Poly Means Many: Making decisions when you don’t know what you want

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com

The topic for this month’s PMM is decisions. For good reasons, this is a central issue in doing poly: from the big stuff such as what shape a relationship takes, and how not to exclude anyone; right down to the little stuff, like where to go for dinner on a date night. How do we balance our needs with those of others, choose who to see and when, and keep everything fair, while still getting what it is we want out of relationships?

Speaking for myself, I haven’t a fucking clue. My depression has this rather annoying effect of making me doubt everything I think and do, and making me woefully unsure of what I actually want at all. Ultimately, that makes making decisions rather difficult. Standard poly models tend to hinge on an assumption that you’ll know your own mind before making a decision, but in my experience, that’s often not possible, because I often don’t know what I want.

And so, because I cannot imagine there is not another soul alive who has similar problems as I do, I offer some tips for decision-making while living in a state of uncertainty. These are things that have worked for me.

(1) Be upfront and open about the fact you’re not sure. Explain to partners, lovers, friends, that you really don’t know what to do when a decision is presented. Often “I don’t know” are the three little words it’s hardest to say because there is a phenomenal pressure to have an opinion on absolutely everything, and that’s just not how life works. If you start from a position of honesty about your own uncertainty, it means everyone is on the same page. It means no surprises in the future. And also,  honesty is awesome and very important to doing poly, anyway.

(2) Remember that nothing has to be forever. I think that the acceptance that nothing is necessarily permanent was one of the things that helped me negotiate life–and in particular poly life–the best. None of the decisions one makes have to be set in stone, irreversible and irretrievable. Things change in ways we cannot predict, feelings evolve over time, and circumstances may shift. A decision that feels right at the time it is made won’t necessarily be right in the future, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you made the wrong decision. It means that nothing stays the same. There will always be a way of getting what’s right for you to happen.

(3) Know that sometimes you might make the wrong decision. This is another thing we’re not meant to talk about: the fact that sometimes you will be wrong. And you might fuck up horribly and hurt someone. Or you might end up hurt yourself.  Ultimately, that’s a horrible thing to happen, but it is sadly unavoidable when it comes to matters of the heart, even if you’re the most decisive and sensitive person in the world. And if things do go wrong, embrace being held accountable if it was your fuck-up. Take stock of what went wrong and how it went wrong. And use that to inform future decisions. On the flip side of this, remember that you will know when the decision you’ve made is wrong, because you’ll feel shit, or others will feel shit.

(4) Check in regularly. Have conversations to make sure everyone involved is still happy with decisions that have been made. See if anything needs to change. On top of the obvious benefits for the relationship in doing this, there’s something in it for you. If, like me, you’re plagued by self-doubt, such check-ins can often be reassuring: having it explicitly spelled out that things are going well means that you can remind yourself that you aren’t always making terrible decisions.

(5) Trust your instincts. Chances are, sometimes you’ll find yourself in a situation where you feel uncomfortable with, but can’t articulate why. You’ll find yourself feeling like rationally, you ought to do one thing, but your instincts are telling you otherwise. Trust those instincts. There have been a number of times when I have done something that my instincts have told me not to. It’s never ended very well. And from that learning experience, I am trying to be upfront when I have a bad feeling about things, by way of explanation for the decisions I make.

(6) Just do it. I view life as that child’s game of “warmer, colder”. Sometimes I make a decision and inside I feel more like “this is what I want”. Sometimes I make a decision and inside I feel more like “this is not what I want”. In feeling my way, I am learning more about what it is I want, what I like and how to make decisions which fill these needs and wants. Trying things is the best way of understanding these things. Using the previous five points make navigating this territory easier and less damaging for yourself and others. Feel your way, and let yourself learn.

2 thoughts on “Poly Means Many: Making decisions when you don’t know what you want”

  1. Interesting comments and this has really helped me to understand my current predicament, although direct advice is still sought here.
    I’m currently on the cusp of sexual relations with a poly man, though I am currently monogamous (and in a long-term relationship). I’m about to get myself hurt, right?

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