Since getting vaccinated, I’ve been going on dates. This means swiping through apps then meeting strangers IRL. (Side note: if we work together therapeutically, and you spot me on the apps, I recommend you swipe left and I’ll do the same. Then let’s talk about it in session.)
What a tremendous resource we have at our fingertips! And, wow, there are a lot of people at this party. It can feel daunting to find the right connections.
Dating online has offered me tremendous insight into the varied mindsets of my fellow app explorers. One thing I’ve noticed is this binary idea of commitment still kicking around. This belief states that we are either looking for a long-term life partner, or we are looking for casual hook-ups. The former is deadly serious and the latter implies zero responsibility for emotional care.
There are so many more possibilities!
This got me thinking about ways we demonstrate care and commitment to a partner at various levels of entanglement. From the person we see once a year when the stars align, to the partner who hangs around our home every day, there’s a wide spectrum of engagement.
“What matters here is that you have a shared vision about the depth, breadth and level of involvement that you all want together, and that everyone is able to follow through with what you’ve agreed to,” writes Jessica Fern in her book Polysecure.
In monogamous dating, there comes a time for the commitment talk, which attempts to define the relationship. However, what this actually means to each person is often assumed and not discussed, which can lead to disappointment and heartache down the road.
In consensual nonmonogamy (CNM), we need more explicit conversations about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. There are as many possibilities for relationship configurations as there are people creating them.
How to Define Commitment
It is possible to have secure relationships with multiple people. First, find out whether the involved parties are interested in this. If so, then negotiate what this means to each of you. How do you feel cherished by a partner? How do you know that you matter to them, that you are irreplaceable?
A few examples of how to demonstrate commitment could be:
- frequent communication and time together
- collaborating on projects
- introducing them to important people in your life
- sharing dreams, fears, hopes – being vulnerable
- supporting life tasks – medical appointments, childcare, shopping, etc.
When I think about how to show care to partners or lovers with whom you are less involved, I imagine:
- telling this person why they are special to you
- appreciating who they are, and not just what they do for you
- showing up when you say you will
- providing clear and honest communication – before, during, and after hangouts
- setting realistic expectations about the frequency of contact and emotional/physical availability
“For us to feel safe and secure in our relationships, we need to know that our partners want to be there for us and will be to the best of their ability, and so some level of commitment to being in a relationship together is important.” Depending on the stage of relationship we’re in, this could look like:
- “A commitment to staying in exploration of the relationship together, without specifically defining the future or integrating your lives.
- A commitment to building an official relationship that you want to have longevity and/or be more interwoven in.
- Commitment to building a life together where you are in it for the long haul.”
If you want to better discern your desires and needs, and ways to get these met, consider reading Polysecure. Jessica Fern does a great job integrating attachment theory with CNM practices. If you dream of having multiple relationships and also a feeling of settling into safe and secure bonds, then I highly recommend checking it out. This book is full of useful framing and specific strategies that can be employed immediately.
It can also help to talk about thoughts and feelings with a professional in order to better understand ourselves. Set up a consultation with me if you’re looking for a psychotherapist who has lived experience in polyamory in addition to professional training. You can also check out https://www.polyfriendly.org/ for a full directory of polyamory-friendly professionals.