When we seek out new partners, we look for people with whom we will be compatible. Sometimes that compatibility is strictly physical, but often we are seeking out relationships that will fulfill us emotionally. We look for potential partners who have similar goals, hopes, dreams, and expectations, partners who fit into our lives and with whom we can fit easily into theirs, partners who share our morals and values. Over the past few months, as COVID-19 and anti-racism protests have swept the globe, a new dimension of compatibility has come to the forefront of non-monogamous relationships: views on social justice.
To be fair, being concerned about social justice in terms of partner selection isn’t exactly new. In fact, Tinder’s 2019 Year In Swipe report (yes, that’s a real thing) found that young users between 18 and 24 years old were 66% more likely than older generations to specifically mention social justice issues in their profiles. However, the current state of the world has brought social issues to the forefront, with protestors taking to the streets on many sides of multiple issues over the past few months, it has become much clearer to ourselves and our partners where we stand.
Ideally, this increased focus on significant social issues has revealed new dimensions of compatibility and a renewed sense of shared purpose in your relationships. All forms of relationships are strengthened by sharing experiences and supporting each other in achieving goals. Whether you are tag-teaming an online debate or standing side-by-side with protest signs in hand, working towards achieving a shared goal can deepen bonds and promote intimacy, and working together as part of larger movements can reassure that you are part of a community, a critical component of feeling stable in relationships.
However, there is always the possibility (and, if you have several relationships, a likelihood) that the current climate has revealed significant differences in values between you and at least one of your partners. With issues like gun rights, racism, social distancing, and police violence taking center stage in even casual conversations, it has become harder to conceal places where our views and those of our current or potential partners don’t match up. Sometimes, these are entirely unexpected developments, such as a person who is immunocompromised, discovering that one of their partners is more concerned with connecting physically with new partners, than with protecting their existing relationships from the pandemic. More often, however, these are cases where the differences were already known, but brushed over or minimized in favor of other factors.
We have talked about privilege before in Group Therapy, and this is another place where privilege affects us. Many people, especially middle- to upper-class white folks, have classified discussions of racial justice, policing practices, and other similar difficult discussions as “politics”, putting them outside of the appropriate realm for dinner table chats. Even now, in the midst of all that is happening, many people still reference a refusal to discuss politics on their dating profiles. This is, however, an exercise in privilege, because what may be a purely academic argument to a healthy person, may be life or death for someone with a disability, for instance. The issues that are being debated in public forums across the globe can, and should, have a very real effect on the choices we make about how we connect, and with whom.
So, does that mean that the relationships in which the pandemic and protests have exposed disagreements are doomed? That depends a great deal on how deep the disagreement goes and how much room there is for co-existing viewpoints. For instance, if one partner believes strongly in the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests have revealed another partner as a white supremacist, that likely is not a case where there is opportunity for co-existence, especially if there are persons of color in your polycule. If, however, one partner feels that police brutality can be managed through community education and another believes that police departments must be abolished, that likely is a disagreement that can be managed.
If you have determined that you’re committed to working through differences, it’s important to go into the negotiation process with the right mindset. The purpose is to create open communication about issues that we generally have a hard time discussing, as well as learning to respect and support each other in pursuing independent goals. This is also an important time to truly dig into specifics, to confirm if there are any underlying conflicts that cannot be overcome. Everyone involved needs to acknowledge that changing someone else’s deeply held beliefs isn’t a possible or desirable goal. Instead, the purpose is to find ways to allow each person to follow their own conscience and still feel supported and valued in their relationships. Relationships can be strengthened by working together on the places that goals overlap and allowing each partner to pursue their own separate paths otherwise.
What if it isn’t our partner, but one of their partners, with whom we have the conflict in values?
For many styles of non-monogamy, this may have little or no effect on how your relationship proceeds, but in some forms this could lead to significant stress. For practitioners of kitchen table polyamory, for instance, this might be a particularly hard time for a black man to share a polycule with a law enforcement officer, or for an immunocompromised person to share a home with someone who is an anti-lockdown protestor. In these situations, open communication and honesty is the most important first step. Being able to express your concerns to your partner, or your metamour if possible, is vital to feeling that your needs and concerns are respected. Be open to the possibilities that your metamours might be uncomfortable as well, but don’t expect for anyone to compromise their values, including you. Worst case, this may be a time where space, either metaphorical or literal, is needed.
The pandemic and related shutdown have given many of us opportunities to start new relationships at a distance, often with people that we have not had a chance to meet in person yet. For those who are in that position, this is a perfect time to look for social justice compatibility within these budding connections. If you aren’t already, talk about the social issues that truly matter to you. Tell your prospective partners where you stand, post your protest photos on dating profiles, and don’t be afraid to say so if you disagree. To paraphrase Cunning Minx, the purpose of vetting new partners isn’t to attract everyone, it’s to attract those who are compatible with you while driving away everyone who isn’t.
We have all become more conscious of the social issues affecting us, our partners, and our communities over the past few months. We have worked together to make changes and clashed over what changes should be made. Our relationships do not exist in a vacuum separated from the world, and becoming more aware of how our views, words, and actions affect each other, can be both painful and rewarding. In the end, in the midst of all of the chaos, we can make this an opportunity to connect and grow with those who want to grow in the same directions. To quote a viral Instagram post, “If you’re not running into people you’ve fucked at these protests, you’re fucking the wrong people.”