I write a lot about my experiences with Polyamory, kink, and sex work. I don’t think I’m some kind of expert, I’ve just been doing all of those things for a decade or more, and I hope sharing what I’ve learned can help others avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. Recently, I wrote that regardless of how well prepared we are for the challenges of polyamory, we all fuck up eventually, and that it doesn’t necessarily mean someone is “bad at” poly. However, if you are repeatedly choosing incompatible partners, there is something wrong. Maybe your picker is broken, not you.
I’ve had my fair share of failed relationships since I chose to become ethically non-monogamous, but those relationships didn’t end because of that non-monogamy. They ended because my partner and I were (or became) incompatible. This is why monogamous relationships end too, but rarely do those break-ups get blamed on monogamy. When a polyamorous liaison falters, it usually gets attributed to the polyamory as opposed to a lack of compatibility. Page Turner just wrote about how polyamory often sheds light on compatibility and incompatibility, and it’s a great read.
So how do you find compatible potential partners? How do you know which connections to pursue, especially when NRE (which can be felt in both poly and mono) may be clouding your judgment? How do you fix your picker?
I think the answers to these questions apply to both polyamory and kink (and even monogamy to an extent), and mostly come down to expectations. Do you and your potential partner want the same things? This seems patently obvious, but definitions can vary, and expectations can be immediate or long term. In my experience, determining compatibility is easier when you can identify and communicate your expectations in a few specific areas.
Obviously, this is just a starting off point. There are infinite variations and extrapolations on these questions, and no right or wrong answers, but determining my personal responses has saved me much time and heartbreak.
Time, Energy, Attention
How much time and energy do you currently have available to spend with someone? Is that time in person, or via text, phone, message, or social media interaction? If the time is face-to-face, will it be exclusively theirs, or will some of it be in situations where other friends or partners may also be expecting either of your attention?
How much time and energy do you expect from them? Do you expect to see them every day? Do you want to be in direct contact via text or phone daily? Are those exchanges satisfying if they are simple, short check-ins, or do they require conversations lasting more than a few minutes? When you are together physically, do you expect their undivided attention, and if so, for how long? In my case, I’m perfectly fine with a partner checking in with other partners while we are together regarding admin/scheduling, but I prefer they not spend time on extended flirting.
Are limitations on time, energy, and attention permanent, or could they possibly change if either/both of you become more invested in the relationship? Is there a timeline of escalation in your head?
Level of Discretion
How “out” are you to family and friends? Do you require Public Displays of Affection (or Kink) to feel secure in your relationship? Are either of you in danger of losing your job, family, or support network if your alternative lifestyle is exposed? How much do you care about those repercussions? For example, I’m about as out as it gets and have been for years, so I’m probably a bad choice of partner for someone whose livelihood depends on extreme discretion.
Transparency & Communication
How much do you want to know about their life and other relationships? How comfortable are you revealing (or not revealing) details about you and your interactions with other partners? At what point do you wish to be informed that they may be interested in someone new? Are you more concerned with knowing about specific activities and/or sex acts when they happen, or with being informed about feelings and emotions as they develop? How long before or how soon after do you expect to be told? Or do you not want to know anything, don’t-ask-don’t-tell style?
What level of communication do you prefer to have with your metamours? Do you tend to pursue close friendships with them or keep them at arm’s length? How much does this matter to you? For example, I don’t need to be best friends with my metamours (although I love it when that happens), but I like to be able to have a civil chat over coffee every once in a while to make sure everyone is more or less on the same page and to ensure there are no negative feelings festering.
Sex & Risk
How often do you want to have sex? What qualifies as sex to you? What is your STI status and risk to others? What level of risk are you willing to assume for yourself? What safer sex precautions do you take, and what do you expect of your partner(s)?
Existing Limits & Veto Power
Would there be limitations on your relationship with a potential partner imposed by outside parties? For example, let’s say your paramour has an existing agreement with another partner that they will only have penis-in-vagina sex with them. Are you satisfied being indefinitely limited to giving/receiving oral and manual sex? Are there limits you would impose on your partner in regard to their interaction with others? Are you comfortable with a metamour having veto power over your relationship? Do you insist upon having veto power over your partner’s other relationships?
Do we have complementary social, political, and spiritual viewpoints? We don’t have to believe exactly the same things and be each other’s echo chamber, but I prefer a certain level of similarity in basic belief systems. Otherwise I’ve found that disconnect can lead to a lack of compassion and empathy that erodes the trust and respect I need to have in my partners.
So many factors play into compatibility that I could write this post for days and still not touch on them all. But figuring out my and my potential partner’s answers to the above questions is often enough to identify deal-breaker incompatibilities that make a relationship of any kind (from casual play partner to committed spouse) not worth pursuing further. And that may be the single most important thing I hope you will take from this…
Be willing to walk away.
I know that sounds negative and depressing, but consider this: if you involve yourself in a relationship with someone who is incompatible with you in the long run, you risk being otherwise occupied when a person who truly is compatible with you crosses your path. You see, I bet your picker isn’t actually broken; you probably just haven’t been paying very close attention to what it’s telling you. Regardless of how hot you are for someone in the moment, be willing to disengage with them if it becomes clear that your limits, boundaries, and expectations do not mesh well. (Unless you are open to a temporary fling, in which case, yay have fun!) Be willing to sacrifice your immediate pleasure until you determine whether you and this person are actually compatible, not just combustible.