Poly Means Many: The Veto

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.


9 responses to “Poly Means Many: The Veto

  1. I only woke up half an hour ago – and feel far to befuddled to say anything intelligent. I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this, thought you made some great points and I totally agree about the word Veto and the sinister 1920s piano music.

  2. baggagecarousel4

    i actually don’t see the “if you continue to see X, i can’t be in a relationship with you” as an ultimatum (when expressed in an otherwise healthy relationship), but rather an expression of the depth of unhappiness a partner has with a situation. (which is not to say that it can’t be a controlling manipulation tactic – it certainly can be.) sometimes it is the beginning of a conversation, as you say, but sometimes it also comes at the end of a lot of talking, and thinking, and trying to cope.

    it is also, i think, substantively different than the veto – it’s not being told “you can’t see X,” it’s being told that the choice is up to you, but there are some very real consequences you may want to consider.

  3. Pingback: » Rules and Boundaries Poly Means Many

  4. My experience of The Veto has been interesting. My partner always said he would never veto anything. It was difficult even to get him to negotiate any boundaries at all, even though there were various things that clearly made him unhappy, but he would always say “Do what you want to do”, and so I did. And then he was unhappy, and once or twice he even threatened to end the relationship. It got to a point where I was desperate for him to tell me what these ‘no-go’ areas that he couldn’t handle were, so I would know and could avoid them.
    There was also a person I was seeing for a while, whom he was never really happy about, but encouraged me to continue seeing, if that was what I wanted. When I eventually ended the relationship with this person, on not-great terms, my partner said “I’m really surprised you didn’t see what he was like from the start”.

    I think the possibility of a veto is necessary but, like you said, not as an absolute decision made without discussion. But really, in any relationship, anyone has the right to veto anything if they are really that unhappy with it. Everyone has their limits, and if discussed, then surely these are all vetoes.

  5. “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.” – Everyone gets that before they feel secure in their relationship, veto or no veto. We just need to learn to come to terms with it because, after all, if someone doesn’t want to be with you any more then that’s something beyond your control.

    An interesting post. It’s strange how lots of people don’t understand how the veto just can’t exist in loving caring relationships. Do they just assume we turn mean overnight?

  6. Polly said: “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.”

    Lori said: “Everyone gets that before they feel secure in their relationship,”

    True, Lori, but it’s unfair to hold it over someone’s head long after they would otherwise feel secure. I think Polly is right when she specifically says ” it hands over control of a relationship to someone who’s not part of it” which I don’t ever feel is a workable condition for security. 🙂

    Excellent post, excellent discussions, thanks to all contributing! 🙂

  7. um.. there were no smilies in my comment..

  8. You make some excellent points here. Giving a person who has control issues veto power over other people’s relationships is not a good idea.

    My partner and I have a rule for dating others – they have to respect both of us, and of course we have to respect them in kind. Nothing kills a dating possibility quicker than someone interested in one of us going out of their way to avoid the other.

  9. Pingback: Poly Means Many: Series summary - Rarely Wears Lipstick

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