#PolyamoryProblems: How Do I Stop Getting Vetoed by My Dates’ Partners?

Dear Daemonum X,

I have had two separate situations where I started dating someone and felt like it was going great and then was broken up with because my date’s other partner was freaking out or having a crisis of some sort about our connection. I understand that feelings are hard and dealing with jealousy is scary, but this sucks big time for me. I know that my dates weren’t happy to end our relationships, either. The second time it happened I had already fallen in love and was really crushed. I felt so used and discarded.

I make it a point to only date people who are legit polyam (not just test driving) in hopes that they already have this messy stuff sorted out. I understand that there are many different ways to practice polyamory but my opinion is that this isn’t polyamory. Do you have any advice for how I can try to avoid the people who would cut me out because someone else is uncomfortable? Is there anything I can do differently? Signs? Anything helps.

Sincerely,
Discarded

Dear Discarded,

In polyamory speak, what you’re describing is called a veto. You’ve been vetoed, several times in fact. That truly sucks! For everyone following along at home a veto is where each person in a relationship has the power to end the other person’s relationships. Essentially, “I vote against you dating this person. Break up with them now because I said so and I’m the most important, thanks!!” I personally haven’t been in your position, but I will let you in on an extremely embarrassing secret. In my first polyamorous relationship I definitely attempted to veto (and failed) my partner’s partner — Yikes!! Context notwithstanding, thank goddess we all live and learn.

Now, I am going to do my best to help you scrape your broken little heart out of the veto bin and prepare you with my infinite wisdom to avoid this situation again. While I agree with what you said wholeheartedly — the power of veto doesn’t feel polyamorous — it is not uncommon for polyamorous people to have this eject button in their relationships. In my experience this is usually a characteristic of primary-partner based polyamory that relies on a hierarchy to structure all relationships. (Before everyone gets upset with me, I want to be clear that not all people who have hierarchical relationships allow vetoing.) The primary partnership is centered and uplifted and a veto helps them self-preserve by eliminating potential threats. You, Discarded, were somehow a threat!

Another note on veto power is that it’s used to eliminate a source of insecurity that is usually correlated with conflict in the relationship. For most of us working to unlearn the trappings of monogamy, watching your partner fall in love with someone else can be terrifying. Ramp it up a few notches to Horror Show if you have abandonment issues. Various types of trauma can cause us to react to perceived threats in destructive ways (like control) instead of developing healthy coping mechanisms. Polyamory is a gift in that it lays bare all of the shit that needs work and pokes at you pretty consistently until you explore it. It’s difficult and there will be growing pains but if you’re committed to this lifestyle it’s absolutely necessary work. The veto stops this growth and says “I don’t want to feel bad anymore so let’s eliminate the reason I feel bad.” Well, when that reason is a living, breathing human being with actual feelings who did nothing wrong and didn’t sign up to have a relationship with the vetoer, that’s really not cool. I like to call this collateral damage.

So, let’s break this down further. There are so many very different ideologies around being non-monogamous. Someone could be into don’t ask don’t tell while you want a fucking commune of free love. I think it’s crucial in dating in any capacity to figure out what your personal ideology is so that you can make sure that you’re matched up better in the future. It sounds like you really don’t get down with veto power, so that’s a good starting point. Think more about your ethics and desires and craft the ideal situation for you. Do you want to date people invested in unlearning monogamy? Are you committed to doing the hard work to feel secure in your relationships? Do you want a fucking commune of free love? Journal it out!

I’m going to share some of my own relationship ideologies to give you an example. Some of this may be obvious if you’ve been following my advice columns thus far. Unlike when I was younger, the idea of telling my partner they’re not allowed to date someone would never cross my mind because my relationship ideology centers personal choice and freedom. My relationship ideology is interdependent, not codependent. I don’t feel that anyone is a threat to me because I don’t believe that anyone can “steal” my partners away. I know that my partners are free to leave me whenever they want and that’s not scary, it’s actually comforting. If they do leave me, it won’t be for someone else because they are also committed to a life of abundance where we get to love many people at once. When I have hard feelings or jealousy come up, I know that trying to control my partners will not make me feel better. I am responsible for my own feelings. I do not date people that I do not trust.

