New Relationship Energy Pitfalls – Polyamory Drifts Out of Comfort


New Relationship Energy Pitfalls - Polyamory Drifts Out of ComfortNRE (New Relationship Energy) is different in what would be considered polyamorous relationships as it is in swinging relationships. So different in fact that I think it’s apropos that way back we coined the acronym NSE for New Swinger Energy. In my experience, and from what I’ve been told by many readers and friends, when in a swinging relationship, a couple meets another couple, the NSE hits them with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for their own relationship. The very act of finding a couple you’re compatible sexually with can often trigger a sexual renaissance as it were. In polyamory, though, it’s a whole different ballgame, something I discovered this weekend.

Both Marilyn and I are now involved in polyamorous relationships independently from each other. She is dating a couple, I am dating a single woman. Both of us are experiencing NRE with these relationships, and are basking in the warm glow of new loves. The conflict that I see has come in the form of focus. When you’re focused on external relationships, the internal one doesn’t get as much attention, or the attention it may deserve.

Marilyn hasn’t had many relationships in her life, and as thus has not felt true NRE very many times. Given the go ahead to throw herself full throttle into the relationship and feelings she was developing for her couple, she did just that. It made her happy, it boosted her confidence, it did all sorts of wonderful things.

I have experienced NRE quite a bit, and have learned how much it messes with your head. This, in my dating years led to many ill-advised decisions with those whom I was dating. In the decade plus that I’ve been with Marilyn, I’ve been able to reflect on many of those decisions from my dating life and realize how foolishly we can act when in the clutches of NRE. (My big folly was always stampeding towards “I love you.”) For me, going into new relationships, I’ve been I think exceedingly cautious, and not simply because we were doing the poly thing, but because I know myself.

I’ve been able to look at my NRE for what it is, an excess of endorphins perhaps designed to encourage pair bonding. (Note to self, ask Christopher Ryan his thoughts on New Relationship Energy.) And as such I’ve been able to counteract it with some excess rationality. I don’t in any way think that I’m somehow better than those who give themselves over to NRE, in fact I wish I could more. My analytical brain can often cause paralysis by analysis.

Marilyn has felt a disconnect with me over the past couple months. And it’s due to the exciting and new relationships we’re both in. While NRE creates energy, I think it also sucks energy toward it. In the vanilla world, I remember when friends would start dating someone and they’d almost entirely vanish. We’d always ask where so and so was and inevitably he’d be with his new girlfriend. So my theory has precedent. When experiencing NRE in a polyamorous relationship, I see a temporary spacial shift of relationshippy energy toward the new bond and away from the old.

This has been confirmed by several of my polyamorous friends, so I assure you I’m not just talking out of my ass.

So, this would then beg the question: “Um, I thought that you don’t have a finite amount of love and that’s the point of polyamory is that you can love many people the same amount and not neglect others.” Did that question sound like it was delivered in an exceedingly snotty voice to you?

That is the central conceit of polyamory. And I think it’s a fully valid conceit. You don’t have a finite amount of love. You do however have a finite amount of time, energy, awakeness…those nebulous kreplits. This is where the confusion comes in. If you’re expending relationshippy energy on one paramour and experiencing that explosive NRE, then it’s harder to expend the same amount or type of relationship energy on your primary partner.

I know I’m going to get poly people who’ll say “That’s not true! I can do both! I can have full on NRE with as many people as I’d like.” Was that the same snotty person from above?

Sure, then, I’ll concede you may well be able to do that. And I congratulate you on it. But I’ll say I’m sure not everybody can claim the same. For me I’ve consciously worked against the overall impulses that accompany NRE in my current relationship with S. This mainly in an attempt to not revert to a very young and foolish Cooper who would’ve already told this woman who I love her and tried to move in with her. FOOLISH.

(Though I do wonder as I’m analyzing relationship machinations if I’ve lost some of the fun…but perhaps that’s a post for another day.)

So there’s been some turbulence on the Becketts’ polyamory flight. This is not news, I was certain there would be. Early swinging was a tumultuous time for us, there were big issues and big concerns, and they passed, and we settled down into the warm embrace of the swinging lifestyle. I’m sure that polyamory will yield the same. We are, after all, doing something very different from we’ve ever done before.

Marilyn sees her relationship with them as better right now. The big scary, that. I’ll concede that right now it probably is. They’re in the impressing stage, the discovery stage. We’re almost 15 years in on our end, it’s hard to keep those things. I doubt very much that there’s more than a handful of things she has yet to discover about me. They also, don’t have to worry about all the humdrum soul crushing things that happen a relationship…like balancing finances. This is the issue that Cosmo is always talking about, isn’t it. Countless books have been written about how to reignite those flames that first burned when you met. We have the edge, however, we the non-monogamous, because we allow for some of these needs (the need for new and different especially) to be out-sourced.

We just must always remember the central relationship at the heart. On the advice of my poly guru Shira B. Katz, we’re going to start scheduling our date nights, because it’s so easy to forget about your primary relationship when you’ve got so much “else” in your life.

The primary relationship can, I think, give up a little energy need to the new ones temporarily. To allow for that initial rush of NRE to come, hit hard, do its thing, and then move along. Because NRE has a bit of a short shelf life, and as soon as you’ve popped the top, it already moves into decline.

And at that point the scales balance again, and comfort is re-obtained. I’ll admit, I wasn’t prepared for the discussion and conflict this weekend. It surprised me, though it shouldn’t have. I’ve felt the waning effect. We’re at low tide now. Have to rely on that thing called communication. Be eyes wide open. I am that.



About Author

Cooper S. Beckett is a relationship coach specializing in non-monogamy, author of  My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory & A Life Less Monogamous, and the co-founder of Life on the Swingset & host of its swinging & polyamory podcast. He speaks and teaches classes on pegging, swinging, polyamory, play parties, and non-monogamy. He is a graphic & web designer, photographer, and voice over artist, has been a guest expert on Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast, & is the announcer of Tristan Taormino's radio show Sex Out Loud. He is currently working on his next novel: Approaching The Swingularity.