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What is “poly readiness”?

September 20, 2013

EDIT March 9, 2019: This post is ableist bullshit and I don’t stand behind it. I am leaving it up to be accountable for my past words, but I am sorry I wrote it and I am sorry to anyone it’s hurt. For better advice, go here.

Franklin and I have mentioned a couple of times, briefly, a concept we’ve calling “poly readiness”—an idea that will form a cornerstone of our book. We’d been planning to keep it mostly under wraps, but at the risk of spoilers, we’ve decided to provide some basic information about where we’re going with it, especially because we’d like your feedback on the idea and what factors might make up “poly readiness.” Now I don’t want to go to deep into everything we goes into it, because spoilers! Plus it’s an entire chapter (maybe two). But here’s our back-of-the-envelope, working definition:

Poly readiness is the idea that you and your partners will benefit if you are intentional about what relationship structure you choose, whether and when to seek new partners, and what steps you will strive to take to treat your partners and their other partners ethically.

Poly readiness is about self-reflection and taking an honest look at what you need, what you have to offer and what work you still need to do. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect (at the beginning or ever), or that you can’t make mistakes. It means having a sense of what kind of behaviour you aspire to in yourself, but it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect at emulating that behaviour.

In practice, the concept comes into play in two main types of situations:

  1. You are single or involved in one or more existing relationships, and you or your partner(s) would like to seek new partners.
  2. You or your partner(s) have not been seeking new partners, but one of you has unexpectedly met (or fallen in love with) someone and wants to explore the connection.

Clearly the first situation is the ideal—if only all our lives could be so perfectly planned, so intentionally crafted! But (as I said to myself a couple of months ago as I was loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher after cracking a vertebra in a bike crash, just before the anesthesia knocked me out and just after I’d thought, “thank God I live in Canada”), life is what happens when you’re making other plans. When Franklin and I fell in love, I was not looking for other partners, neither one of us had space in our lives for a new relationship, and not all of our partners were ready for it. Game-changing relationships happen, and by definition, they change the game. Love happens, life happens, and sometimes you or your partners are just not ready. But even when life (or love) hits you over the head and upsets your best-laid plans, you can still use the idea of poly readiness to your benefit.

In scenario one, you can use it to make an assessment of yourself and any existing relationships you have and decide whether now is a good time to seek additional partners. In scenario two, you can use it to make a self-assessment to decide what things you need to work on, and hopefully what you commit to working on, in order to act with as much integrity as possible, treat your partners and their partners (as well as yourself) with compassion and patience, and work to create the most healthy, ethical relationships you can.

Just because you are polyamorous (if you are) doesn’t mean you always need to be available for a new relationship. You don’t even always have to accept a new relationship when one becomes a possibility. There are good reasons to know your limits. I, for one, know I am completely overextended at the moment, and I am simply not available for new relationships. Just. Not. Part of understanding poly readiness is recognizing poly saturation (or in my case, life saturation): how much time you have to offer and whether it’s enough to meet all your commitments plus a significant new one.

What causes you to be ready (or not) to seek or accept a new relationship is highly individual, based on your own energy, resilience, relationship needs, and a host of other things. That’s why much of our book will consist not of “dos” and “don’ts,” but of questions to consider when making your choices. But, with this understanding that everything is context-dependent, here are a few things that for many people indicate that right now might not be a good time to start a new relationship:

  • If you’re so economically, physically or emotionally dependent on your partner that the loss of your partner threatens your survival (or feels like it does).
  • Shortly after a major loss, such as the death of a close friend or family member, a job, or a home.
  • Shortly after a major life transition such as a move to a new city.
  • If you, a partner or a close family member (such as a parent or child) are dealing with severe mental or physical illness, particularly if one of you is the primary caretaker.
  • Shortly before or after the birth of a child.

In some ways, poly readiness is just change readiness. Polyamory will change your life. There’s no way around it. If that scares you—that’s okay. Change scares most people. If that scares you (or one of your partners) so much that it paralyzes you, so much that it makes you want to hide under the covers or cry yourself to sleep every night, so much that you need to try to control others around you in order to prevent change… then you might want to consider working on that until you’re a little less terrified, a little less paralyzed, before you take such a major step that is highly likely to significantly disrupt your life.

And there’s another situation in which it might not be a good time to try to embark on a poly relationship:

  • If you don’t want to be polyamorous.

To many, this is not as obvious as it seems. You don’t have to be poly because your partner wants it. You don’t have to be because you’ve met an amazing person who is poly. You don’t have to be because you think it’s more enlightened or “evolved” (it isn’t). You don’t have to be because it matches some sort of relationship ideal you have. The best (but not the only) reason to be poly is if you truly, at the bottom of your heart, know that you want to be. If you know that the idea of sharing a partner would devastate you, or if you know that what you truly crave is one person who will dedicate themselves to you and you alone, or if poly just sounds too damn complicated and energy intensive to fit into your life, that’s okay. You don’t have to do it.

That may mean passing up a relationship with someone who seems compatible in every other way. It may mean ending a relationship with a partner who’s decided polyamory is what they want, if you know it’s not what you want. But if you try to force it without wanting it, if you try to drag your heart kicking and screaming down a path that you feel in your gut is going to hurt you, it’s not just going to cause you pain. It’s going to cause pain and conflict for the people you hold dear, and the other people they invite into their lives. So poly readiness is also about examining and being honest about why you want to be poly, whether it’s something you really want, and how much you want it.

Poly readiness is not categorical; it’s a continuum. It’s not a state, it’s a process. It’s not uni-directional: some times may be really good times to start new relationships, and other times may be exceptionally bad ones. And it applies whether you’re currently single, part of a couple, or already poly. In our book, we hope to provide tools to both assess and improve it.

What do you see as important components of poly readiness? What are potential markers of good and less good times to enter new relationships?

Like what you’re reading? Buy the book now at Amazon or Powell’s. 

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