The "C" Word

vinsanity0

Active member
Commitment.

My first wife was asking me about poly today. The subject turned to commitment. I explained that Cat and I are committed to each other but free to explore other relationships. Being mono, she equated commitment with being monogamous. Basically she was having a hard time understanding that someone could be committed to two different people at the same time. This is the second time this has come up. The first time was when I was talking about it with Mary.

Is this something people commonly run into?
 

AutumnLeaves

New member
Yes.

It's something I run into a lot. Because I'm in other relationships, my relationship with Guitarist must be horrible or failing. I can't be committed to him AND dating other people. I can't be truly committed to Purr either. Don't I put Guitarist first? If I don't put him first, how can I say I'm committed to him? If I don't put Purr first, how am I committed to her? Who do I put first in a conflict? As if we're not all adults and can't hammer things out.

Frankly, I think it's a bullshit starvation-economy way of thinking. But I hear it a lot.
 

nycindie

Active member
Oh yeah. We make commitments to so, so many things and people in life -- work, projects, hobbies, friends, school with its numerous professors and assignments, managing property, bill-paying, the demands and expectations from our families, doctor appointments, different ways we take care of ourselves, the IRS, etc. -- yet when it's about love and sex, commitment is only possible with one person, for some strange damn reason. Oy veh.
 
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KC43

New member
Yep. I even had to explain that to Hubby at one point. Despite his immediate understanding of polyamory as a concept (*he* explained it to *me* after I admitted I'd fallen in love with Guy), he couldn't reconcile the "multiple loving relationships" bit with the "commitment equals monogamy bit."

Or, to be more accurate, he understood that I could be committed to him while being nonmonogamous. He didn't understand how I could be committed to him and *committed* to someone else at the same time.

It's annoying... commitment only equals monogamy if the people making the commitment to each other commit to being monogamous. I'm committed to Hubby; we've committed to love each other and support each other emotionally, he's committed to financially supporting me and the kids, I've committed to try to manage the budget and keep the house clean, etc. I'm also committed to Woody; we've committed to love each other and support each other emotionally, he's committed to being my Dom, I've committed to being his sub, etc.

A "commitment" is nothing more than a promise. A promise is solely about what is being promised. If monogamy isn't part of the promise, then a commitment without monogamy is obviously possible.
 

AutumnLeaves

New member
I like the way you broke the different commitments out there. I think that when monogamous people talk commitment, they are entwining all the different kinds of commitment together and blurring that with relationship concepts like getting married or shared raising of children, but there are actually different kinds of commitment and not everyone wants to be on the relationship escalator. I'm committed to sharing a mortgage with Guitarist, and I'm committed to emotionally supporting both Guitarist and Purr, and I'm committed to the well-being of Purr's children. I don't take any of these things lightly. And I certainly don't feel that my promise to emotionally support Purr is somehow less than my promise to emotionally support Guitarist because she came into my life second.
 

KC43

New member
Exactly. Making "a commitment" to someone relationship-wise actually, as far as I'm concerned, involves making a number of smaller commitments that add up to a whole relationship. But you can break off different pieces of the "standard" relationship commitments without making it not-a-relationship.

Right *now*, I have committed to both Hubby and Woody that I'm not going to look for any other partners, sexual or romantic. I made that choice because I do not have a huge well of emotional reserves, and right now maintaining the positive level my marriage has reached, continuing to build and adjust to the relationship with Woody which is still newish, and sorting through the last detritus of my relationship with S2 is taking up everything I can muster. Neither Hubby nor Woody has *asked* me not to take on any other partners (Woody actually encouraged me to do so until I explained why I don't want to), so I guess this one is actually more of a commitment to myself that I've chosen to tell them about...

Hmm. Brain. Tangent. I'll be back.
 

