All in the Family: Does Everyone in a Poly 'Group' Have to 'Love' Each Other?

10/27/2011 04:36 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

I have been practicing polyamorous relationships for about five years. I go in and out of relationships, reevaluate relationships, and on occasion I find some relationships that really do make me happy. Despite my opinion that poly and open relationships bring more benefits to me than monogamy, I find myself either creating or needing boundaries with my partner's partners or be entirely open to accepting, or a mix of both.

I have had a few instances where I have felt "pushed" to either accept another partner right off the bat or pressured into trying to make the friendship work. In both circumstances I feel under the impression that if the end result is not a friendship, there will be no relationship. My fears have led me to being more comfortable with having relationships that are not live-in or being simply friends at the end of it. What is worse, my fears of losing people also lead me on this path of panic of abandonment.

Introducing anyone new into a relationship can be tricky. I feel that my age is against me, that because of my secondary roles -- usually -- I don't matter as much, and I start trying to make myself feel valued more. For my fears of abandonment, I remind myself something that is taught in meditation: you only have yourself at the end of the day, and to love yourself is to be loved. Despite all assurances and attempts to feel fulfilled, I immediately feel like there is a death threat pending on my relationship if I do not feel equal footing.

I feel that common misconceptions exist at one time or another that a) we all "love" each other, and that b) we are all together in a relationship. There is no right or wrong way around this. Let me rephrase: there really isn't a "manual" when it comes to real-life poly situations. There are guides, such as The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton, that dive deeper into the common relationship issues, and go to any conference for alternative lifestyles or gender issues and you may certainly find an opportunity or two to find out about how other people do poly relationships. I am not aware of any two relationships that mirror each other.

When I begin freaking out, planning my escape route, or going into hyper-mode, I try to remember my rule of thumb: I do not need to "love" my partner's partners. I may not even "like" my partner's partners, but I do need to be able to conduct myself civilly with them.

That may be different depending on what type of poly arrangement you're in. There are arrangements in which the whole poly relationship cohabitates under one roof, and then there is a strong need for not only civility but being able to work with the person, live with the person, and not allow yourself to sweat the small stuff. To be in a constant battle with the other person -- the other person may or may not be a partner -- will never end well. Be it having to sit down and have a heart-to-heart, evaluate the situation, or decide on other arrangements, remembering that you cannot choose your family but can choose friends becomes difficult.

At the same time having your own place, like me, your own life may put a burden not on you but on the other partner: driving back and forth, not seeing both partners on the same day, and -- my personal struggle -- trying to find a balance between getting attention and giving support. I tend to question my need for attention, with the understanding that my partner cannot reach his or her other instantly, and when I am really in the mood to talk about the other partner and when I am in the mood to spend talking about "us." Is that really being accepting?

Should acceptance and a sharing a partner automatically translate to forming a friend with the other partner(s), or is civility merely enough, or are boundaries more like 12-foot walls?