Opinion: An Uncommon Sense Approach To Polyamory

Lisa provides a personal account of the intersections of polyamory and neurodiversity

Feature by Lisa | 02 Jan 2013

Navigating through the feelings, intentions and expectations of others can be tricky for anyone.  For some people it comes with a few extra hurdles.  I have dyspraxia, a specific learning difference that affects co-ordination, organisation and several other areas.  For some dyspraxic folk, including myself, it overlaps with or includes traits of autistic spectrum conditions.

I’m also polyamorous. It may seem surprising that someone with social difficulties would gravitate towards a relationship style involving multiple loving and/or sexual partners. Even the most enthusiastic proponents of polyamory will often recite the warning, “It’s not easy. You need to be great with organisation and have excellent communication skills.”  These are two areas where I certainly don’t excel.

I have trouble picking out information from body language and contextual cues. I find it difficult to link literal meanings with background information or other more subtle forms of communication. For example, I’ve occasionally appeared rude for not realising that sentences like, “Would you like to take a seat?” can be requests rather than questions. I also find it hard to pick up on the unwritten rules of social interactions.  What comes ‘naturally,’ or is seen as ‘common sense’ (an ableist concept in my opinion) to most people, can be more difficult for me to keep up with. Struggling to work out what people are expecting of me causes me stress and uncertainty.

Traditionally, a monogamous relationship set-up is the norm. When I’ve been in monogamous relationships, the fact that it was monogamous wasn’t even decided upon. It was unquestioned. Within this framework –especially, I think, if it’s not a queer relationship – it can be easy to let other behaviours slip into unquestioned norms, following unspoken rules. 

The somewhat queer nature of poly relationships means they can’t rely as heavily on prefabricated scripts.  They must be built from scratch around the needs, personalities and bodies of each partner. As someone who has trouble figuring out the unwritten rules of social interaction it’s incredibly liberating to throw away the rule book altogether. There is no room for assumptions; the multitude of expectations and boundaries functioning in the relationship(s) are more likely to be explicitly discussed and defined in detail. Knowing exactly what’s OK, what isn’t, and what a partner wants from me is a much more comfortable way to be.  There’s also a structure there to get everyone’s slots of time worked into something resembling a schedule.  The aspects of a poly relationship style that may seem regimented or unromantic to others are what most appeal to me. It feels safe, with some level of certainty and predictability.

Of course, an emphasis on explicit communication of expectations and an element of structure are not solely confined to polyamory.  Other aspects of my dyspraxia interact with relationships in ways that are.

Sex with me can be a wee bit awkward. I’m generally uncoordinated and slightly over-sensitive to touch and pain. If I’m someone’s sole sexual partner then I can feel like I’m letting them down. Similarly, since I have difficulty picking up on subtle signals and non-verbal communication, it can be hard for me to provide sufficient support in times when a partner feels unable to verbalise a problem. The knowledge that someone I care for gets sexual and emotional fulfilment from additional partners is comforting.

Though my perspective can’t be extrapolated to everyone, or even all those who are dyspraxic, queer, cis, or women, I’ve come to learn that polyamory works for me.  It suits my needs and my personality, both of which I consider to be inextricable from my dyspraxia.