Polyamory: Never a One-sided Deal, even in Mixed Relationships (Guest Post)
This is a guest post by Eponine for Janaury’s Carnival of Aces.
As an ace in a mixed (as well as poly) relationship, I’m a regular in the “For Sexual Partners, Friends and Allies” section of AVEN, where I’m seeing more and more people in mixed relationships exploring non-monogamous relationships as a possible solution. While I’m happy to see this trend, there is a mindset I often come across, which has become a pet peeve of mine: the assumption that polyamory in the context of mixed relationships means only the sexual partner needs outside partners. For example, they might say they were considering “a poly relationship for the sexual”. But – what about the asexual partner?
Once I asked a sexual partner who was considering a poly relationship, “If you want to be free to have other partners who can fulfill your sexual desire, would you also be okay with your asexual girlfriend having other partners?” He said he wouldn’t be very comfortable with the idea, and his asexual girlfriend wouldn’t want other partners anyway, because she already got everything she wanted from their relationship. So, is a poly relationship automatically considered as only a remedy to the sexual incompatibility, rather than an opportunity for both partners to embrace freedom and personal growth?
I think this mindset partly stems from the misconception “polyamory is all about sleeping around”. Even on AVEN, I’ve encountered the stereotype that poly = lots of sex. So if it’s not for sex, why seek more relationships? But in fact, polyamory means multiple loving relationships, which may or may not include sex. Even three aces can have a totally sexless poly relationship. So, in mixed relationships, both the sexual and the ace partners can possibly benefit from a poly arrangement.
Furthermore, polyamory is about willingly sharing love and intimacy, not (only) a way to fill the gaps between two partners; it means “I’ll be happy to see you happy with another partner, who can give you something I can’t provide”, not “I need another partner because you can’t fulfill all my needs, but you don’t need anyone else because you’ve already got everything”. Therefore, a poly relationship should be mutual, not one-sided. By “mutual” I mean both partners should have the freedom to have multiple partners, even if one of them chooses not to act on it.
I’ve heard of some happy mono/poly couples, where the mono partner just doesn’t want or need to have more than one partner. But the important thing is it’s their own choice, not because the poly partner doesn’t allow them to; and they’re free to seek outside relationships if they ever want to (people can change, after all). I don’t deny there must be some mixed couples like this as well, where the ace partner is completely comfortable with the sexual partner’s other relationships but doesn’t need multiple partners themself. If it works for them, that’s great. However, my point is this (or any other) arrangement should be discussed and agreed on by both parties, not decided or assumed by one of them.
Also, no one can literally have 100% of their needs fulfilled by one single person, because no two individuals are totally in sync in various kinds of desires. In mixed relationships, it often seems like the sexual incompatibility is the only problem (which can be “fixed” by letting the sexual partner have other partners on the side), but the sexual and the ace may very well differ in their other needs as well. Taking me and my partner for example, I like to have intellectual conversations, but he’s not a talkative person at all; he likes technology, sci-fi, video games and movies like The Hobbit, but I’m not into any of those things. I’ve also heard some aces say they can’t get enough non-sexual physical intimacy from their sexual partner, who would always expect sex in the end. Some people may say, “But most non-sexual needs can be fulfilled from friendships!” or “What if the ace partner just feels s/he already has every desire fulfilled?” Again, don’t assume things, but talk with your partner and find out what they think. Last but not least, even people who are very satisfied with their relationship may fall in love with someone else unexpectedly. Who knows?
Anyway, although I think there’s nothing wrong with starting to consider polyamory due to mismatched sexuality, polyamory is much more than a band-aid to a relationship. Polyamory is freedom, openness, honesty, equality, communication, compersion, opportunity for personal growth, and all these things are for everyone involved. If you’re considering a poly relationship, have a good talk with your partner and think about how each of you can possibly benefit from poly. It may turn out much more rewarding than you originally expected.
PS: If you’re curious about my personal experience with poly, please check out this old post, which fits the theme of this month’s Carnival of Aces very well too.