Let’s talk about a fundamental element that could determine your couples’ success or failure: should toilet paper be unrolling upward or downward? Kidding, of course! This fundamental element is the way you perceive the interactions – or the absence of interactions – between your different partners and relationships. I had read about the importance of these elements of relationship style in Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert’s awesome book More Than Two, yet it took me a huge heartbreak before I realized their relevance in the way we pick our partners and the expectations we can or can’t have regarding our metamours.
You have probably already noticed that some polyamorists like to play it rather community-style, inviting their different partners in the same party, kissing one, then hugging the other. You also know other polyamorists who will keep things separate: their different partners know the existence of each other, but don’t interact too much. The priority is to keep and respect everyone’s private life.
The first way to do it is called kitchen-table-polyamory. As the name suggests, those who practice this kind of polyamory are those who like to meet around a kitchen table, discuss among partners and metamours, in order to create a bond between all the people involved with open communication channels. Their goal is to make sure everyone is heard and has the space to express their needs and fears. There is a desire for cooperation to ensure everyone’s well-being.
The other way to do it is called parallel-polyamory. Here again, the name is revealing: the different romantic relationships are lived in parallel with each other, and a special effort is invested so that no relationship has an impact on others. Information circulates little between the partners about what’s happening with other people, the principle being that the less everyone knows, the better everyone is.
These two categories should not be seen as separate boxes, but rather as a continuum: No one is 100% kitchen-table-poly, nor 100% parallel-poly. We are rather somewhere on a spectrum, with a preference for one or the other: I’d say that I am 80% kitchen-table-poly. It means that I much prefer to know more than less about what my partners live elsewhere and who my metamours are, but I still value some privacy, mine and that of others. For example, I wouldn’t ask a partner about their sex life with other partners or about the intimate conversations they have, unless they do want to share that information with me. But I do feel better when my partners are comfortable sharing a lot about themselves and every aspect of their lives, which happens to include their other relationships as well.
This preference is based mainly on what is perceived as reassuring: some people are reassured by a lot of information, because it gives them a feeling of inclusion, and that they can make better decisions if they know what they are actually dealing with, while others are reassured not to know too much about their partner’s other relationships, according the principle that what we don’t know can’t hurt us. Both styles are strategies to avoid jealousy and promote compersion, as well as to implement other values such as cooperation or privacy. As a kitchen-table-poly, I could give you a long list of all the reasons why it’s better to focus on communication and transparency as a way to achieve harmony within a polycule. But, that would be biased. Reality is that there’s not one style better than the other. There’s only the style in which everyone feels most comfortable.
Since expectations and needs in terms of polyamorous style may vary, partners will benefit from being clear about their boundaries regarding transparency and respect for privacy. Here are some guidelines for discussion:
- What do I expect my partners to share with me about their other relationships and partners?
- What do I expect my partners to keep private about other relationships and partners?
- What can my partners share with other partners about me?
- What should my partners keep private about me?
- When should my partner inform me of a new relationship? When they are potentially interested in someone? When they start dating the person? When they fall in love with a new person?
- Does my partner want to meet my other partners? Does my partner want me to meet their other partners?
- How close can I be with my partner’s partners? Can I flirt with my partner’s partners? What about love relationships between metamours?
- Some people want to have sex with their different partners (3-somes, 4-somes, more-somes…) Is this something you want? Something you expect?
- When a situation of jealousy arises, should it be discussed and settled between partners? Do we want to involve metamours in this type of discussion and under what circumstances?
- Any other question that you think is relevant to clarify regarding the management of information and interactions between partners and metamours.