GirlFromTexlahoma

New member
I've been nonmonagomous for years and I still struggle with the idea of being truly *committed* to more than one person :eek:

We make commitments to so, so many things and people in life -- work, projects, hobbies, friends, school with its numerous professors and assignments, managing property, bill-paying, the demands and expectations from our families, doctor appointments, different ways we take care of ourselves, the IRS, etc. -- yet when it's about love and sex, commitment is only possible with one person, for some strange damn reason.

I think that when monogamous people talk commitment, they are entwining all the different kinds of commitment together and blurring that with relationship concepts like getting married or shared raising of children, but there are actually different kinds of commitment and not everyone wants to be on the relationship escalator.

These comments were a real "aha!" moment for me. I do think of commitment, in relationships, as escalator type stuff - and also as "until death do us part". I have that kind of commitment with my husband and I don't have (or want) it with anyone else. I don't have the time or energy, and I feel like at some point, needs would conflict and someone end up hurt.

But I can have other kinds of commitments to other partners. Commitments to be honest, loving, supportive... To give a certain amount of time ... To work on problems rather than bailing... To be there for the tragedies and the celebrations. My commitments to other partners have always looked and felt very similar to my commitments to my closest friends, so sometimes there is a blurry line between "non-nesting partner" and "friend with benefits". I think the confusion (mine and that of so many mono folks) comes from differing personal definitions of commitment.
 

vinsanity0

Active member
When it's just random people and the topic comes up it doesn't bother me that much. It's when I am discussing it with a potential partner. After I told her that Cat and I have an agreement that we can pursue other relationships, but we agree not to leave the other for someone else, her response was, "So what would be your commitment to me other than you won't leave Cat?"

I explained that our commitment to each other would be whatever we decided it would be. I'm not sure she gets that though.

All my relationships have a different level of commitment. I will refuse to let it become a competition though.
 

KC43

New member
You not leaving Cat isn't a commitment to the woman you're talking to, it's a commitment to Cat...

Otherwise, yeah. Your commitment to her would be whatever you and she negotiate and agree on. Commitments aren't a blanket generalization, they're specific to the people involved.
 

vinsanity0

Active member
You not leaving Cat isn't a commitment to the woman you're talking to, it's a commitment to Cat...

Otherwise, yeah. Your commitment to her would be whatever you and she negotiate and agree on. Commitments aren't a blanket generalization, they're specific to the people involved.

Yeah, she was being a little facetious. You and I know it's not a blanket generalization, but mono people only see it one way. Basically she was saying she doesn't get how I could make any sort of commitment to her if I have a commitment to Cat. It is difficult for me to make my case, but I did get a lot of good ideas from this thread.
 
I think that the difficulty that many folks run into when they start to talk about commitment is that to lots of people (mono and poly), commitment in terms of a romantic relationship means some way of sharing finances and a home. There are plenty of folks on this board who live with multiple partners or who have more than one home that they share with each partner part of their time.

A great many people when they say they want a committed romantic relationship are looking for that sort of involvement in the life of their partner. That seems to go for poly folk and mono folk alike.

Given that is the case for the vast majority of people, it seems to me that it is sensible to ask somebody how they can be committed to more than one person?

If your new potential person wants to live with a partner can you do that? Would she and Cat be willing to share a home with each other if things work out with you and she? Or are they more likely to want to just share a home with you? Do they live close enough to each other that you could float between homes? If not, would one of them consider moving? Or are you willing and able to maintain large amounts of frequent travelling?

So - if you say that commitment between you and the new person is something that you and she can agree on, what does that look like for you? What are your limits?

That's where I would start discussions.

I have very strong, clear limits on what level of commitment I will offer to a romantic relationship. I won't get married. I won't have children. I'd prefer not to share a home 100% of the time and I'd prefer not to merge finances. Anybody I'm romantically involved with has to like dogs to the extent of seeing them as family. I'm aware that all of this means that lots of people think I cannot have a committed relationship. That's up to them - those people and I can be friends but nothing more because I'm not up for trying to convince people to do things the way I want. They either want to already - in which case things are great. :) Or we both move on to something that is more suitable.

