Vetos are for assholes

Or, this one’s sure going to make me popular 😀

First, definitions. In this context a ‘veto’ agreement is when polyamorous people (often a couple who’ve decided to open their relationship) agree that if they are uncomfortable with their partner’s new relationship, they can tell their partner to dump the new partner, who gets no say in the matter.

Vetos are for assholes. Why? Because secondaries are people! It is not okay to break some innocent person’s heart because you feel insecure. Isn’t the entire point of polyamory loving more than one person? Hurting people so you don’t have to face your demons is the opposite of loving. It’s cruel, and it’s cowardly. If you aren’t ready to work through jealousy and insecurity without treating people like they’re disposable, you’re not ready to explore polyamory. And there’s nothing wrong with not being ready! But if you’re not, admit that you’re not and don’t hurt yourself and others by pretending you are ready.

Cruelty to secondaries alone is plenty of proof that vetos are for assholes, but wait, there’s more!

Using a veto is also cruel to your primary partner. You know, that person you supposedly love and trust? How are they going to feel about having to suddenly dump their other partner? Putting a partner through a breakup so you don’t have to work on your insecurities is basically saying that if someone has to be in pain you want it to be them, not you. Again, how exactly is that a loving thing to do?

And if that doesn’t suck enough, like Mistress Matisse says in her article Poly Power of Veto, actually using a veto is going to damage your partner’s trust in you. Here they were thinking you two were partners in this poly adventure, and now they discover that you’d rather force them to dump their other partner than work through the underlying issue. They’re going to ask themselves whether you’re really supportive of them having other partners or if you’re just grudgingly tolerating it. They’re going to wonder what’s going to happen the next time they get really excited about someone, and they may even start to wonder if they ended the right relationship.

So not only are vetos cruel to secondaries, they’re cruel to primaries too.

They’re also harmful to the relationship. If you don’t trust your partner to take it extremely seriously if you came to them with a concern about one of their other partners, you have a much bigger problem than whatever your partner’s other partner is doing that makes you so unhappy. If you trust your partner and respect their judgement, why on earth would you need a special rule allow you to unilaterally end their relationship with someone else? I mean, would you ever in a million years consider making a rule that your partner can’t invite people who are openly rude to you to your shared home? No, anyone who would do that would undoubtedly be a terrible partner for a multitude of reasons, so there’s really no point making a special rule for someone you should just dump.

If you need to be able to end your partner’s other relationships to feel secure, you’re not ready for poly. Ending one relationship is just a bandaid on a larger problem, as Matisse also said in her article. Outside of situations where your partner’s other partner really is the problem – if that other partner is trying to disrupt your partner’s relationship with you or is constantly having crises that affect you and your partner’s lives, for example – the underlying problem is either your own insecurity or a weakness in your relationship. How is a veto going to fix that?

That’s a concept it took me a while to wrap my head around, so a non-poly example might help. Here is a quote from a ridiculous blog post titled My Husband Doesn’t Need to See Your Boobs:

When your bare shoulders and stretchmark-less bellies and tanned legs pop up, I not only worry if my husband will linger over your picture. I worry how he will compare me to you.

And then the insecurity monster comes back to bite at our relationship again…me, begging for affirmation, and him tiring from saying the same thing over and over.

Asking your partner for a little extra reassurance is absolutely fine, but asking complete strangers to change their behaviour (by not posting revealing pictures of themselves, if you couldn’t make it through that post) so that you don’t have to face your own insecurities is completely unreasonable. It’s also a total waste of time. Even if all conventionally attractive women did stop posting revealing photos, her insecurities would just find another target. Maybe she’d start worrying that her husband wishes she was a better cook, maybe she would worry that she’s not pious enough or doesn’t work hard enough. If nothing else she would, without a shadow of a doubt, start worrying about getting wrinkles and her husband wishing for a partner who didn’t have crows feet or smile lines. Then what? Would she start asking young women with smooth faces to cover those up too?

Just like a lack of boobs on social media wouldn’t do anything to fix this woman’s insecurities, kicking another partner out of your partner’s life won’t fix whatever you feel insecure about. The same problems will come up the next time your partner finds another partner, and the next, and the next, until you finally deal with the underlying problem or (more likely) the relationship crumbles under the strain. Even if the problem is that you’re just not poly (not everyone is!), it’s not the other partner who’s the problem, it’s you and your partner needing incompatible things.

So, vetos are cruel to secondaries, they’re cruel to primaries, and they don’t solve underlying problems. Like I said in the beginning, vetos are for assholes.

10 thoughts on “Vetos are for assholes

  1. Well said. I especially like the part where you explain that it is okay to not be ready for polyamory. I think people feel pressured to conform to societal values so much that even when they find an alternative, they still seek approval through that new method. Therefore when someone allows kink into their life, sometimes they feel pressured to allow other forms of kink, even if they are not ready for it.
    –Miss Ari ^_^

    • I get so frustrated when people act like polyamory is fundamentally better and the way everyone should be. Sure, trusting your partner to have your best interests at heart is a better way to run relationships than making a bunch of rules, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to or even can have poly relationships.

      I think you’re right about people feeling pressured to be poly as well as kinky, with the addition that being both seems so common in the scene that people are likely to worry they won’t be able to find a partner if they don’t try to force themselves to be poly.

