I feel like I want to surround that phrase, The Veto, with sinister piano music from a 1920s melodrama. The Poly Means Many project is talking about boundaries and rules this month, and as I had a few thoughts swirling around this particular rule I thought I’d write about it.
So here’s the thing with The Veto. I don’t get it. I don’t get it on either side. None of the conversations about it make sense to me.
To catch up: the idea behind The Veto is that some couples have a veto agreement – namely, one of the two has the right to completely veto a partner or prospective partner of the other. A lot of defenders of The Veto say it helps them feel secure in their primary relationship. (A thought: are all veto-fans also practisers of primary-secondary polyamory? Are there people with more than one primary or totally non-hierarchical polyamory who hold veto rights all over the place?). Criticisms of The Veto say that it’s a massively unfair example of primary privilege, it hands over control of a relationship to someone who’s not part of it and means that no-one other than the primary couple can feel at all secure, because of the fear that their relationship could be ended at any moment by factors totally out of their control. And it’s just mean.
Which is all well and good. But all the discussions I’ve come across about this leave me feeling a bit like I do after playing with theological debates – yes, this is all very interesting, but fundamentally the thing that we are arguing about doesn’t really exist. Does it?
I honestly don’t see how this can be a workable thing. And if it isn’t workable, I don’t see why people can be bothered to criticise it.
The Rake and I have never talked about a veto right. It just never came up; it never occurred to either of us in the early days of figuring out the newer shape of our relationship, as we hadn’t come across any of the online poly debates about it. We just made it all up as we went along, really.
I’m pretty much closed off to any new relationships at the moment, but let’s imagine I’ve just met someone who I think is amazing. Let’s also imagine that the Rake, as my primary partner, thinks zie is not good for me, for whatever reason; perhaps we bring out bad behaviour in each other, or zie belittles me in ways I’m not seeing, or seems untrustworthy. So he has a good reason to be against this new person. I’d expect him to say something! He loves me and wants the best for me, so if he has something to concern him about this, of course he’d say something. I’d expect Fafhrd and Poppy to do exactly the same thing, if they had concerns about a new relationship of mine – or if they had any concerns about a decision I was making. And I’d hope the Rake’s girlfriend Lyra would feel able to do the same thing, and my friends, and my family… If I looked like I was making a disastrously stupid decision, whether relationship-wise or otherwise, I’d hope at least some of the people who care about me would be able to see that more clearly, and lovingly point it out to me.
But whoever said it, ‘I want you to stop seeing x’ – even if accompanied by the ultimate, ‘if you don’t then I can’t be in a relationship with you’ – would always be the beginning of a long conversation, not the end. A conversation that includes questions like ‘why?’ and ‘are you sure that’s fair?’ and ‘is everything else ok?’. How can anyone have a workable (non-D/S) relationship as two equal adults that includes one person saying ‘do x’ and the other unquestioningly obeying? This just confuses me.
The flip side, though, the anti-veto; this I also don’t fully understand. My life is so completely and totally tied up with the Rake’s that pretty much anything I do affects him substantially, and vice versa. It would be unrealistic to expect either of us to be indifferent about any decisions the other makes, or to sit back and say ‘wow, looks like you’re making a terrible life decision there. Wonder how that’s going to work out?’ I just don’t think the solution to any differences of opinion could ever be blunt outright demands. You don’t solve anything else in your life that way, surely?
Anyone who I care about, and who cares about me, always has the right to ask me not to do something, whether because it hurts them or because they think it will hurt me. Equally, I have the right to ask why, to treat it as the start of a conversation and not the end point, to negotiate other solutions that hopefully leave everyone feeling happy and valued.
And so we are back to the poly cliche – communicate, talk about it. A monogamous friend of mine got very interested in the rules, once; in ‘what happens in poly relationships if x? What about y?’ – it took him a while to get his head around my response, which was basically: I have no idea, I can only answer for my own relationships; the point is that you would talk about all this stuff and develop solutions that work specifically for you and your partners, rather than relying on someone else’s set of regulations.
That’s one of the things I find most appealing about negotiated non-monogamy – that freedom to define your relationships in exactly the way that works for that relationship only. Once the assumption of monogamy is gone, it frees you to consider everything to be up for discussion and renegotiation.
Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggersz – ALBJ, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, One Sub’s Mission, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.