IP
 

LizziE

New member
When I run into that, I generally shift the conversation to children. As in "Is having a second child proof that you're not committed to the first one? Is the first child 'not good enough'?" Then there will be protesting that "that's different", to which I point out that people generally either say that their kids are the MOST important thing in life or that their partner and their kids and their MOST important things in life (usually more the former than the latter, but I've heard a few people say the latter). So if you're willing to have two or more kids be the MOST important thing in your life, why not other types of relationships?

The analogy works really well too, because kids usually are a few different ages and people don't generally say/think/feel "I loved my kid less when s/he moved away to college to live on his/her own" or "now that my kids are out of the house, I love them less". Yes, the responsibility level has changed, the dynamic has changed, but there's still love there, and that love doesn't lessen just because the parent doesn't live with their child anymore.

And even 'kids' that are fully adults and moved out of the house often have parents who will drop everything for them if they're having a crisis. Just like I'd drop everything to help out a close, intimate partner who I wasn't living with, but cared for deeply.
 

YouAreHere

Well-known member
For me, though (and I believe for many other people), that analogy really falls flat.

IMO, my job as a parent is to raise my children to become independent, self-sufficient (and awesome!) human beings. They're meant to leave the nest. They're meant to go find loved ones of their own. They're meant to not need mom at the center of their worlds once they grow up.

A romantic partnership, to me, is very VERY different. I want to entwine my life with someone to the point where we're planning our retirement, deciding where we're growing old together - all that. I want to be able to turn to that person every damned day and just talk about whatever stupid shit comes to mind. I want to be able to sit at the table and drink our coffee and not have to say anything to each other. I want to have my partner with me, side-by-side, for the rest of my life.

I can't even equate the two types of relationships. Yes, they're both love. Yes, my children and my partner are both extremely important to me. However, when my children grow up and grow apart, I will be happy for them. If my partner and I grow apart, I will be hurt. It comes down to different expectations for the different types of relationships.

I think *that's* the big bugaboo with the "c" word (heh). What are your expectations out of a committed relationship? What can you compromise on? Is sexual fidelity not such a big deal, but living together is? Many folks who've only known monogamous relationships have never had to think about anything other than the norm. They've never even thought about what their expectations are, because they never had to - it's in the script. Compromise? Compromise on what?

It doesn't seem like people really start thinking about what they need out of commitment until their idea of it is questioned, either by being exposed to a poly relationship, or through some other circumstance that changes the normal script. It doesn't surprise me, then, that it'd be a tough concept for folks newly introduced to polyamory. It makes for a hell of a good discussion, though, if you have those kinds of friends who appreciate ruminating over a nice Scotch. ;)
 

YouAreHere

Well-known member
A great many people when they say they want a committed romantic relationship are looking for that sort of involvement in the life of their partner. That seems to go for poly folk and mono folk alike.

Given that is the case for the vast majority of people, it seems to me that it is sensible to ask somebody how they can be committed to more than one person?

If your new potential person wants to live with a partner can you do that? Would she and Cat be willing to share a home with each other if things work out with you and she? Or are they more likely to want to just share a home with you? Do they live close enough to each other that you could float between homes? If not, would one of them consider moving? Or are you willing and able to maintain large amounts of frequent travelling?

Great point, IP. :)

Chops and I have settled upon a good, working compromise. However, the emphasis is on "work" at times. We both want an entwined partnership. We both want our partners side-by-side with us as often as possible. We both want to share homes and lives and experiences as much as we possibly can. However, he wants that with both me and Xena, while I have no interest in living with anyone other than Chops and my kids.

My desire to NOT share a living space with Xena overrides my desire to be as entwined with Chops as I would like, and I recognize this. It's funny, because I'm the one placing hurdles in the way of his "commitment" in this sense. If I could abide us all living together, it'd be a moot point.

