No easy way to say it: breakups suck. Unless you’re a heartless robot who fails to cry at Pixar movies, it’s sad to be the breaker or the breakee. The complications of polyamory make this even more … well … complicated. This could be a breakup with a single partner, a couple, or a partner that your other partners/metamours are still dating.
Yes, this can get messy. But a breakup is no excuse for you to go off and be a complete moron while you wallow in heartbreak. It’s also no excuse to treat your ex(es) like crap.
Understand that I wrote the first draft of this article three weeks after a breakup … not my worst breakup, but a breakup that wasn’t easy for me to process. Months later I look at these notes and think they’re still relevant. It’s important for me to reflect on this particular moment and share things I’ve learned from the end of my relationships and those of my partners. These are the same tips I would give to monogamous friends, but there are some special considerations for folks in poly land that deserve mention.
DON’T THE FIRST: Talk &^%$ about your ex(es)
I put this one at the top for several reasons … the most important reason being that many poly breakups aren’t anyone’s fault, and taking *&^% about people comes across as assigning blame. And even if the breakup is due to someone’s bad judgement, it’s not the kind of thing you need to broadcast to the universe.
Yes, you’re going to talk to your other partner(s) and close friends about the breakup. That’s natural. It’s even a bit therapeutic. But unless you’re dealing with a situation where people are in physical danger or police reports get filed, it’s unwise to shout your grievances from the rooftops. Blabbing about the decay of your relationship to anyone and everyone isn’t a great plan. Doing it on social media is worse. Going on and on about how your ex (or exes) is (or are) a terrible waste of precious oxygen makes you look bitter and resentful … you’re burning too much energy on being negative and it won’t bring your relationship back.
So what happens if you do talk some smack about your ex(es) during the AAARRRGGGHHH ALL THE THINGS SUCK LIFE IS PAIN portion of your post-relationship? Own up to it. Go apologise to people. Tell your friends that you said some unfortunate things.
This, my friend, is taking the high road. There’s a nice view up there. Try and enjoy it.
DON’T THE SECOND: Dictate how others treat your ex(es)
A very memorable line from the TV show Sports Night is Jeremy tersely explaining how lines have been drawn in his breakup with Natalie …
My friends are mad at me right now, because I broke up with their girlfriend.
Jeremy is describing a monogamous relationship, but the statement is even more applicable to polyamory. Forcing people to choose sides after a breakup is a terrible thing to do. In polyamory, there are more sides. A lot more. That cute little circle you try to maintain can quickly became a dodecahedron of drama. Poly communities can be pretty tight, so there’s a chance that your ex is someone’s close friend … or current partner … maybe one of your other partner’s current partner. These people will remember your behavior long after the breakup is over, especially if you behave like a jackass.
The phrase “comes with references” has never been more relevant.
The worst polyamorous breakup I’ve experienced involved my soon-to-be-ex drawing lines between her recent exes, who happened to be my friends and partners. I added to the drama of that situation by going along with her demands, allowing her to dictate how I treated others. That was a huge mistake and it almost killed all of my relationships.
You need to support the people you care about, but you also need to let them make their own choices. These people made a decision to be in your life, so trust their judgement. Your breakup will be hard on them because they care (or cared) about you, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time … don’t make it harder by trying to tell them how to feel about someone else.
DON’T THE THIRD: Smother your ex(es) with attention
“I hope we can still be friends” … it’s an essential part of the stereotypical breakup speech. And in reality, it’s achievable if you haven’t already violated DON’T THE FIRST. However, it’s not going to happen the day after the breakup. It doesn’t matter if you initiated the breakup or found this breakup on fire in a paper bag on your front porch … you need space. You need time. You need to adjust.
The modern corollary to DON’T THE THIRD has to do with social media: LEAVE IT ALONE. Stop following your ex for a while. Don’t obsessively check to see if they’re twittering on about you. Stop tumbling over their selifies. Resist the urge to show how cool you are by commenting on posts about their faces and/or books. Give it a few weeks before you feel the need to check-in and say ello, otherwise you may never be friends in real life and these terrible puns will have gone to waste.
