The most abiding “marker” of a committed relationship to most of the world is continued monogamy. So what does commitment look like to people who are in long-term relationships that are neither sexually nor emotionally exclusive? It’s difficult for me to speak from any other perspective, given I’ve never been in a monogamous relationship. Initially, I conjectured that commitment for poly people looked extremely similar to commitment for a monogamous couple, except that more than two people could be involved. However, there are a whole host of differences beyond that. I would argue that successful polyamorous people must be capable of a greater breadth of commitment than others, and certainly not just commitment to their partners, if they are to have long-term relationships. Not only do they have more partners, but they have partners’ partners with whom they will inevitably need to engage in some type of committed relationship as well.
Based on my experience and observations, any sustainable polyamorous situation involves a steadfast commitment to metamours. So, there needs to be commitment to your partner in the form of understanding their need to spend time with their other partners as well as to spend time alone, understanding that each relationship needs to be unique in its own right, and determination to find the kind of relationship and communication style that works best between you and your metamour(s). Most of all, it means a mutual commitment to *making it work* with your metamour. That doesn’t mean they have to be your best friend, but it helps if you respect them and enjoy spending time with them.
I’ve shied away from entering into relationships with people because I knew that I would not get along with their partner(s) in the way I like to with metamours, and I’ve also shied away from relationships when it became clear that my partner(s) would not get along with that person. I know that not everyone operates this way – some choose to keep their relationships separate and almost compartmentalised – but I know that this would never work for me. So when I’m considering having a relationship with someone, I consider not only that person but all of the other important people in their lives as well. I think, would I want this person (and their partners) in my home on a regular basis? Would the partner I live with want that? A thoughtful exploration of this ensures that I’ll end up in a situation where I can demonstrate my commitment to all partners and potential partners as well.
Non-domestic partner commitment
Beyond this, showing commitment to a non-domestic (some would call this non-primary) partner presents its own unique challenges. The models of committed relationship we’re always presented with show a couple living together, probably legally married, sharing finances, probably having/raising children together and being the main emotional support for each other. So where does this leave non-domestic partners, particularly those of us who will never be able to live with you? Frankly, this is something I have struggled with a great deal. I still struggle – though certainly less than I used to – to shrug off the social narrative that all of my relationships need to ‘take the relationship escalator’ in order to be deemed successful, serious and committed. But polyamory gives us the opportunity to engage in meaningful, healthy, long-term relationships with people we’ll never live with (or perhaps never even want to live with). A friend on twitter recently posted this article and I find it a wonderful guide for how to show commitment to a non-domestic partner: Non-primary partners tell: how to treat us well. I particularly identify with the bits about keeping promises and involving a non-domestic/non-primary partner in decisions that affect them.
Making our relationships unique
More than anything else, finding ways to make your relationship feel unique is an important way of demonstrating commitment. If you don’t use monogamy to mark your relationship as unique, then you need another approach, and pursuing certain hobbies, interests and activities together can form a part of this. It gives you shared memories and little inside jokes that are just for you, no matter how many other partners you have. Bringing D/s into the mix can make the ties of commitment even more complex and at times more intense. My partner, whilst identifying as a switch, definitely enjoys his role as my submissive/slave/toy. Engaging in that kind of relationship is important to him, his happiness and his identity and therefore it has become important to me. We’ve committed to fulfilling one another’s needs and desires that way, and have even codified it with a D/s contract. This does not exclude either of us from engaging in D/s relationships with others but it does mean there are certain aspects of that dynamic that we’ll choose to keep unique.
Commitment to people vs commitment to relationships
Furthermore, commitment to a partner is much more than a commitment to a specific form of relationship with them. Being truly committed to someone means being devoted to their well-being beyond the remit of a romantic or sexual relationship. Our relationships with others will inevitably change, often drastically. This is particularly true in poly circles, where communities often contain many former partners. Commitment can mean an intention to keep your loved ones in your life no matter what shape your relationships take.
All of this is why I view polyamorous relationships as requiring a greater breadth of commitment, if not a greater depth, than monogamy. There will inevitably be a significant network of people I enter into some kind of relationship with when I take on another partner; my relationship with my partner is not just a commitment to my partner but a commitment to the whole network that comes with them.
Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each
month six bloggers – ALBJ,
An Open Book, Delightfully Queer,
More Than Nuclear, Rarely Wears Lipstick,
and The Boy
With The Inked Skin – will write about their views on one of them.