A lot of polyamory advice books are, frankly, terrifying. They make it sound like to be poly you have to be Emotional Competence Georg, who lives in a firm boundary adn negotiates with his partners about 10,000 emotional needs each day.
So I would like to say something reassuring to my crazy friends: you don’t have to be good at relationships to be poly.
It helps! It definitely helps! The advice in More Than Two or The Ethical Slut is good for people of all relationship styles, monogamous and polyamorous.
However, I am needy, whiny, insecure, and approximately as good at communication as a potted plant. I have a diagnosis that got a reputation as being absurdly manipulative, and then it turned out the reason we were all being manipulative is that none of us have any idea how to ask for things from our partners other than “cry a lot and cut yourself.” (I don’t recommend this as a communication strategy. For one thing, while it adequately conveys ‘I am upset’, it totally fails to convey any ways to solve the upsetness.)
And I have been poly for several years and it has worked out fine.
That’s for a bunch of reasons. Polyamory is sometimes easier. I have hypersexuality symptoms which, for those of you not up on your borderline lingo, means that sometimes I am like “I am sad! Clearly the correct response is to go out and fuck someone I actually don’t like that much and then never call them!” If I were monogamous, this would cause tremendous strain on my relationships and hurt for my partners in a time when I couldn’t really use the strain. Since I’m poly, I’m pretty sure it qualifies as a healthy coping mechanism. (Social model, bitches.)
A lot of times your problems aren’t polyamory-specific problems, they’re problems you’re going to face in every single relationship, mono or poly. For me, the specific insecurity of my partner sleeping with someone prettier than me barely registers next to the all-encompassing background insecurity about why my partner is dating someone as terrible as me in the first place. I might feel abandoned when my partner goes on a date with someone else, but I also feel abandoned when they go hang out with a friend. I have to deal with this shit either way, so I might as well deal with it in the way where I get to kiss pretty girls.
A lot of the problems that are created by poor communication are solvable. So your partner gets jealous, so you get your feelings hurt, so your partner feels like you don’t love them, so you and your partner get into a fight and storm off into separate rooms, so you have utterly failed to tell your partner your kinks. It happens. Is it good to put effort into avoiding those things? Of course! I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says “today I want my feelings to be hurt!” But they’re also survivable. Nothing will explode. In five years, it will be funny, or cringeworthy, or regrettable, or something you look back on that made your relationship stronger, or something you look back on with relief because you finally dumped that person– but it will be fine.
And a lot of times your partners are willing to work with you. If you’re bad at setting boundaries, your partners can check in when they’re doing something they think might make you uncomfortable. If you’re insecure, your partner can reassure you. If you can’t deal with your anger without yelling, get a partner who can yell back. For a lot of people, that sort of stuff is a hard limit: I personally could never date someone who yells. But there are lots of people for whom it is not a hard limit, and who are happy to pay the price of putting up with your shitty relationship skills in order to date you.
I am not saying it is okay to have shitty relationship skills. By all means, try to improve your communication! What I am saying is that it is okay if you’re doing the best you can, and if the best you can is seriously suboptimal. You can still be sex-positive and poly if you want to.