Several months ago my boyfriend asked me one of those really scary big questions that come up for every couple: “What comes next? Where is our relationship going?” He went on to elaborate that in a more traditional monogamous relationship, this would be the point where we'd start talking about spending more nights together, maybe eventually moving in together. The sort of conversation that signals major lifestyle-altering commitment. In our living situations, our polyamorous groups, though, moving in together is simply not a viable option. I live with my husband and one of his girlfriends – my boyfriend and girlfriend live together in their own place. Combining those households would not only be impractical, but undesirable. We're all very happy with our homes, and since we're only three blocks apart, the sacrifice of our homes wouldn't come with significant added benefits of convenience. And the complications! The combined living arrangements currently in place are difficult enough.
Allow me to elaborate. Those who've been following this blog know that I am in a poly family of nine people. We are arranged in five households. My boyfriend and girlfriend share an apartment; myself, my husband, and one of his girlfriends also share an apartment (and a bedroom – more on that later), his other girlfriend lives with roommates in a third apartment and frequently spends nights at our place. The step-husband-in-law's girlfriend (the one that isn't also my husband's girlfriend) is in the same situation. The step-husband-in-law and his wife live together in a house about an hour away from the rest of us.
One upshot of this is that I frequently text my husband with the recurring question, “Who's home tonight?” The answer to that is anywhere from two to four people, including myself. When all four of us are at my apartment, it gets even better! Sure, four people CAN sleep in one king bed, but I don't really recommend it. So the next question is, “Who's in which bedroom?” The three of us who live together share one bedroom and one king-sized bed, so the obvious answer would be for my husband's girlfriend that doesn't live with us to be in the second bedroom, but after a while that feels like kicking her out, and that's mean. Some nights I take that room, and honestly it's kind of nice having a bed all to myself once in a while. No one snoring in my ear, stealing my blankets, or sweating on me. Some nights my husband's girlfriends (who, remember, are also a couple) sleep together in that room, since they don't get much time alone together. It's an interesting rotation.
Now, imagine that rotation if there were five people living in one home. Five people, arranged into five romantic couples, some of which overlap, some don't, and one additional person who will be frequently spending the night and creates two additional couples to factor in. No, I will not be moving in with my boyfriend. Holy flying spaghetti monster, no I will not.
Here's the other fun thing! Remember how I said that the step-husband-in-law lives an hour away? What that means in a practical sense is that whenever my husband's girlfriend has date night with him and/or his wife, that means sleepover night. For her to drive out there just for a couple of hours and then come home again, that's a strain of time and gas money for her. So she spends about half her nights out there, though she technically lives with my husband and me.
My boyfriend and I had a conversation at one point about how many nights I spend with him (typically about one a week) and that he would really like more. I mentioned this other situation, and he commented that he felt like he was being penalized for being convenient. That I spend fewer nights a week with him because I don't have to make an hour drive to get home from a date. Technically, I don't have to drive at all, they're within walking distance of me. This was an interesting point, one that I really don't have an answer to. Along with the, “What's next?” question, which also left me pretty well stymied.
What would define progress, commitment, in an extended group like ours? When you're not moving in together, getting married, the traditional outward signs of a committed relationship? I'm still working on that.