Regarding the Love of Others

The polyamorous individual is defined by at least two things:
1) the possibility of simultaneous attraction to multiple people, and

2) the active willingness to honestly talk about it.

“Possibility” carries a lot of weight in 1) — you can be polyamorous even when you aren’t involved with or interested in multiple people. You can be poly while wandering around a desert by yourself, or after being dumped, or even in a committed monogamous relationship. 1) and 2) can still be true even if you’re committed to not dating multiple people.

These two things are personal properties; they’re true of an individual as an individual.

But what about interpersonal properties? Is there anything you should feel or do that you can only feel or do when actively dating people?

One nice thing to do is to have some degree of symmetry — whatever non-monogamous possibilities you allow for yourself should also be allowed for whomever else you’re dating, at least in theory. If I want you to feel okay with me having a bonus kinky play partner then I should be willing to feel okay with you having a bonus kinky play partner of your own, etc.

Achieving symmetry can be difficult indeed — the dating pool of people who are willing to participate in openly non-monogamous arrangements tends to be small, so you can’t often just say “well if you’re picking up a new partner then I’m going to pick up a new partner too” and actually have that happen. What counts is the value of symmetry, of supporting symmetry as a possibility.

Supporting the value of intimate abundance will disproportionately liberate identities that have been under the thumb of sexual repression — men have always been able to have as many sexual partners as they want, but not so women, ergo supporting the right of women to have as many partners as they want is continuous with the general project of emancipatory feminism.

So symmetry is excellent in theory, both within polyamory and in terms of feminism in general. What happens when your partner(s) actually get(s) a new partner can be a different and more challenging story.

Two new words and one old one come into play here. One new word is “compersion”, roughly defined as the opposite of the old word, “jealousy”. “Compersion” is where experience some happiness and satisfaction at the happiness and satisfaction that your partner experiences with another partner. Your partner comes home all aglow after a wonderful date with a wonderful human and you get happy at the sight of how happy they are. 
Your partner may be experiencing that second new word, “New Relationship Energy” or NRE, the excited buzz you get from the sheer novelty of discovering someone new.

NRE, by definition, is impossible to sustain with the same partner over time. The bare fact of being new is a feature that other people can provide that you simply can not, and that’s okay. That said, do we have some ethical duty to react to new people in a certain way? Are you responsible for how you feel? Are you required by intergalactic poly law to feel excited for your partner’s new partners at all times?

Like 1) and 2) way above, processing jealousy and compersion has to be done in the same way that the non-monogamy itself is processed — proactively and honestly. Feelings happen, and whatever you’re feeling is true — it might not be true about the world, i.e. finding something disgusting doesn’t convey new information about that thing, but it is true about you, i.e. it finding something disgusting conveys new information about what you find disgusting and why.

If “communication is good” sounds cliche and trivial that’s because it’s repeated so often and it’s repeated so often because it’s actually a good idea. The worst thing to do is let that idea fade off into the background, losing its urgent vitality that let become a foundational relationship principle in the first place.