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 http://www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Polysaturation”.
Fear not, this isn’t a lecture on coronary health, or advice on whether you should swap best butter for flora. Instead we’ve cleverly taken a scientific word and completely changed the meaning. In a non-monogamous context, polysaturation is ‘when a polyamorous person has as many significant and insignificant others as they think they can handle at a given time’1. In other words, they have as many commitments and claims on their time as they can manage, and as a result, their dance card is currently full. For lots of us, this point is learned over time and with experience, rather than an innate knowledge of when we’re approaching our limit.
It’s important to note that being polysaturated isn’t always about having too many relationships, although that is a common mistake many of us new to poly make. It’s all too easy to be the kid in the sweet shop at first, dating all the people, having all the fun, until suddenly you’re over-committed and can’t possibly maintain the levels of input or energy your newly forged connections need to thrive. Whilst it can be about having too many connections at one time, being polysaturated is mainly about having too many demands on your time, period.
There are many different factors and circumstances might lead you to consider yourself to be at your saturation point: childcare; a busy job; illness or being a care-giver; study; long distance relationships, or just balancing your commitments to others with a commitment to look after yourself. Love may be infinite, but your time and resources are not, and it’s important to be realistic and practical about what you can be involved with before you do so. Everyone’s point is different – the important part is knowing your own, and reviewing is as your circumstances change.
Sometimes it takes being overcommitted and learning from experience how it feels to be spread too thinly, for you to recognise where to draw the line, and why that’s important. When you’ve got four loves who all happen to need you at the same time, and you just can’t be there for all of them. Maybe you’re struggling to fit dates into your schedule because there’s so little free time, and a weekend to yourself is a long lost memory. Perhaps you’re even becoming burned out by not looking after yourself or having ‘you’ time. If any of these things ring true – it’s time to do some reflection and analysing of your situation and choices. Once you’ve had that experience, you can gauge when enough is enough for you, and not get into over-committed or burnout situations as easily.
When faced with the prospect of dating someone you really like, it can be difficult to take a long, hard look at your circumstances and demands on your time, and ask yourself if you can honestly and consistently commit to anyone else, without harming your own long term physical and mental well-being. I do feel this is an essential technique to adopt in order to maintain your existing relationships and not wreck new connections. Burning yourself out in the name of love will help precisely no-one.
Here are some handy things to think about when deciding if you’re at saturation point, and whether you should get involved in something new:
- Take a long, hard look at your diary. Block out all your regular commitments, including how much time you should be spending with current partners, and see how much time there is free. If you don’t have some regular, decent sized chunks of time free, you probably shouldn’t add more demands into your life, for everyone’s sake. Squeezing in one hour dates once a month doesn’t bode well for a long, happy relationship.
- Consider how much ‘you’ time is in your calendar on a regular basis. If you aren’t getting that, you’ll burn out long term, and that is good for no-one. Similarly if you know you have any existing major issues in terms of stress, ill health, work worries, consider how much you may be asking of your potential partners, and whether that is appropriate for the connection.
- Talk to the prospective love, and find out what kind of connection they are wanting. If you only have time for a casual lover, but they want a full time primary, you’re not at the right places in your life for this to work out. It might be possible to start things off low-key, and become more time and energy intensive as and when things change. If there’s no negotiation on this front, don’t get involved in something that will inevitably leave you both hurt.
- Whilst it is hard to say no to people you really like, remember that circumstances change, and if there’s a connection between two people, there’s often a possibility for more to happen in the future. Asking for people to wait for better times is unreasonable, but our community is fairly small, and the chances are you may stay in touch with this person as friends. Never say never.
So what if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve become overcommitted? Essentially: you have to cut back on something (or several things, if it’s really bad). Critically assess what you can reduce your level of involvement in, and try and strike a balance. It may be that things on the periphery go first, fuck buddies, long distance relationships, casual partners. Maybe you can see partners less often, or even negotiate a temporary break. Whatever you do, I implore you not to reduce your self-care and social life to nothing just to keep people in your life. That’s a one-way ticket to bad relationship energy, and will make you unwell in the long run.
The aim, I believe, is that polysaturation should be the point when you can comfortably manage all your existing commitments, whilst looking after yourself, but knowing you can’t manage anything extra, and saying no if an opportunity arises. I hope this article was useful, and see the links below for other useful reading on the subject. I know finding balance is something I don’t always manage, and continue to strive towards, so that not only myself, but my loves are happier as a result.