with another, get rid of the unicorn. If the unicorn likes one partner more than the other, the unicorn’s got to go. When does the unicorn get a say? A unicorn is a horse with a horn, silly, it can’t speak. And so the privilege prioritises the couple and leaves the unicorn just a sometimes useful horned horse left in the stable until the couple needs it and turfed out of the stable when no longer wanted. A homeless unicorn, now there’s a sad thought.

A few months ago, I broached the subject of me seeing women on my own. I’ve never been in a relationship with a woman before (only sexual encounters that always involved a man being present, even if they didn’t participate) and I felt I wanted to experience this. Jared’s first response was to ask if he’d also be able to see women on his own. I’d considered this prior to bringing it up and agreed that I would be OK with it – although of course it frightened me. The conversation then degenerated into a mostly fear-based discussion about the potential pitfalls of not doing things together, of not having rules and eventually losing control. We came to the conclusion it was a bad idea.

So when I read the below quote from More Than Two, I almost felt like he was reading my mind: 

Looking from the outside, it often seems to me that many people in polyamorous (and monogamous!) relationships don’t trust their partners–not really. So they look to create rules and structures to meet their needs, because they don’t really believe that if their partner can do whatever he or she wants, their partner will freely choose to meet those needs.
When you trust your partners, things change. You no longer feel the need to assert privilege by saying “My partner can only have sex with someone else as long as I am there,” because you know that no matter how amazing that sex is, your partner still loves you and wants to be with you. So instead, you can say “When we find a third, we can all talk together to decide what our sexual boundaries are.” And so on. — Polyamory and couple privilege, More Than Two
We’re taught that if your partner sleeps with someone else and the sex is fantastic, they’re going to leave you. We’re taught that you can only love one person at a time. That’s what makes it so hard to believe your partner will come back to you after they’ve been with someone else, because every little bit of attention and affection and yes eventually maybe love that they give to that other person is essentially stealing a little bit of what they used to give to you. But is that really the case? Do I not trust that Jared loves me enough to be with another amazing woman and still want to come home to me?
I’ll freely admit the idea of being that open terrifies me. It’s hard to overcome the belief that you can’t have it both ways. It’s something that’s been deeply ingrained in us for 100s of years. But that’s what poly is – pure, unrestrained love and trust that your partner can love more than one person – of whatever race, gender or age they please – and not compromise the original relationship unnecessarily. Of course, the original relationship will need to adapt and evolve but that happens in monogamous relationships as well.
After reading the above two posts, I do believe unicorn hunting is a kind of amateur polyamory, especially if you don’t address your privilege issues. I don’t know that I/we will ever get beyond this stage. However, I do know that if we ever find a girlfriend, I will do my best to make things as equal as possible between the three of us and not make her feel like something we’ve acquired for our own pleasure with no thought to how she feels.
And if we do happen to one day step into the ‘lawless badlands of real polyamory’, I would be happy to meet whatever woman strikes my partner’s fancy. Even if she doesn’t want to sleep with me, I would hope we could all have dinner together (or breakfast or lunch), that we could be friends in our own right and that I could learn to love the woman that falls in love with the man I love, even if that love is only platonic. Because surely people can enrich your life in more ways than just the sexual. And I would hope Jared could do the same for me, with whoever I brought home. I know he’d have a harder time accepting me with another man but that’s what poly is – love is love is love.
Phew. That’s enough from me today but I think it’s safe to say I learnt something important and it’s given me more than a few thoughts to ponder as I venture out into the cold, rainy world that is Sydney today.
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10 thoughts on “Thoughts on couple privilege and ‘real’ polyamory

    1. Thank you, yeah, your post and then the one on More Than Two was sooooo eye opening. I appreciate stuff that makes you reconsider the way you think!
      Oooohhh, I love book recommendations. Will have a look and add it to the list. Thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

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