That’s So Meta: An Excerpt from Monogamy? In This Economy?

This is an excerpt from Chapter Six: That’s So Meta in Monogamy? In This Economy? by Laura Boyle.

Managing metamour expectations

Metamours sharing space once they move in together should be no big deal, right? We’ve talked about the roommate principle and treating your partners like roommates first, and it should be easier to do that with metas who you aren’t dating. But people can underestimate the way moving in together can change metamour dynamics, and the way a nesting dynamic can shift other relationships in a polycule.

People have a very natural proclivity to forgive partners quickly, to give extra grace to people they love. Unless folks who are moving in together have a very relationship anarchist notion of how their network is constructed, people raised in Western cultures tend to prioritize romantic partnerships in a way that discounts friendships. Metamours, even cohabiting ones, tend to be placed in the bucket of “friends,” a lower-hierarchy bucket than partners. So household problems can get mentally shifted onto our metas’ shoulders; partners can get forgiven more quickly than metas for issues in which they had equal responsibility; and our cultural narratives about friends and roommates (or worse! the ones about romantic competition) can creep in around our interactions with metamours. Even if everyone who lives together is involved, if they date outside the house, nesting changes the amount of time they might potentially spend overlapping with their metas.

There are lots of descriptive theories of how polycules are shaped or work and living together is the most kitchen table activity that could be defined, pretty much. People who live in the house might or might not resonate with the term popularized by the Multiamory Podcast for the closest kitchen table polycules: lap-sitting polyamory. If the extended polycule (additional partners who aren’t in the nesting unit) also prefer a kitchen table style of interaction, a nested household often becomes a center for that. If only one arm of the polycule prefers that and other portions prefer a more parallel style of relationship, it can become a matter of conflict in the household. When one person’s intention was “I wanted to live with my partner, and living with my meta was a comfortable part of that,” and the rest of their relationships are parallel to that nesting partnership, but it turns out their partner and meta are very kitchen table and so there are lots of people around the house often, it can become stressful.

The obvious solution, of course, is to communicate and figure out what middle ground everyone can live with. But usually it feels to each person involved like their meta is controlling their lifestyle a little too much (even if the hinge is involved in the decision-making). The person who prefers kitchen table (and to host) feels like they’re being asked to change plans and to inconvenience others on their end of the polycule, and the person who prefers parallel feels like they’re having to beg for private time in their own home in a sufficient amount.

It’s a balancing act that hopefully people would cover when they talk about how they like to live at home and how and how often they prefer to host or not. These are questions that individuals need to balance between themselves, preferably before they move in or as they make agreements upon moving in. Having a discussion about how often guests can come over, only to find out that one person in this conversation excludes non-nesting partners from the category of “guests,” can be a rude awakening for someone who doesn’t intend to spend much time with their metamours or telemours, for example. But, also, someone who doesn’t consider those folks guests can’t then turn around and say it’s rude to guests for one of their nesting partners to go seek out private space when those people are around—that’s just taking time for themself. It becomes a matter of conflict resolution. Which priorities matter most to whom and how much? These are very individual issues. I can’t give you a perfect formula for every household. I can give you some questions to ask yourselves in a conversation before moving in.

  • How much private time do you need in a week? In a month?
  • Do you like hosting at the house? For small groups? For large ones?
  • Who are your “could drop in anytime” people? Which social rules apply and don’t apply to them?
  • If folks are over the house, how do you feel if not everyone who lives there is part of the event? Is your answer different if you’ve got smaller or larger groups over?
  • The kinds of issues addressed more in depth in Chapter 3 about partners staying over can be covered in this conversation too—how much private space do you want if you bring a partner you don’t nest with over, do you want folks to vacate the house for an evening? Is retreating to their room sufficient if you have separate rooms? Do you want to all have coffee together in the morning?
  • Are your feelings about hosting similar or different for polycule members, friends, and family?

For some people, all three of these last are similar; but for many, family is more stressful or polycule or individual members of extended polycule may come with additional baggage because of cultural messaging around how we “should” feel around “sharing” our partners. Being “polyamorous enough” that we want to live with some partners doesn’t mean we’ve miraculously unpacked all our cultural/social narratives and shame around all partners or everyone they’re seeing (or every phase of those relationships)—so our answers to those questions above might vary. Just giving consideration for each other’s levels of introversion and extroversion and coming to agreements and compromises around things like not considering it antisocial to take decompression time while another household member has a partner or a small group of guests over can be really sustaining for a network of relationships.

This can be a pain point where giving our partners grace can be easier than giving our metas the same benefit of the doubt. Whether it’s metamours who don’t nest with us who we place the blame for disruptions on, when we need to resolve them with a nesting partner; or a metamour with whom we also nest who has a different preference than we do for how we manage guests and schedules, misplacing blame on a meta can be easier than we’d like.

A good self-check-in to run is: Is this really a meta problem, a shared problem, or a partner problem? If it’s a shared problem or a partner problem, make sure to address it with the partner as well so you aren’t building unnecessary resentments against your metamour.

Beyond actually putting an event in the calendar, or discussing in the abstract whether you have an expectation that people be available for a specific event, deciding what is “an event” that needs discussion versus what can “just happen” around you is a step people often skip, but which can avoid a lot of strife in households. People assume that everyone is coming from the same background and norms, when a lot of the time even people raised in the same area or by folks of apparently similar backgrounds have very different expectations around how to spend time at home. The questions posed above about what kinds of time you want to spend with whom in your space are a great starting point, but for many folks aren’t a natural way to begin these conversations. (This is one of the upsides for me as a neurodivergent person who is always looking to make expectations transparent—polyamory requires more of these conversations than monogamy tends to, and neurodivergent people tend to require more of these conversations, so the two go hand-in-glove to some extent.)

Monogamy? In This Economy?: Finances, Childrearing, and Other Practical Concerns of Polyamory by Laura Boyle is out August 21, 2024. Pre-order you copy here.

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