How would you respond to a man telling you one reason he was still in your life after over a decade was that you were a low maintenance relationship? Does this sound like an insult? It did for a moment to me. Even when he went on to say that he meant we could reconnect after months of no contact without loss of closeness or intimacy. It took a some thinking to reach the conclusion that it was ok, as a happily married poly woman, to be “low maintenance”. It probably would not be ok as a single woman in search of a primary partner. Under those circumstances, such a comment would, at the very least, be telling me that this man did not consider me a possible marital partner. Perhaps I’d have said “Well, you better go look elsewhere for that kind of woman.” Or maybe it would have felt ok, since I was poly even when single, to simply let this particular man stay in my life under the heading of intimate friend who wasn’t a candidate for living together or marriage.
In fact this particular man was at one time a possible spouse–I seriously considered a permanent commitment to he and his wife. They were the first couple to take me to dinner, make a fuss over how wonderful I was, have me over to sleep in their bed, and generally make me feel like I was really important to both of them. At first their insistence on poly fidelity kept me from making the ultimate commitment. I was not willing to break up other relationships with those who had been dear to me for many years. Then, as that was under negotiation, they chose to move to Oregon to take care of her parents and to run the family logging business. I was not willing to move that far away from my grown children and my family by blood and by choice here in LA. We’ve kept in touch over the last 10 years with visits back and forth once or twice a year. My husband, my daughter and our two grandchildren just came back from a lovely visit with them. Eileen took us blackberry picking with her 8 yr old daughter and 10 yr old son. David took me out for a gourmet meal topped off by cherries jubilee. The four of us shared partners for some cuddly lovin’ at a quaint village Inn by the sea. Our last night they treated us all to a dinner cruise down the Wilamet river in a steam boat! I guess I’m not low maintenance when we’re actually together…
Is it ok to have relationships which do not lead to living together? Some people, even in the poly movement, do not think so. Their attitude is that since they (or even they and their primary partner) are still available for that kind of commitment nothing less is acceptable. I myself have been known to end things rapidly when a man told me we could only have a casual relationship merely because I was married. I would do it again under the same circumstances. The only kind of relationships I am willing to have in my life are loving and caring ones–in bed or out. While I may not demand daily or weekly phone calls/visits from a lover (particularly one who lives in another state), I do expect to be treated as someone special in that person’s life when we are together. I certainly am not available for casual sex. I get warm, delicious loving from the the Light of my life and real friendship with the passion from people who have been in my life twenty and more years. Relationships can be considered committed in a number of different ways. Those I invite into my bed are generally my water brothers (see Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land). They are there for me when I am sad or scared as well as when I have happy news to share. They are with me for weddings, celebrations and funerals. They will “never thirst” for that which they need while I live and can do something about it. Those relationships may be low maintenance, but never casual.
Married people who are unwilling to have those kind of relationships may find themselves poly in name only as they hunt for the right one(s), never getting too close to anyone who for one reason or another is not available for a life-long-live-together bonding. It may be that such a person would become available for this if you let them in just a little closer, allowing that kind of relationship to slowly develop the way one would in single dating. Or it may be that never will happen, but you could have something quite beautiful with them if you’d accept what they are willing to offer.
As a single in the poly community, it can be very rough to be what feels like everyone’s secondary and no one’s primary. I’ve been there, between divorcing my first husband and marrying Paul. It could be heart breaking to say goodbye to a lover after a particularly close and romantic week end, to have him go home to his wife while I went home to an empty bed. I’ve never been enamored of living alone or sleeping alone. Under such circumstances, it may be appropriate to focus the bulk of one’s energies on finding someone who really is available for something resembling old fashioned love and marriage.
Some women (and probably more men) are perfectly happy being alone most of the time and enjoying romance when they choose. For such people, one or more low maintenance relationships may be quite satisfactory.
As with anything else, you need to decide what’s important to you, unrelated to what everyone else may think. Just be sure the decisions you are making are bringing you joy in a way that makes you feel good about yourself.