At some point in the past, you didn’t know this person. They didn’t exist in your world. Then this person became a special part of your life. Part of your mind. Part of your heart. It took time for this to be done, and it will take time for it to be undone. Even if you intellectually know it’s over, you need to feel like it’s over. It has to become normal.
DON’T THE FOURTH: Lie to yourself about why the relationship ended
This is hard. Oh, this is so hard.
Even if you have an amicable breakup, it’s far too easy to invent reasons why your relationship went the way of the dodo. It’s much harder in situations where your breakup was loud, angry and full of drama. Lack of trust is often a precursor to breakups (poly or mono), so you may not believe many of the things spoken or yelled at the end.
It’s possible your partner wasn’t entirely honest with you. That’s no reason to lie to yourself.
Make sure you own up to any mistakes you made. As much as I appreciate and respect my wonderful audience, it’s possible you really screwed this one up. Trust me, I’ve been there. My single visit to the magical land of North DramaStan wasn’t very fun … it’s a terrible place for vacations, and the postcards are overpriced. Unfortunately, I’ve had a few occasions to apply for citizenship in The United States of Everything Must Be My Fault Otherwise She Wouldn’t Be Leaving … the gift shop is nicer, and housing prices are low, but it’s still a terrible place to live. Everyone’s grumpy and they play too many angsty Taylor Swift songs at the local coffee shop.
Wait, does she have any other songs? Nevermind, I was talking about something else …
The fantasies you invent in your head about why your relationship ended, or how you could have fixed it, are just that … fantasies. Staying in reality is harder in the short term, especially if you’re watching someone put all of their crap into a U-Haul, but it’s a better place to be in the long run.
DON’T THE NEXT: Immediately look for new partners
“Don’t shop when you’re hungry” is common advice for people trying to save money, lose weight, or avoid stashing twenty packs of Girl Scout cookies in the basement freezer. Damn those Samoas are tasty …
Anyway, the same philosophy applies to dating after a breakup. A little self-control is required.
Polyamory comes with an amazing amount of freedom, but that freedom can easily be abused. Poly people often describe how “new relationship energy” (NRE) makes the world look shiny and new. Breakups create opportunities for new relationships, and you may unwisely chase the wrong person in search of a sweet NRE-induced high to counter your current feelings of despair and woe.
Remember that your most important partner is you. Get your stuff straight before looking for another partner. If this advice sounds familiar, it’s probably because you read item #1 in the My Approach to Polyamory article …
Start from a stable base
Polyamory is a bit of a juggling act, difficult to do without proper preparation and careful consideration … now try doing it with knives. And a chainsaw. While riding a unicycle.
Adding more people to an unstable situation doesn’t make it better. My advice … get your house in order before inviting more people in.
DON’T THE LAST: Wallow in your own self pity
My friend Franklin always has insightful advice about poly and relationships …
“Letting go is hard. It hurts and it sucks and there is always that little voice in the back of your mind whispering that if you stop trying, the relationship has failed.”
It’s very easy to get stuck in the pit of poly despair, inventing character flaws and inadequacies that lead to your relationship’s demise. It’s even easier if you keep listening to Death Cab for Cutie mixes on Spotify. In some cases you may be to blame for the breakup, in other cases you’re not. In many cases there’s no blame to be assigned because it’s not anyone’s fault.
Sometimes it just … well, it just happens.
There was a point in time where things changed and someone wonderful came into your life. You both changed your lives to explore the wonder of love, or sex, or whatever you enjoyed doing with each other. At some point this beautiful thing happened to you. Who’s to say it won’t happen again?
What you need to accept is that things change …. they just don’t always change on your terms. Learn from that change, then be ready when the next bit of uncertainty walks around the corner. The last time may not have been perfect, but the next time might be even better.