Tacit just made a great posting about the nature of people, the Prisoner’s Dilemma and our attitudes upon meeting our mate’s new lovers: Polyamory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

He notes:

I tend to see a lot of people in poly relationships who are very uncomfortable with the idea of meeting a lover’s other lovers. This is among the single most common source of angst I’ve noticed for people who are polyamorous, especially if they’re fairly new to polyamory.

Meeting a lover’s other lover presents a host of opportunity for cooperation or defection. You can reach out to the other person and try to make that person feel welcome; you can be closed up and defensive to that person; you can even be actively hostile to that person. And, of course, your lover’s lover has similar choices.

Reaching out to someone makes you vulnerable. If two people both reach out to one another, then things will tend to go more smoothly; but if one person reaches out and the other is defensive or hostile, the consequences for the person who reaches out can be pretty dire. A strictly rationalistic approach might suggest that the best strategy is to be defensive, because if you’re defensive, you have nothing to gain but nothing to lose either, whereas if you reach out, you might gain something–but you might lose a great deal, as well.

And there’s no question that your expectations about the other person, and your behavior upon meeting that other person, can easily become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Suppose you start out, prior to the meeting, by believing that your partner’s new love is a conniving, self-centered bitch (or bastard), determined to undermine your relationship and to take your partner away from you. If you go into your first meeting with this belief, I guarantee it’s going to show. Your partner’s other partner is going to be able to tell that you don’t trust him (or her), that you’re looking for reasons to dislike him (or her). So that person is likely to behave defensively, even if the first impulse might otherwise have been to reach out to you. You look at the defensive reaction, and say “See, look! I told you this person was bad news!”

Ah, yes. Very insightful, that Tacit. Who among us has not thought, “Oh, well, I’d be more accepting of his lovers if he just brought home people I liked”? It’s just that I happen to dislike everyone he dates.


Personally, I’ve worked hard to be accepting. At first, yeah, I was cautious, probably a bit on the negative side. I suspect that if I’d really liked the person, my response would’ve been, “Oh, NO! She’s just like me!” and I’d end up being REALLY threatened. Since it was more often the case that we simply didn’t click right away, I adopted an attitude of, “Well, she might not be my cup of tea, but he sees something in her, so I’m going to look for that.” I didn’t always find it, so I wonder if it was that I was indeed showing a basic mistrust of human nature and walking into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Could be. 90% of the time, though, I did like his lovers on some level or another.

I suspect I was a victim of this from the other end as well, which is why I’m giving it more thought at the moment. This is one of those times when it feels good to hear Mistress Matisse say that she did poly not-so-great for 10 years before forming her currently happy family–makes me feel like I have a chance to do it right, be more open and welcoming and have a more optimistic, generous frame of mind next time around and to look for others who do as well.


Commenting area

  1. I personally don’t think it’s absolutely crucial to meet all your primary partner’s other lovers. In our family we are very busy and focused people. We all mantain secondary relationships, and if it makes sense to incorporate someone elses lover into things from time to time (eg having people over for christmas dinner) I think it’s important to be open to that, but I’ve also found that involving yourself too heavily with your lover’s lovers can just bring too much drama.

    Personally, I once desired very strongly to meet another girl that my Owner was training. I knew she was my same age and I thought maybe I could have a new friend who could relate to things on a D/s level. It was a disaster. Their dynamic works well enough for them, but she and I are polar opposites. We had several major blowups and misunderstandings, and I’ve since adopted the attitude that I will not push other lovers away, but I don’t feel a strong need to have them in my life either.

    I do want to know about them, and to understand what people see in them. I like to know what kind of people they are, their background etc. I just feel that most of that insight is something I can gain from a distance, as well. It’s not a matter of being threatened, it’s a matter of not having time to deal with everyone elses other relationships when I’m focused on my own life and complicated relationships!

    If someone else was going to be a more serious part of anyone’s life, or in our home obviously I would want to get to know them, but I don’t think choosing to keep an already complicated life as simple as possible means you are threatened, or living a dysfunctional dynamic.

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