Our boyfriend and girlfriend Julian and Hanne are going through a bit of a relationship crisis this evening. They may make a major change in their relationship to add some space between them to allow healing to happen. The intent is not for them to break up, but any major change can be like a seismic shift in the foundation of a relationship and the outcome is unpredictable. It's a strange to be in a place where I'm worrying about my boyfriend's reaction to making pivotal and significant changes to his relationship with his other girlfriend. We just don't have cultural scripts for how to deal with that. What do you do with the compassion you feel for your husband's girlfriend as she deals with personal issues and momentous changes in her relationship with her other boyfriend, who also happens to be your boyfriend? We get to make it up as we go along.
Crises like this really highlight some of the strengths of polyamory, though. One of the benefits that comes from sustaining multiple loving relationships at the same time is that when you're struggling with one relationship, you have others to fall back on to provide you with support. We have many examples of this being a major benefit in our lives: When Alex and I have been fighting, I find the peacefulness of my relationship with Julian to be a soothing balm that allows me to return to Alex refreshed and ready to solve problems. Alex enjoys having another loving person in his life to share intimate issues with, especially when he and I are at odds with each other. When Julian had surgery recently he had two women practically vying to take care of him. Alex set aside any unresolved reservations he has with Julian to support him after his surgery, to the extent that he offered to have him come stay with us while he was recovering if Hanne was working and couldn't take care of him. As Julian and Hanne go through a relationship crisis, hopefully it makes it a little easier to know that they have caring, loving relationships with other people. It's nice to know that when something happens, you have a network to turn to.
For me, poly helps fulfill a need for a modern tribe. There has been much written about how modern culture functions in a way that isolates us in our separate houses with, perhaps, a husband or wife and some children to turn to for love and support. Humans are social animals and we have a deep need for strong social ties. In modern life, many of us have lost the large social support networks that humans evolved expecting to be there. So how do you establish social ties strong enough to be sustained across the miles that separate houses and the hours that separate seeing each others' faces? In my life, the people I have truly deep, sustaining ties with are almost exclusively people I've lived with or people I've slept with. Those seem to be the two ways that I make those profound connections – and I've heard many other people say the same. Now that I'm long out of college, there aren't many times in my life when I will be living with new people and able to use that path for forming relationships. If I were monogamous, the other avenue – loving and having sex with someone new – would be closed to me, too. Poly opens that door. Forming loving, sexual, romantic relationships with people is an effective way of making a meaningful connection with them – one that can last a long time, even if the romantic part of the relationship eventually ends. You take a new lover, and suddenly your circle of people you are close to widens. Perhaps over time even your lover's partners become part of your circle.
Poly is a way of breaking the isolation of modern life in a profound way.