I’ve found that it’s a weirdly polarizing stance among queers as to whether or not you should get right down to direct questions of compatibility on the first date (I’m pro) but think of it like any other questions you ask to get to know someone. When you’re looking for something specific it’s best to just go for it! In your case, it would have been better to know from the jump if your date’s partner was lurking in the shadows weilding an invisible relationship labrys and ready to cut you out at any moment. Right?! One of the questions I get most often from clients I work with on polyamory coaching is “What am I allowed to ask someone about their other relationships?” The answer is whatever will help you make more informed decisions about whether or not you want to date them. For me this is everything from gauging if our political views align, if we are sexually compatible, and what kind of polyamory they practice. Also, if you ask a very basic question like “Tell me about your partners” and someone responds with “It’s not your business” then that alone should tell you everything you need to know! In other words, don’t be afraid to ask questions!

The questions you ask new dates to hopefully shield you from similar and avoidable brands of heartbreak in the future should get at your foundational values aligning, finding out their dating landscape, and overall compatibility. For starters: Do any of your partners have veto power over who you date? Do you break up with people when one of your partners feels uncomfortable? How do you deal with jealousy and hard feelings in your relationships?

My last piece of advice to you, dear Discarded, is to make sure that when you’re getting into relationships with people who are already in relationships that you’re not just going with the flow. A lot of people feel less confident in taking up space or asking for what they need when someone they’re dating already has other established relationships. I think this is why people are very hesitant to ask the probing questions because maybe they feel like the other person has the upper hand. Remind yourself to check in with you, don’t shrink yourself. Rather than folding yourself into what someone is already doing because it seems fine, focus on what makes you most happy. Is this the relationship you’d design if you had no restrictions? Are you just going with the pre-established flow? Sometimes the hardest questions we ask are the ones we ask ourselves.

Daemonum X is a femme dyke, Polyamory Coach, and BDSM Educator. She is the founder and Editrix of FIST, a zine for leatherdykes.

DaemonumX has written 11 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Huh. When I was in a long term thing with a man, and dating women, I always felt really awkward when people asked me about my partner on early dates – mostly because:

    A. I felt like it would be weird to have any focus on him at all while with on a date with another person, and

    B. I was very sensitive about biphobic stereotypes and I felt like my date wouldn’t think I was “queer enough” if I mentioned a man for longer than 30 seconds.

    I don’t think it ever occurred to me that anyone would actually want to know how my relationship/non monogamy model worked. Going to be single for awhile, but I’ll keep it in mind!

    I’d be curious to see how other poly/non monogamous bi women interact in this way.

    (C. said dude was terrible)

    • I’m a non-hierarchical non-monogamous bisexual woman and I do the opposite of what you did. Partially because they’re all really important to me, both my male and female partners, but partially because I want to rule out anyone with the attitude you mention – that because I have some male partners, or because I’m bisexual, I’m “not queer enough”. I don’t want to date people who are biphobic!

      For me, talking about my relationship model is really important: it’s something that I feel represents my values in life, and working with a non-hierarchical model is different enough from a lot of people that are non-monogamous that I need to be explicit, or else I end up in similar situations to OP. I’m very explicit about what I practise & expect other people to be the same: it’s worked out for me so far, touch wood! That doesn’t mean that everyone I’ve been on a date with worked out, of course, but it does mean that potential partners and I have been able to spot ideological clashes while still in the going-on-dates/could-we-work-together stages, and decide not to pursue it amicably. Non-monogamy and polyamory are very much umbrella terms: finding people whose models mesh with yours is really important.

      OP, I recommend keeping an eye out for people who define themselves as non-hierarchical, solo poly or relationship anarchists.

