As someone who happens to be the “hinge of the V” in my relationships–I’m in two relationships and my partners are only in a relationship with me–one of the judgments I encounter a lot from others is this notion that I’m “having my cake and eating it too,” that our relationships are somehow unfair because I have two partners and they each only have me. I’m not exactly sure what people envision, perhaps that I just lounge around in bed all day while men lavish me with attention and feed me chocolates. But regardless, I’d like to take a minute to dissect this particular complaint about relationships like mine.
First and foremost, I think a lot of people take the notion of “balance” in relationships far too literally when considering poly relationships. “Fair” does not mean that everyone does exactly the same things, and that because I have two partners, the only way for our relationships to be fair is if they each have another partner as well. To me, “fair” means that everyone involved has the equal right to do whatever makes them happy. My partners are both free to have other relationships if they want, and, at least for now, that’s not what they want. I, clearly, do want to be in two relationships. So everyone is doing this the way they want, and everyone is happy and fulfilled. The same goes for what’s “fair and balanced” within poly relationships. One of my partners hates sleeping with someone else in the bed, and the other is quite fond of snuggling at night (as am I). So what’s “fair” is that the people who like to sleep in the same bed get to sleep together, and the other gets his bed all to himself. It wouldn’t make anyone happy or comfortable if we felt the need to impose some “perfect balance” in which I alternated who I slept with every other night. That kind of “balance” would mean rationalizing our relationships to an extent that totally denies the reality of our individual wants and needs.
Second, I really don’t understand this attempt to place human relationships into some kind of mathematical equation. The way people seem to view it, I get 100% from both of my partners, while they each only get 50% from me. But I just don’t believe human relationships are quantitative like that, for one thing. And if we are going to try to use numbers here, no one gets 100% from anyone. We all have other important things in our lives: work, school, family, friendship, hobbies, activism, creative pursuits, any number of things that matter to us. Why do people see it as though my husband has to “share” me with my boyfriend, but I don’t have to “share” him with the time he spends playing guitar or riding his bicycle? We’re all juggling multiple interests and multiple relationships (even if they’re not romantic); this is healthy and normal. No one in their right mind would pity one of my partners because I sometimes spend time alone writing, so why should they be objects of pity if I sometimes leave them alone to spend time with another person? And while we’re at it, I find it a pretty flawed assumption that either of my partners want 100% of my time and attention. Personally, I think 100% of anyone’s time and attention would be a pretty overwhelming thing.
The last thing I find perplexing about this way of thinking is the implication that I just get all of the “perks” in this situation. As anyone who’s ever been in a committed, long-term relationship can tell you, such relationships take time, energy, and effort. My husband jokes all the time that there’s no way on Earth he’d ever want to deal with two of those at the same time. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but he’s still got a point. I don’t mean to make it sound like my relationships are just work, because that’s not true at all; they’re both completely fulfilling and joyful and fun. But it would be a lie to say that there’s no investment of time and energy involved. I don’t just passively receive love and attention from both of my partners, I give those things, too. And I don’t think my relationships would be so great if I gave only half of what they each give me. It’s interesting that when we look at, say, a mother with three kids, we don’t say: oh, she gets all the love and adoration of three children, but they each only get a third of her love and attention. No, we generally praise the mother for being able to love and nurture three kids. Or, when we see someone with a large circle of friends, we don’t say: oh, she’s so spoiled, having that many people who care about her. On the contrary, we probably assume she must be a good, caring friend to be able to maintain all of those relationships. Why, then, is the person with multiple romantic relationships thought to be “spoiled,” “having their cake and eating it too”?
It would be ideal, really, if people would look at my relationships–and all poly relationships–without the basic assumption that someone must be benefitting and someone else must be suffering. There are all kinds of configurations of relationships, and I find the reasonable thing is to assume–unless given actual reason to believe otherwise–that all the people involved in any particular configuration are there because it works for them, because it’s a happy and fulfilling situation for all involved. What could be more fair than that?