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On Being a Grown-Up

February 23, 2013

Earlier this week I posted about my definition of a poly hierarchy. I want to talk about a related concept: being a grown-up in relationships.

When we go to university or move out of our parents’ homes–the time when many of us start learning how to be a grown-up–we acquire certain obligations. Things like getting to class, turning in assignments on time, cleaning the bathroom, or not setting the building on fire. For many of us those responsibilities also include things like paying rent or tuition or making it to a job to help with those obligations. We have to learn how to prioritize our time to juggle those various responsibilities. For some that means partying all term, then drinking litres of coffee and pulling all-nighters the night before finals. For others it means curbing social time, maybe even taking a break from dating, and pacing ourselves in a disciplined manner throughout the term. For others it means working two jobs just to pay for rent and food.

The key here is that in learning how to be a grown-up, we learn how to make these choices ourselves. We learn what works for us and what doesn’t. And generally speaking, while there are usually people in our lives holding us accountable–financially supporting family members who expect us to pass our classes, for example–we don’t usually consider it reasonable for even those people to micromanage our lives in order to meet those commitments: determining, for example, whom we can spend our time with, how late we can stay out on dates or whether (or in what positions we can have sex), all in the name of making sure we get good grades. No matter how overprotective our parents may have been, by the time we’re out of university, hopefully we have learned some basic coping skills to scrape through life without having someone else manage, for example, our time, money and relationships.

Somehow, though, a lot of people seem to get this idea that if they’re to “allow” their partner to have other partners, the only way to ensure their partner honours their commitments is to manage their partner’s other relationships and to have ultimate decision-making authority over what happens within them. Somehow, in the context of multiple relationships, many people assume their partners need to be treated like children. This is where the dynamic of the poly hierarchy creeps in.

Of course, not every adult actually is a grown-up. Some people don’t grow up until their thirties, forties, or ever. The thing is, the solution to not being a grown-up isn’t to hand over control of your life and personal decisions to someone else. It’s to start growing up. And the solution to being in a relationship with someone who is not a grown-up or who makes poor decisions is not to insist on making their decisions for them. It’s to support them in learning how to make good decisions for themselves, have patience for their mistakes, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself and those who depend on you (i.e. children) in the face of their missteps.

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