There’s a common theme to the problem-solving approach we see in many poly relationships: bringing things down to the same level instead of building things up to the same level.
For example, when a new relationship starts, it often comes bundled with a lot of crazy sexual energy. This sexual passion can be intimidating for someone in an existing relationship, and often, people try to deal with feeling intimidated by trying to put dampers on the new relationship. Don’t have sex in that position! Don’t have so much sex! Only have sex when I am watching, even if you aren’t an exhibitionist! Don’t have sex unless you include me, even if you aren’t into group sex!
It’s not just about sex. This pattern happens in all sorts of other poly situations, too. Intimidated by how much time your partner is spending with the new love? Put limits on it! Worried about how much attention the new person is getting? Place restrictions on the new relationship!
All these are ways to bring the new relationship “down” to the level of the existing relationship. We seem to accept as a fact that long-term relationships won’t ever be as fun, appealing, and passionate as new ones, so the thing to do when a new relationship comes along is to deflate it as quickly as possible.
Perhaps a better approach is to build up to the high point, rather than taking the high point down. Intimidated by the mad, crazy sexual passion of a new relationship? Well, even the most passionate sex in a new relationship is going to be a bit clumsy, because your partner and the new love haven’t had time to learn each other yet. but guess what? You have. You already know the secret library of turn-ons and fantasies, the erotic roadmap of your partner’s body. Use it! There’s no rule that says a long-term relationship has to be sexless; that’s just bullshit invented by lazy sitcom script writers and second-rate standup comedians. I’ve had eighteen-year-long relationships that were still full of crazy, lustful, passionate sex even after all that time.
Get in there and build an awesome life! Don’t limit your lover’s new partner; make sex with your partner sizzle even more! Don’t waste your time and creative energy worrying about how much fun the new shiny is; use that creative energy to make your life with your lover fun and shiny!
Bringing every relationship down to the lowest common denominator is a lose-lose approach to relationships. You lose, your partner loses, the new person loses. Building up to the highest peak is a win-win relationship. Ask yourself: when did you start believing that long-term relationships have to be more boring than new ones?
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I see this also for the justification of “only move as fast as the slowest person in the relationship”. I don’t like that advice primarily because it’s not nuanced. Sure, sometimes we do have to take a breath, look around, and make sure the person with the most insecurities is feeling cared for – that’s being compassionate. But most of the time I see that advice being used as a rationalization for pocket vetoes. Sometimes, you just have to throw someone in the deep end.
When I was a kid, my parents didn’t just throw me off a pier and expect me to swim in the ocean without any prep work. They got me used to water first, gave me floaties, etc. etc. But when it came right down to it, at some point I had to just jump off the side. My swim teacher was waiting there for me, close enough to catch but not close enough to get knocked out by my flailing around. So a good, kind, compassionate partner can be there, in the pool, ready to help steady you when you jump, but at some point, you’re just gonna have to jump.
So, acknowledging that there is context and nuance to this situation, sometimes the most compassionate thing to do in a relationship is NOT to move at the pace of the slowest person, but to help that slowest person get up the courage to just jump in where everyone else is already waiting for them.