Old Guard and Young Turks

It was perhaps a dozen years ago at a heated polyamory discussion dinner. There was a flirtatious communard who was known to be in a long-term committed relationship and their partner was quite jealous of their attractions outside their established relationship.  One side of our divided conversation were people who believed that the responsibility for caring for that relationship was on the shared flirtatious partner. It was on this person to know, respect and communicate any agreements or boundaries the pre-existing relationship placed on the new connection. The other position was that it was good poly practice to communicate directly with your intimate’s other partners, especially if they are known to be jealous, so no one is surprised, everyone is on the same page and the new affair does not have an acidic effect on the existing romance.  The group that was advocating for direct inquiry of the jealous partner was the older demographic at the table.  I will call this group the Old Guard.

process no sex

And there was kind of a “guardian” feeling to this concern.  Poly is an ambitious relationship model.  You are assuming that you can do better than upbringing.  That you can transcend the perhaps 30% of all pop songs which promote exclusive romantic role models, or the 50% of soap operas which play off jealousy as a central theme.  Not only do you have to be better, but the people you are playing with are going to have to be above average in their response to potentially highly charged emotional circumstances.

Remember the classical trajectory of new intimacies.  They start with honeymoons.  During this period we tend to be in significant denial about there being any flaws to our new partners.  They are wonderful, their feet don’t stink, they treat you like you really deserve to be treated.  And while you are wearing these rose colored glasses the existing (in this case jealous) partner can be completely reasonably worried that you would want to spend all your time with this shiny new relationship, rather than the grumpy old one with demanding attention, needing processing and not very fun.

nice image, logistics nightmare

nice image, logistics nightmare

Everyone in the old guard claimed to be not just taking care of the other partner, they were also taking care of the notion of polyamory being a responsible and sustainable relationship model.  While it might be fun to jump on a discovered attraction at a party, the clean up can be a nightmare.

funny and fairly accurate

funny and fairly accurate

The young Turks thought differently (they were mostly 20-something so the label seemed apt at the time).   We are adults, we are responsible for our relationships.  If someone says they are romantically available to play it is untrusting and perhaps even insulting to say, “oh i have to go make sure i have permission from your main squeeze.”  The young Turks thought they were being mature and respectful, the old guard thought the Turks represented the wild, wild west of intimacy frontiers. And while i have my own opinion, i can fully see why both sides believe theirs is a fair and reasonable position.

So you think relationship models are simple?

So you think relationship models are simple?

I am happy that there is again a polyamory discussion group at Twin Oaks, which Sky started up again.  It happens on Tuesdays at dinner.

Shal who was at this polyamory dinner so long ago and thinks deeply about these issues had this to say about guards and Turks.

I understand the perspective of assuming new flame can be responsible for their own situation, but we know that is not always how it turns out.  After all, the shared lover is looking at the situation with rose colored glasses too.
I agree with the reasons you speak of to be checking in with established intimates of a new flame.   And there are some reasons that you did not mention why I think it is wise to be considerate of other partners of a new lover or potential lover.   If the topic comes up at the new poly dinner I will mention these.It is not just about whether one gets the ok to start the relationship or not.   There are many situations in life when one is more likely to feel ok with a change if one is asked first rather than the change being made without asking.   I think this is also true of new relationships with one’s partner.  If the other intimate of a new flame is asked nicely, and especially if co is assured co’s situation will be considered and cared about in the decisions made in the future (if that is true), co is more likely to feel ok with the proposed new relationship.  And then the new relationship is more likely to go well.  So I see such an approach as a wise mix of altruism and self-interest.

Also when in such a situation I would want my new lover’s life to go well, not just when co is with me but also in broader ways.   And if co’s current relationship blows up it would cause much unhappiness to this person I care a lot about.  So checking in with partners’ partners is not just caring for and about the other intimate one is checking in with, it is also and more importantly caring for and about the person one is getting emotionally involved with.

I call such an approach “cooperative poly”.
Shal plays it safe and smart on the ice.  With new member Rachel

Shal plays it safe and smart on the ice. With new member Rachel

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]


About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

12 responses to “Old Guard and Young Turks”

  1. adder says :

    Well, I’m such a Young Turk, and proud of it. I do my best to do poly cooperatively, checking it at the get-go and doing my best to maintain a relationship with my metamours throughout the relationship. Yes, there have certainly been times that a metamour’s input has caused me to change my behavior, even to back off. But in no way do I need their permission. The idea of making sure that one “asks nicely” bothers me a lot. My partner gets to make decisions about cos own life. I do not recognize the (hierarchical) model that says that one person can make decisions about who another sees. Yes, it’s a big red flag if the individuals in this partnership report different feelings, agreements, and understandings about the poly situation. But it’s just more info for me to work with… ultimately my partner and I will craft our own agreements.

  2. tickledspirit says :

    Instead of “asking permission”, it can be framed instead as “how would you feel about me and X getting involved?” Their answer may influence the choice, but not determine it. (Confession: I have not been very good about this in the past)

  3. Tara Shakti-Ma says :

    I agree with what Shal is reported to have said in the article. It’s not about getting approval or permission…it’s simply about acknowledgement, loving kindness and consideration….and likely a show of good will and availability/approach-ability. Such gestures feel trust-building to me….and they do tend to elicit trust from me. And….most of all it is about collaboration and cooperation….and perhaps even building bridges that bring more love to everyone involved.

  4. Franklin Veaux says :

    I have a slightly different take. If Alice and Bob are together and Bob is jealous when Alice flirts with others, I don’t think people have an obligation to ask Bob for his permission to be with Alice; we’re talking about grown adults, not children. But I also don’t think Alice is therefore free to do whatever she wants, either.

    Instead, I think Alice and Bob have an ethical responsibility not to invite other people into the live of fire until they work out that problem. That doesn’t mean Bob has to be free of jealousy, of course; that’s not realistic, and if we set that as the barrier to entry, nobody would be poly. But it does mean that if for whatever reason Alice and Bob can not treat new partners well, Alice and Bob have an ethical obligation not to invite anyone else into the line of fire. Inviting other people into a situation where you know they are likely to be treated poorly is not an ethically responsible thing to do.

    On a side note, I was pleased to see you used my Map of Non-Monogamy in this post, but I would appreciate credit and a linkback. The materials I create are available under a Creative Commons-like license which you can see at


  5. wfenza says :

    I think it’s important to make the distinction between what can be considered best practices and what it’s reasonable to expect from metamours. If I’m starting a new relationship, I’ll almost certainly reach out to metamours, not to ask permission, but to let them know that the lines of communication are open on my end, and to reassure them that I don’t intend to be a threat.

    At the same time, if a partner begins a relationship, I do not expect my new metamour to reach out to me. I worry that adopting this as a model will lead to bad feelings if a metamour fails to comply with the “old guard” model. I prefer to put as few obligations as possible on people, so I wouldn’t want to support a model that justifies taking offense if a new metamour doesn’t reach out the right way or show the proper respect to the established relationship.

  6. Jess says :

    There’s a poly dinner at Twin Oaks? Is it still going on and is it possible to attend?

    • paxus says :

      There is a poly dinner at Twin Oaks on Tuesday nights, it is open to outsiders

      • Quinn Endries says :

        Is this poly dinner *still* happening, and could it be on zoom? I’d love to have more poly group discussions, especially with y’all ❤

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