The best terminology I’ve been able to come up with for my style of forming relationships is pragmatic antiprescriptivism.
Pragmatic: Theory follows practice. I have a lot of opinions about how best to do relationships. Some of those opinions are wrong. If practice demonstrates that they are wrong, the theory needs to change.
Antiprescriptivism: A relationship is not a prescription. If I call you my girlfriend, for example, I’m calling you that because it’s the word that best approximates the nature of our relationship, not because I’m trying to make our relationship fit into what I see as the Boyfriend/Girlfriend box. No two Friends With Benefits relationships are the same, no two Significant Other relationships are the same, and no two Friendships are the same. A relationship is not a prescription, it’s a description. As per this philosophy, if I call someone primary, that is a description, not a prescription. The person who it makes sense to call primary now may not be the person it makes sense to call primary in a few years, even if I’m in all of the same relationships. And that is okay. All relationships deserve respect anyway.
On a related note, I’m less prone to use relationship labels than most people. I think relationship labels present problems both with communication and with implied expectations that make me wary of them. I’m not completely against labels, but I don’t default to using them. I care more about what you want to do with me and how you feel about me than what nickname you want to apply to what you want and how you feel.
In a nutshell: I want to have a choice about the number and manner of relationships I have that is not restricted by rules that I feel are arbitrary. My point of relationship saturation is my choice. But I will always make relationship choices that are mindful of the relationships I already have, because I care deeply about all of the people around me.
I am generally nonmonogamous. I do not have any interest in having a relationship that proscribes other relationships. This does not mean I fuck everything that I see. I am careful with partner choice. I care about my partners, and as such, I will work hard not to enter into new relationships that will be inherently threatening to the ones I already have. I expect this of my partners as well. Others put this better than I could:
“I am not trying to prevent you from choosing to date someone else, but should you choose someone who makes my life miserable, that is a problem between you and me and I will remove myself from the situation, and you should be aware of this consequence when making a decision.
In addition, I am reminding you that we both claim to value our existing relationships to the point that we voluntarily choose to self-limit ourselves to relationships with people who seem more likely to get along with all the existing family members than to not get along, in the sense that the new person has exhibited tendencies towards empathy, compassion, & respect for the feelings of those (s)he is connected to through the romantic network.
This is related to the concept of ‘it’s possible to really and truly love someone and not make a good partner for them’ – sometimes we might really like someone but a romantic partnership is not necessarily the best option for the 2 people involved due to a romantic incompatibility.
We choose to self-limit our relationship partners, not because we have a rule to follow, but because we value our existing relationships highly and our own peace of mind, and dating people who have exhibited a tendency towards creating chaos and hurt in relationships actively undermines that which we value.”
I think that a lot of the issues people have with poly could be solved by avoiding the common misconception that your partner’s partners are in any way inherently adversaries.
I am generally against making permanent rules proscribing certain activities with other partners, unless those rules are about safety. Intelligent safe sex rules are good. “I don’t want you to kiss that person because it makes me insecure” rules are not good, with one caveat: I think it can be okay sometimes to make temporary rules like that so that one has time to work through insecurities without having them constantly triggered. I get insecure. Most of us do. Usually, my response to feeling insecure about a partner doing something with someone else is to talk about it, and to ask for aftercare with that partner after they do the thing I’m insecure about. I think facing insecurities together makes relationships stronger, generally, and I think making long-term rules about who can do what with who because of insecurities makes relationships weaker by accommodating rather than addressing those insecurities.
I am uniformly against rules about how attached you’re allowed to get to someone. Making a relationship rule about how someone is supposed to feel about someone else is like making a rule that the sun should rise in the South every third Wednesday. You can make the rule if you want, but the sun rises where it rises, and feelings do what they do. It’s what you do about them that you can control.
I’m also against the idea of veto power. I am a reasonable person, and if a partner of mine were to ask me to end a relationship of mine, or a part of a relationship of mine, I would listen, and I would take their request seriously. If a relationship were damaging to my other relationships, I would most likely seriously consider ending it even if my other partners did not request that I do so, because I care about my partners. But I decide what I do. When I decide what I do, I consider the feelings of others a very high priority, but the decision itself is never something I will surrender to someone else, and never something I would expect someone else to surrender to me. I am not a child, and neither are my partners. We are all capable of making our own decisions, we all should take the feelings and wishes of others into account when making those decisions, and where that is the case, I don’t think veto power should be necessary.
The Dynamic Nature of Relationships
I think it’s important to acknowledge that relationships change, people change, and life changes. What I want now may not be what I want in ten years, or five. I’d love to find partners I stay with long term, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that things change for all sorts of reasons, and to be aware of and okay with (insomuch as it’s possible to be) the idea that we can’t predict the future. I may find a partner or partners I end up being in relationships with for life. I may end up having a lot of relationships that last a while and then stop lasting for whatever reason. Drifting apart, people relocating, changing priorities, whatever. I may end up with a combination of the two. I will probably end up with some relationships that don’t last long at all.
There’s a lot people can do to maintain good healthy relationships, and I’m not saying we should throw efforts to maintain them to the wind. Relationships take work, and doing that work is important. What I’m saying is that the duration of a relationship is not a measure of its success. Whether or not a relationship is good for everyone involved, and is what everyone involved wants is a measure of its success. A relationship that ends when it needs to end, when it stops being good for everyone involved, is a better relationship than one that’s dragged on when it’s stopped working.