Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Relationships with Metamours”.
Metamour is a term specific to non-monogamous relationships: it means the person(s) your partner is also partnered with. It’s a reciprocal relationship, if you have a metamour, you are also their metamour. It can seem like an unusual connection to have with a person: the lover of a love, but really, it’s not that much different from your best friend’s other best friend. Relationships with metamours are like those of any other connection with people; some are good, some are bad. Sometimes a combination of circumstances, personalities or people can cause a head-on clash, causing mayhem to all involved. Sometimes the mix results in a wonderfully close family feeling to those in the group.
I’ve been polyamorous a few years now and have dated single poly folk, people with primaries, people with no primary, been involved in a triad and dated people who were in a poly family. I’ve been close friends with a metamour, I’ve had metamours who weren’t remotely interested in meeting or engaging with me. I’ve dated some metamours, and I’ve become friends with most of them. I’ve had metamours who were there to help through difficulties, and metamours who caused difficulties. Some metamours have sung my praises to potential new partners when my name came up in conversation, others have spread vicious rumours about me and scared potential partners off. Relationships with metamours are like relationships with people generally: a mixed bunch.
I’ve written about being a secondary, and a lot of the metamour relationship is covered in being a decent polyamorist. It’s not just about trying to get your metamour to be good to you, it’s equally important to work on being a good metamour to others. As I reflect on my relationships, I’ve identified some patterns, and picked up a tip or two. Here’s my top ten points for metamour relationships:
1) Have a direct link with your metamour
When I try and analyse every good metamour connection I’ve had, and every bad one, lots of it comes down to the level of direct communication between myself and my metamour. Too little and you risk misinterpretation of actions and intentions, breeding resentment and mistrust. Too much can make you appear needy, interfering, or simply find that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Get in touch with your metamour early on when you are dating someone, and keep the lines of communication open: don’t rely on your partner as a go-between. If a metamour refuses or is extremely reluctant to engage with you, walk the fuck away from that bomb waiting to go off.
2) Hang out as a group
This may or not be easily possible, depending on logistics of your relationship(s) and other commitments, such as family, children, level of ‘outness’ and such, but even if you need to Skype your metamour every once in a while as you and your honey hang out, do it. Involve each other in things, and don’t only contact them when there’s a problem. Let them share in your relationship, let them share your joy, be sure to share theirs too if they return that inclusion of you. Fostering a group connection is healthy and beneficial to everyone involved.
3) Communicate as a group
When there are quite a few people involved in an extended poly circle, lines of communication can be hard to maintain, and it’s easy to rely on messages being passed on to keep people informed. Problems can so easily arise if one or more of the partners aren’t passing on the full status of what is happening, or leaving people guessing, or even worse: assuming. Don’t leave people out of discussions about decisions that will affect them, and understand that when you date (and have commitments) to more than one person, your level of autonomy can be reduced. It’s much easier if people make a concerted effort to check in with people, and to make sure they know of things rather than finding them out by accident. If everyone knows that everyone talks to each other, no one can feel anyone is talking behind their back or betraying trust (unless expressly asked to keep something private).
4) Treat others as you would be treated yourself
It’s an old saying, and its a good maxim to live by. If you try and treat others as you would be treated yourself (which for me is with respect, honesty and fairness), then ideally, you’ll get some of that back in kind sooner or later. It’s important to act like this even when you aren’t being treated as you’d like. The poly world is small, and reputations spread round fast. There will always be occasions where people decide you’ve treated someone badly, or are a bad person, but that’s life, and generally, your actions over time will show that to either be not true, or a genuine fuck up.The difference between a good metamour and a bad one is the person who will talk to you before they decide you’ve behaved badly, and allow you to make reparation if you’ve fucked up. A bad metamour will simply consign you to the ‘shitty person’ bin and tell all and sundry of your so-called crimes. Eventually a bad metamour’s behaviour will come back and bite them on the ass, and a good one will be vindicated.