At any rate, it definitely took that level of self-introspection and discussion to figure out what a working compromise would look like... and then some more to tweak it as we went along. Not the easiest thing to explain to someone when they ask, "How can he be committed to the both of you?" I just end up boiling it down to, "He puts a lot of work into it," and let them decide whether or not they want to continue the conversation from there. :)
 

GirlFromTexlahoma

New member
A romantic partnership, to me, is very VERY different. I want to entwine my life with someone to the point where we're planning our retirement, deciding where we're growing old together - all that. I want to be able to turn to that person every damned day and just talk about whatever stupid shit comes to mind. I want to be able to sit at the table and drink our coffee and not have to say anything to each other. I want to have my partner with me, side-by-side, for the rest of my life.

This, so much. Romantic love is very much tangled up with entwinement and togetherness and "forever and ever" to me. It's one of the reasons I struggle with identifying as poly even though I'm definitely happily non monogamous.

Any relationship that doesn't have living-together-for-the-rest-of-our-lives potential just feels like friends with benefits to me. That's not derogatory - I love my friends, they are my family, I'd do just about anything for them. I just can't feel the romantic, "in love" stuff in non-escalator relationships. If I have romantic feelings for someone, I want the escalator. If I can't get that, the romantic feelings kind of wither and die. I may still love the person, very much, but it's a qualitatively different type of love than what I feel for a nesting partner.

It doesn't mean I can't commit to a non nesting partner... Just that the commitment looks and feels very different from the commitment I have with my husband.
 

nycindie

Active member
It doesn't mean I can't commit to a non nesting partner... Just that the commitment looks and feels very different from the commitment I have with my husband.
Nothing wrong with that.

My commitment to show up at work on time looks different from the commitment I have to pay my gas and electric bill. Both those commitments look different from the commitment I make with myself to nurture more creativity in my life. My commitments with one lover will always look different from my commitments with another lover because they're different people and I have different dynamics with them.
 

LizziE

New member
Maybe the thing that got the people that I've talked to (which is probably more than 10 but less than 20?) is pointing out that you can have multiple kids and no one is going to accuse you of loving them all less because you have more of them. Regardless of the idea that kids grow apart as they age (which I completely get and understand why there are differences between that and romantic partners), no one ever says "You had multiple kids? Wasn't the first one enough for you? What's wrong with you?". More likely, you get the opposite "You had only one kid? They're going to be so lonely! Don't you have enough room in your life to give your kid a brother or sister to love?".

FTR, I may also be sensitive to this because I'm an only child, and I spent much of my childhood either overhearing people make insensitive comments to my parents on that vein OR as I got older, asking me if I was "OK" since I had to grow up "all alone" and how lonely I must have been.

But in the end, I dunno why people have responded to that argument the way they did. Maybe it's that they feel so differently than I do as it is about relationships and commitment that what I'm saying is so wildly different than them that they're just not responding.

I've had some really good conversations pointing out the kid thing and I've had some people totally shut down and change the subject.

What are your expectations out of a committed relationship? What can you compromise on? Is sexual fidelity not such a big deal, but living together is?

For me, it really depends on the relationship. My first long-term poly relationship involved a non-sexual partner, Rachel. She had me and her romantic partner Rob, as well as another non-sexual partner, Jessica. Rachel, Rob and I tried living together for awhile, and it didn't work out, I think mainly because the space we had wasn't big enough for both of us to feel comfortable.

My expectations for a committed relationship are that I would hope to live with a partner that I was deeply committed to. Having the experience that I had with Rachel and Rob, I'm now cognizant to the concept that having a home with multiple "public" areas would be really important. The idea being that if I had friends over, and my meta had friends over, we wouldn't HAVE to mingle everybody - we could have our own goings-on. More importantly, if one of us was having people over, and the other wanted a "quiet night in", the person wanting the quiet night in could do so without having to hide in their bedroom.

