Breaking Up Poly
This is not advice on how to break up with your partner. This is how to co-exist in a poly community after a breakup. Because, let's face it, relationships end. And when they end, they affect your overlapping social circles. In monogamous relationships, you may have to fight over who gets "custody" over your favorite restaurant or your mutual best friend or you may have spoken or unspoken rules about who your ex is allowed or not allowed to date. Not only is that extremely silly, but in a poly community, there is so much overlap with friends, partners, and other common communities (BDSM, SCA, sci-fi, pagan, etc.), that you will run into your ex-partner again, and no amount of micromanaging the custody rules will change that. Not only will you run into the ex in the future, but chances are that you will run into him after he's started dating someone new ... and that someone new might be an ex or an existing partner of yours! Or maybe he continued dating someone you are still dating. If you expect your shared partner to choose between you, be prepared to have him choose the ex. If you expect your shared partner to keep you both separated, be prepared to be left out of social activities when it's the ex's turn to go to the party with the shared partner. Unless you're willing to give up all your mutual friends, partners, and social activities, you better get used to the idea of co-existing after a breakup.
So, how do you co-exist? Well, I start out my relationships with the idea that they will end, eventually. It's nice to think at the beginning of a relationship, when you're both all hopped up on happy brain chemicals, that this will be "forever". But the reality is that it probably won't. And there's nothing wrong with that. We travel our paths in life, and, as the famous saying goes, people travel with us for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The lifetime pathmates are rare indeed. But we can, and should, appreciate those who travel our path with us for a reason or a season.
Since I assume my relationships will end one day, I make effort, and I announce said effort, to become a "friendly ex". I like to be able to personally invite my exes to social gatherings I host. I like to be able to give them a sincere welcoming hug. I like to continue doing those shared activities that brought us together in the first place. My relationships tend to be built on a strong foundation of friendship before a romantic relationship begins. I discuss with my potential mates the concept of friendships, and I learn my potential mate's history with breakups. Does he still talk to his exes? Can I talk to them? Does he show regret at the ones he did not maintain as friends? There are some people you just can't be (and shouldn't be) friends with, like abusers. That's understandable. But I try to discover how my potential sweetie intends to end things with me based on his track record and expressed desires.
Once the breakup has happened, the amount of time required to move on is very individual. I've successfully transitioned from partner to friend in a relationship that took several months of no contact, one of a couple of weeks of awkward contact, and one that included hugging and sharing sleeping space the same night we broke up. It is natural for our emotional state to require some time to readjust to the change in circumstances, and to re-program our auto-pilot. It can be difficult to change your behaviour from pre-breakup to post-breakup. Sometimes that means you have to stop yourself from reaching out and caressing your ex out of habit, and sometimes that means you have to stop instigating fights that no longer have any bearing on your new status as "exes".
Take some time to adjust if you need it, before jumping right back into the social calendar and poly meetings. But don't take too long. Start with finding a situation that can cater to your individual security and comfort. Maybe you need to have a few post-breakup dates over coffee or dinner or, as one group did, a vacation to Hawaii, where you can discuss things and get a sense of closure. Or maybe you need an activity with lots of distractions so you aren't constantly faced with your ex, especially if he's with his new (or existing) sweetie, and you can focus your attention on other things like the movie or your new (or existing) sweetie.
The one thing you don't want to do is expect your mutual friends to design social gatherings to accomodate *your* issues. It is unfair to ask your friends to not invite the ex to a party, or to refrain from talking about him around you, or especially to take sides and cut him out of their life. It is reasonable to request that, if your friends are hosting a gathering, they notify you that your ex has been invited and/or is attending, so that you can decide to attend or not. If they have trouble remembering who is no longer dating whom at any given time, it should be acceptable for you to ask and to receive an answer without either side making the other feel guilty for your respective choices about attendance. But it is unreasonable to expect your friends to police their parties by keeping up with who is on the outs with whom and selectively invite only certain people when they happen to be friends with both.
You do have the right to refrain from attending a gathering while your emotions are still high and you're still hurting. But I caution against allowing yourself to do this for more than a couple of weeks. The reason being that, the longer you go avoiding your ex, the more power he has over you and your emotional state. You will be the one who is missing out on social activity with your friends. You may think it's your choice to miss out, so you're not really missing out, and skipping a party really isn't a big deal. Until a year goes by and you haven't attended any parties and your friends have now stopped bothering to invite you at all. If you are unable to move past the breakup into shared social circles, you are giving your ex the power to dictate how your life will look. He is now in control of your life ... who you spend time with, how often, when, where, and what you will feel like. And the real kicker is that he's not doing it intentionally (presumeably), but you gave him that power.
Breakups do not have to be a power struggle. So you are no longer compatible in a romantic sense. That's OK. You had something in common to begin with, enough so that you tried a romantic relationship in the first place. Your relationship is no longer naturally fitting into the "romantic" slot. Allow your relationship to be what it wants to be ... a friendship of some degree, hopefully. Find the limitations and privileges that fit the best and when you both are no longer struggling to make your relationship fit the wrong category (or old category), it will become easy and natural to co-exist in your shared communities. That could mean you become "best friends". That could mean you're friendly and social at parties. That could mean that you stay on opposite sides of the room and only speak in polite greetings, without any need for further contact. Whatever arrangement that doesn't include making your mutual friends feel awkward or requring either of you to miss out on activities you wish to participate in, is a successful transition from "partner" to "friendly exes" or co-existing in your community.
There are a couple of other websites out there that discuss post-breakup etiquette, including Miss Poly Manners, but since I have strong feelings on this subject, I decided to discuss the topic in my own words here.
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