5) Be aware of your own position
As a primary (and married) partner, I realise that I can be daunting as a metamour, especially to people perhaps new to this. I know I was terrified of meeting the wife of the guy I was dating (she is lovely, and she and I dated for a year, incidentally). Sometimes you need to flip your thoughts on their head and figure out what you could be doing for your metamour, especially if you have a hierarchy. Have you contacted them to say hello in the early days? Could you do something to make them feel welcomed into the group or reassured of their position? Are you fostering group connection? Think of all the crappy things that have been done to you as a secondary or by your metamours, and make sure you aren’t doing them yourself, without thinking.
6) Don’t try and force it
Sometimes you put loads of energy into the metamour relationship, but it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes your metamour can be a close friend, or even a lover. The important point is not to force it, but try and foster the basics of respect, open communication, honesty and fairness, and anything more is a bonus. Sometimes personalities just don’t mesh. Sometimes you just can’t spend enough time together to feel like you’re actually friends. That’s ok. Don’t feel like you’re a bad metamour, as long as you’ve tried, and you’re covering the basic principles.
7) Be careful of getting too close, too soon
NRE isn’t just for new lovers. It can be for metamours too. Don’t be fooled into believing that your new-found desire to be part of your new partner’s poly setup isn’t down to limerance, and possibly a touch of envy. It may well be that in time, that you find yourself accepted into the inner charmed circle. It may also be the case that six months down the line, you realise the group is a disaster waiting to happen, and you’re glad you didn’t get involved that heavily. Let things develop at their own pace, and let them be what they are naturally meant to be. Get those definitions and pre-conceptions out of your head. Similarly, getting involved in multiple metamour-turned-romantic relationships too quickly can be a disaster.
8) Watch your boundaries
Being and having a metamour inevitably means there is a level of flexibility and accommodation going on, ideally a fluid, give-and-take situation, where everyone ends up giving and taking a bit somewhere along the line. Be mindful that you need to be flexible sometimes, but also balance that against your own boundaries. It’s hard sometimes not to feel like we should be flexible, even if it’s not necessarily the best situation for us. It’s a hard balance, and you’ll definitely get it wrong sometimes. Sometimes you’ll find people taking too much, too often, and you need to call that shit out.
9) Owning faults and making apologies
Put two people together and sooner or later, one of them will do or say something that annoys the other, even if by accident. Add more people into the mix, and under more emotionally charged circumstances like romantic relationships, and the potential for hurt can quickly multiply. Beyond good communication and negotiation beforehand, the only thing you can do is after the fault occurs: someone communicates, someone owns, one apologises, the other accepts. Ideally that helps a lot towards dispelling ill-feeling. Sometimes you have to say you’re sorry for upsetting someone in a way you didn’t know was possible and certainly wasn’t intended, but it’s the right thing to do. One day, the shoe will be on the other foot, and the apology will be the savlon to your emotional graze.
10) The metamour relationship is linked relationship that spawned it
Which means, if you and your honey break up, it’s quite possible that you and your metamour will too, at least temporarily. Most of us, if we are forced to, will pick a side, the person we love the most and want to protect from pain. So when a breakup happens, the chips are really down, and the metamour relationship truly laid bare. Sometimes a breakup is as civil as you could ever want, and there may be no need for a period of silence or withdrawal. However in most cases, there will be, even if just for a short time. Sometimes the people who called you family yesterday will suddenly not have anything to do with you, and may never do so again. If the work you put in during the relationship resulted in a genuine connection, in time an independent friendship may resume (mostly likely if you become on good terms with your ex), but don’t assume it will.
Some of that sounds quite negative, and maybe it is, but I can’t bullshit you. Polyamory means connecting with more people, and sometimes metamours are people you wouldn’t share a coffee with in normal circumstances, but as they are a love’s love, you have to make the best of the situation. I can honestly say that whilst I have had my fair share of absolutely awful metamour experiences (whether during or after the relationship), I can also say that a large portion of my friends are current or former metamours, and I’m closer to them as a result. A good metamour can be a confidant, a friend, even a lover if you’re very lucky, but at the very least they should be someone important to you that you treat with respect and civility. You can do a number of things to not only have a better metamour for yourself, but to be a better metamour to others, which is pretty much its own reward.