      • You are exactly right that people worry that they won’t be able to find a partner. It’s a shame really, that people would feel free enough to follow their desires but stil not free enough to take their own pace.
        –Miss Ari ^_^

  2. I fully agree that a veto policy means you don’t trust your partner.

    When Minx and I were together and had just opened up, we did have a veto policy at first. But eventually I realized that it wasn’t necessary. If I were really upset by the prospect of her dating a particular person, she probably wouldn’t date them, even if she were technically “allowed” to, because she didn’t want to upset me. Or, maybe she’d see that my upset was due to me fearing things that Minx knew wouldn’t happen, so she’d go ahead – and I would eventually realize that my fears weren’t justified and everything was okay. And we’d grow as people and inspirational music would crescendo and etc.

    • If I were really upset by the prospect of her dating a particular person, she probably wouldn’t date them, even if she were technically “allowed” to, because she didn’t want to upset me.

      Yep, that’s my biggest beef with the whole idea of vetos. If you can’t trust your partner to look out for your best interests, you’re probably in the wrong relationship.

  3. I remember a poly couple I used to know, both men, where A tended to get easily infatuated with men who B knew from experience would leave A broken-hearted and devastated. For instance, A loved to be straight men’s first boyfriend, which tended to end in misery for A. A and B have been together for decades now, and they long ago developed a pattern where when B would hear A getting gushy about some man or other B would gently interrogate him. “Is he gay?” “Is he out?” And A gradually modified his pattern in response to B’s input, making his life still very sexy but less stormy. That in turn had knockon postive effects on their relationship.

    I note that they didn’t need a veto for B’s opinion and perspective to improve their life together by affecting A’s choice of partners. It’s a mutual trust and support thing.

    This is a roundabout way of mostly agreeing with NJB. Mostly because I would say it less strongly: I am wary of vetoes and don’t know how they can be well-used more than once in a very very great while. I therefore, if I were negotiating a poly arrangment right now, would not want to include one.

    • That’s a really interesting perspective. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that a person could veto a potential partner to protect their partner, not themselves. I still think vetos are a bad idea in general, but I have to admit that trying to protect your partner from heartbreak is less of a dick move than vetoing someone because you feel insecure.

  4. I don’t stand for vetoes. I’m up front about this with partners: told Spouse ten years ago when he was still trying to figure out when I’d “settle down” into monogamy that no one but me was going to make relationship choices for me (and no one but him could make his.) I also have a possibly awful policy for dealing with the final partner-puts-their-foot-down “it’s him or me” choice: I won’t stay with someone who makes me choose, no matter what history.

    Spouse tried to veto my getting back with the Techie a few months ago (and is still Not Happy about the situation which…fair enough). The argument was more screaming fight than anything. It almost did come to the “him or me” conversation, to the point that I reminded him that if he was going to threaten to leave over this, he’d better be prepared to do it.

    It’s a situation I never would have considered anything but clear cut before, but in this case I understand exactly where Spouse is coming from. He knows the situation is likely to crash and burn, doesn’t want to be left to pick up the pieces, doesn’t want to see me broken again. He has every right to object, tell me why he thinks it’s a terrible idea, make clear his preference. Ultimately though, still no veto.

  5. So watching your spouse flounder and suffer just so you and your sweetie can be happy isn’t assholery? Expecting them to just shut up and deal isn’t being an asshole? As the monogamous spouse of a 21-year marriage to a partner who has just decided he wants to try polyamory, I’m pretty much the odd man out. I’ve read so many of these posts that assert absolutely NOTHING should interfere with a poly person’s other relationships. And it appears to me that, in the eyes of poly people, I’m screwed. No matter how I feel, no matter how painful it is to me, I either shut up and let it go or leave the marriage, because if I have any protests whatsoever, I’m being an unreasonable bitch. Everybody else’s feelings and needs are way more important than mine. Yeah, I understand I’m supposed to learn how to ‘self-soothe’ and spend the time my husband is out romancing other women to heal all my fears and pain, but it seems like they get the benefit of support (each other and the poly community) while I’m expected to suck it up and do it alone. You only qualify for consideration if you’re also poly.

    • I’m pretty sure we’re talking about completely different things here. My post was about couples who are both polyamorous thinking that because they’re the couple they can treat secondaries like toys who can be thrown away without a second thought. Your post seems to be about your husband unilaterally deciding that he’s going to date other women and not caring whether you’re desperately unhappy.

      To be extremely blunt, it sounds like your husband is the asshole here. The word polyamory literally means loving many, but he doesn’t seem to be treating you in a very loving way. If he didn’t get your enthusiastic consent for him to date other people, what he’s doing is cheating, not polyamory.

      There absolutely is a community of monogamous spouses of polyamorous partners. Here are some links that have more to do with your situation than this particular blog post does:

      http://www.polyamorousmisanthrope.com/2008/01/07/you-dont-have-to-do-it/
      http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4357
      http://tribes.tribe.net/polyvsmono/thread/1ba2a6aa-afc0-4094-a6e5-2edf90655304
      https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120113044444AAdrWQW
      http://www.reddit.com/r/polyamory/comments/11j64j/husband_came_out_to_me_not_sure_if_i_can_handle_it/

      I can see how having a veto would make you feel more secure, but if your husband can’t be trusted to care about your feelings without one, then what does a veto even mean? My boyfriend and I don’t have a polyamorous relationship or any sort of veto agreement, but I do BDSM scenes with other people. If my boyfriend came to me and said he’d rather I didn’t play with ____ because of x and y, or just because he had a bad feeling, I would take that very, very seriously.

      Now, it’s a lot easier for him to feel secure since playing with someone once every few weeks is very different from dating someone, and I told him I was kinky the week we started dating instead of letting him spend 21 years thinking I was something I wasn’t, but I think my point stands. Concern for your partner’s feelings makes a veto redundant, and without concern for your partner’s feelings, a veto doesn’t do anything.

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