At the Polyamory Round-Table discussion at last weekend's Conflation, moderator (and Polyamory Weekly podcaster) cunningminx opened with the Test Pilot's Motto: "Always tell the next guy what killed you." In particular what she was asking the panel was, "Based on any of your past poly relationships that have failed, what's the most important lesson that you learned that you want to pass on to people who are new to polyamory?" She has her own list, which she's been using at at least two conferences or conventions so far, you can see it at the Poly Weekly website. When she gets the recording from the Conflation poly panel up, probably in one of the next couple of podcasts, you can hear what we all had to say. But I wanted to post my remarks here, too, and expand on them a bit.
There are almost no problems in polyamorous relationships that monogamous couples (and individuals) don't have. Almost none of those problems are magically cured by becoming polyamorous. So if you have problems in monogamous relationships, when you get into polyamorous relationships, you're going to have those same problems. Some of them, you'll have even more so. For example, if your problem is that you reflexively lie to avoid arguments or confrontations, being poly means having more people to keep your lies straight with. If your past monogamous partners thought you were passive-aggressive because you were raised (or otherwise conditioned) not to ask for what you want, being poly means having more people in your life who can't read your mind. If your pre-existing monogamous relationships didn't make you feel attractive enough, becoming poly will mean getting rejected not just by people who find you unattractive, but also by even more people who would have found you attractive but who think that consensual non-monogamy is disgusting. (It's like the old joke about bisexuality meaning that you get rejected by twice as many people.) If your problem is that you're bad at budgeting time or attention for your partner, having to divide your time and attention across more partners is not going to make this any easier, to say the least. I could list more examples of habitual, recurring, lifetime relationship problems that are not solved by becoming polyamorous, and frequently made worse by it, all day. But really, they're all summed up in one of the more famous slogans of the dot_poly_snark community: "Relationship broken: add more people."
Except that the actual truth is even more horrific than that, sad to say. Yes, all romantic and sexual relationships have problems. Some have more problems or worse problems than others, but there's nothing all that weird about any couple (let alone triad, vee, quad, or network) having problems with their relationship. When you have problems, smart people find someone reliable, at least allegedly knowledgeable, trustworthy, and with relevant experience to ask for advice. But when polyfolk go to almost anybody and say, "I'm having this, and this, and this problem with my relationship with so-and-so," the only advice that anybody is willing to give them is "well, first, stop being polyamorous and see if that solves the problem." It is exactly like the problem that all fat people have with doctors. If you're above a certain weight, then it doesn't matter what problem you go to the doctor with, most doctors are going to tell you, "Well, first, you need to lose some weight." It doesn't matter if it's a broken wrist, a bad sinus cold, a cut that needs stitches, an allergic reaction -- an appallingly large number of doctors will find some way to blame it on your weight, and the worst of them will refuse to offer you any other treatment until you agree to first, or at least simultaneously, be "medically treated" for your weight.
That's exactly what it's like looking for relationship advice, whether you're asking your mother or your best friend or your psychiatrist or your minister, when you're poly. "Well, you know, you wouldn't have this problem if you didn't insist on having multiple partners." Excuse my language, but the only adequate answer to that is, "fuck you, asshole." It's just simply almost never true; they really are exactly the same problems, and really do spring from the same sources that they would even if you only had a relationship with one person at a time. But they can't help themselves. Like the doctor offended by the mere existence of fat people, your mother and your best friend and your shrink and your minister are offended, and not a little threatened, by your existence as a polyamorous person; they are actively looking for excuses to tell you to stop.
What can you do about it? Minx suggested that this is why it's so important for polyfolk to have an active local polyamory community, and for new people to get involved in one. I see why she says this, but it runs entirely contrary to my experience. At least here in St. Louis, the local poly community is fractious enough to be very little help, and all the poly groups I've known are (for legitimate reasons that I think I've talked about in the past) deeply allergic to people who are new to polyamory and want nothing to do with them. The two pieces of advice I'd give instead are first, learn to be more self-reliant than you would have to be if you stayed within society's default rules, because you're not always going to be able to find anybody to advise you. The second one is to make absolutely sure that there is at least one good friend in your life who knows you well, someone whose opinions and feelings you respect and who respects you, someone who specifically you aren't in a relationship with and don't want to be, and make absolutely damned sure you keep that person in your life. They can provide you with one service that will be relationship-, sanity-, and even sometimes life-saving, something every bit as important as knowledgeable advice, and that is an external reality check.
What have you got?