    • I’ve felt uncomfortable mentioning my boyfriend to people – not just dates – because I don’t enjoy being thought of as straight or a bisexual cliche. But my boyfriend is a wonderful part of my life, so mentioning him has to be done sooner or later (and sooner is better for everyone). And I mostly date other bi poly people, I guess, so they usually understand. (The word ‘partner’ can get you through a lot of impersonal conversations though.) Tbh, I do feel more comfortable talking about my relationships now I have both male and female partners.

      I like sweet romance stories and I’m curious about how other people make their relationships work, so I like talking about relationships early on. And if I’m on a date with a potentially serious someone, I like to know a bit about my potential metamours. And if someone’s got a person who’s very important in their life – even platonic, like a mum, or a dog, or a boss – it seems odd not to talk about them really. But I don’t like the idea of a veto at all, it seems very controlling.

  2. “ When I have hard feelings or jealousy come up, I know that trying to control my partners will not make me feel better. I am responsible for my own feelings. I do not date people that I do not trust.”

    ♥️

  3. i think the question to me when reading this is, did your date’s other partner veto you, or was your date unable to sit with their partner having bad feelings and therefore chose to break up with you rather than manage that in their relationship? because the veto power won’t get at the latter, and the latter feels like a thing you want to have a handle on for a lot of reasons throughout the course of the relationship. i sort of gave up in the middle of reading it, but the book polysecure talks about a lot of what you are asking in this question and might give you language to get a better handle on it when you are having convos with dates.

  4. I always see a lot of polyam people on dating apps who say they don’t want to date people who are married/having nesting partners already and I think stuff like this is part of the reason why.. I hate the idea that someone can try to control who someone else is close to. To me this veto stuff is a big red flag that the couple in question needs more time to process their own shit and isn’t ready to actually be polyam, yet.

    I’m definitely in the same camp with Daemonum X on this one in that I think it’s better to have conversations right off the bat about peoples’ non-monogamy style before getting significantly invested. There are just SO many ways to do open relationships/polyamory. You really can’t make assumptions without talking to people in depth. I like to give the basics of my situation and what I’m looking for on my dating profile, and then talk about it on the first or second date.. I’ll usually just ask people questions like “so how long have you been polyam?” or “how did you become interested in polyamory?” and that usually opens up the conversation to include their current situation. Before I start really dating someone I usually have a pretty explicit conversation about the type of relationship I want, how much time and energy I have available to invest in a new relationship, boundaries about sti risk and communication, who else is already involved in my situation.. Honestly, when I use direct communication, I’ve only encountered relief and gratitude from people.. I think most people want to know where they stand but feel anxious about putting it out there. When I’m direct about what I want and need, most people see it as an open door for them to tell me what they want and need. Saves everyone lots of trouble and heartache!

  5. I think that as much as we try to plan ahead and make frameworks and ask the right questions, the reality is that you never know exactly what direction a relationship is going to take. Not to say that visualizing ideal scenarios is pointless – it’s good to have a general plan and some helpful tools before embarking on anything new – but humans are wildcard variables, and also supremely talented at rationalizing and finding loopholes around whatever constructs we’ve built up to keep ourselves safe from ourselves. Insecurity and jealousy can happen in any kind of relationship structure, even unexpectedly for the person experiencing them, and people can know how to give all the right answers to questions but then not necessarily back up those words in their actions, even if they intended to.

    My personal solution to this is to try to approach every new connection with the awareness in the back of my mind that it could, for any number of reasons, end at any time. I enjoy whatever we share in the moment for what it is, and try not to get too deeply invested until I have had sufficient opportunity to find out a lot more about someone – see them interact with others in various situations, see how our own connection responds to various pressures. It can still hurt a lot when connections end, but for me, it’s easier to deal with the loss of something that I viewed as an exploratory adventure than something I expected to be more stable. Having said that, I know that sometimes you can do all of the above and then still have the rug yanked out from under you anyway, and that NRE can powerfully distort our perceptions of things.

    LW, your pain in being treated as disposable is valid, and I’m sorry that happened to you. I really hope that you can take whatever pieces of advice speak to you from all of these different points of view, and find connections that meet your needs.

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