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I recently had an experience which I think encapsulates some of the things I mean when I talk about polyamory.

Recently, I had to speak on a panel for my job. I have social anxiety and, while public speaking might not actually be more feared than death, it is certainly terrifying. I really needed my husband’s support. Unfortunately, my husband’s parents were in town to visit our infant, and he wanted to spend time with them.

Here’s what I don’t get to say: “I’m the primary. I’m most important. You made a commitment to me. I have my first panel ever and I need to do a good job for the sake of my career, plus it’s going to drain all my ability to cope and I need you so I don’t end up melting down in the bathroom. You’re not allowed to sacrifice my legitimate needs for the sake of some ‘desire’ to have ‘fun’ with your ‘parents.'”

Instead, we compromised. My husband was very busy that weekend. His parents got to see less of him than they would have wanted. And while the panel went fine, I had a really awful meltdown the day before. It was a shitty situation and it made everyone unhappy– and I don’t get to fix it by saying “I’m your spouse, so only my needs matter.”

Here’s what I also don’t get to say: “I don’t consent to have a relationship with your parents. It’s okay if you want to have a relationship with them, I guess (although as your spouse I should really be allowed to veto your parents). But I don’t ever want to have to talk to them or be nice to them and you should arrange the visits so that I don’t have to see them.”

Of course, I don’t have to be friends with my husband’s parents. If it stresses me out to interact with them, I’m allowed to be busy the entire time they’re in town (even if “busy” means “in the middle of the Broken Earth series”). And if my husband has a toxic relationship with his parents, or his parents are mean to their grandkid, or if one of his parents deliberately ran over my cat, I could say “hey, maybe you should consider cutting these toxic child-hating cat murderers off.”

(None of those are true, by the way, my husband’s parents are lovely people and very kind to both children and animals.)

But there are very very few people you can date who are not embedded in some sort of social fabric. If it’s very important to you, you can only date asocial, friendless orphans; that’s fine, you’re allowed to have dealbreakers. If you’re dating a more ordinary sort of person, sometimes you will find yourself having to be civil to and make small talk with people you (for understandable reasons) have no particular emotional investment in, because someone you love has an emotional investment in them. And sometimes you will find yourself having to give up things– sometimes things you really need– in order to fulfill the needs of people you don’t particularly care about, because someone you love cares about them. That’s life.

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