But if I met someone who had no interest in ever living together, but wanted to be deeply committed, I think I'd be OK with that. It would depend on the particulars. One thing that I can say about commitment and living together that I already know I feel strongly about - before Jon and I lived together full-time, for some reason Rachel and Jessica seemed to have this "until you're totally living together for a while, and plan to continue living together, it's definitely a lower level commitment" thing going on. It's hard to point out specific conversations; it was more of an overall vibe. But it's like they kind of rolled their eyes if I said something about how deeply Jon and I felt about each other before we moved in together. I definitely never want to do that, or devalue someone else's relationship because they don't live together. It felt shitty and was one of the many things that slowly distanced me from Rachel and Jessica; I'd hate to treat someone I love & their partner like that.
 

AutumnLeaves

New member
The kids metaphor isn't a perfect analogy, but I think it does work to help monogamous people consider that it's possible to have two or more things that fall into the same category but are fundamentally different in specifics (kids, partners, whatever), and feel many of the same feelings toward them.
 
I also don't really like the kid analogy. Yes - it explains how it is possible that feelings of love for multiples of the same sort of relationship can exist.

Beyond that, it really isn't very useful IMO. Kids have no choice about whether to be born, what family to be born into or how many people they have to live with. This is all decided by the parents.

Also - even if you do go with the kid analogy, I don't exactly see it as a good advert for poly. Being loved by parents is excellent but it, on its own, is not enough to produce a healthy relationship.

In fact, I suspect that many of us learned to be jealous of sharing time with others and possessive of our loved ones in our families. Most people I know who grew up in multi child households are very well aware of how one quarter of a cake can be bigger than the other 3 quarters.

Lots of parents - while they may feel love and may act in love ways toward their children - are not entirely equipped with sufficient time, money and energy to be able to maintain all of those relationships and keep them healthy. If they were, it wouldn't be so common for people to grow up with mental health problems that came from their childhoods.

I suspect that it is the same for poly folks. Feeling love is great but what about the practicalities? You need loads more than love to have a healthy relationship.

IP
 

YouAreHere

Well-known member
DanceGirl's 15th birthday is coming up at the end of the month. PokéGirl asked me if I were sad now that they're growing up and are doing more of their own things, without me.

I said, of course not (and I meant it). That my job as a parent is to help them grow up, and that I'm happy to see that happening, and happy to see the people they're growing up to become.

They're meant to spend less time with us as the relationship progresses.

On the other hand, I want to be able to spend MORE time with my partner as the kids grow up and out, and we get toward retirement age.

And IP, I agree - PokéGirl especially ends up feeling left out, or shorted by all sorts of things ("DanceGirl got a piece of candy!" "Yeah, but you just had a cookie!" // "You went to the mall with DanceGirl! I want to go to LocalComicShop and buy Magic Cards with you!"). Just because you love your kids doesn't mean the balance is always correct, or that they're feeling all that great about it all the time.

I get what people are trying to illustrate. After all, I have an unholy love for analogy and allegory myself, but still... I don't think this analogy works as universally as many people think it does. It drives me BANANAS when I listen to the "Poly Weekly" podcast, and I hear Minx and Lusty Guy use the analogy with a, "Well, DUH!" tone of voice. I find myself yelling at my radio that it's NOT THE SAME. :p

I guess I've derailed the "Commitment" thread long enough, though. D'oh. :eek:

To tie it all back in, it's somewhat similar in a way. I have a lifetime commitment to my children, but the expectation of what that commitment looks like is FAR different from my commitment to my job, my partner, my friends, etc. Many people expect commitment to a partner to have a particular form, but it seems that there are as many different expectations as there are people. The rules of monogamy, though, tend to obscure this, and people just don't talk about it.

I'm not one to bash monogamy, certainly, but it's too bad that everyone has a "common sense" idea of what it is without ever discussing whether or not their "common sense" is actually shared with their partner. I know I was guilty of that...
 
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