Time, the Cost of Consent and Parallel Polyamory

Cheese has always been a bone of contention in our house. Whilst I can eat oodles of raclette melted on vegetables and cold meats, in our very Swedish house cheese comes ready-sliced and as bland as you can get. Here they call it ‘household cheese’ and it tastes like dishcloth. It is also my domestic partner Morten’s slightly irksome preference.

Thus mindful of my lack of impulse control, I rarely buy a more pungent, expensive cheese since I have traditionally been the only one to eat it. It has been one of the small sacrifices I make for our relationship. Yet it is in my way of being to defend the absent and last week my protection instincts bristled to fight for Morten’s cheesey taste versus his parents’ disdain of it. They are of the age and culture where they believe ready-sliced cheese is a sign of immaturity and sloth. They are also of an age where they say what they think, even when it concerns their beloved son and father of my children.

“Your son isn’t lazy,” I said spitting out rye cracker crumbs whilst gorging myself on their ripe Danish cheddar and desperately casting round for implausible sounding hypotheses, “he’s incredibly efficient. Imagine how much time he saves by not slicing his cheese.”

They looked dubiously at me, after all how many seconds does it really save? But I realised that I had unwittingly lit upon Morten’s modus operandi for his entire life.

“Is time spent slicing cheese really that much of an issue?” they asked.

It depends, I suppose, on how much overlap in tastes, lives and priorities you have. Morten and I’s cheese tastes are very different. He thinks mine is too expensive, and I think his looks like a pair of old M&S panties. I like a good hunk of brie, he like a subtle cream slice separating the bread and the apple sauce he puts on top.

“The time you spend on every day living together and sharing your passion for smelly cheese,” I said to them, “is time you spend on your relationship. Morten sees cheese more like an accessory to his sandwich. Time spent slicing it is time taken from his bigger passions.”

His passion, if you couldn’t guess, is love.

But it takes many drops of water to create a deluge. My boyfriend eats an open cheese sandwich with his obligatory cup of coffee every day and has done since I met him ten years ago. If I calculate twenty seconds or so for each sandwich, that’s almost twenty four hours saved so far. Not a great rate I’ll admit, but if efficiency is your modus operandi, it cumulates. He’ll re-use a crumby plate to save on washing up. Wear a jumper once or twice more than I would. Take shorter showers. Shop for socks and underwear on ebay. He’s not efficient just because he is Swedish, but there’s a reason why IKEA was invented here. Morten is highly efficient and rarely nostalgic; these are good skills to have when you’re polyamorous and pressed for time.

Because what I don’t often mention is that we’ve had to reorganize our time quite substantially since he got serious with his partner, my French metamour of just over a year and half. Since Sophia.

Juggling time is a huge deal in a open relationship if the type of open relationship you have means investing in every relationship you develop. And it’s not only in your intimate relationships, it’s time spent with their parents, their brothers, sisters and depending on how close they are, cousins, uncles, aunts and the rest. It’s the emotional labour of negotiating holidays, cultural and family traditions and personality dynamics. Personally I find that although I may well have the capacity to love many, my time is saturated at two children, their friends, two partners, their relatives and friends, one metamour, her relatives and friends and my many relatives and friends who I have precious little time for… which is why I’ve always been a proponent of a more community style of living. Being able to spend a larger proportion of time with several theoretically means time saved overall. And saving time becomes a massive goal.

Sophia and I get along well and we consider each other family, but both desiring of our space we’ve also had to figure a few things out. Not least that I’ve had to revise what I thought was my ideal configuration. In the beginning I hoped for a community like arrangement, where we could all spend a lot of time together. But I forgot how much space I needed. Over the years it has become apparent that Sophia and I shouldnt have to spend every weekend together to call one another family. As if to be really considered polyamorous we had to get along in the box that was prescribed by our prior methods of time and space management. That box didn’t suit us.

Developing a relationship shouldn’t be contingent on whether you can develop intimacy with that person’s existing partners especially if you value consent over stipulating conditions. Yet in practice and when you have two small children it’s a logistical problem if you don’t. Sophia didn’t consent to spending a lot of time with me, simply by being in a relationship with my partner.nor she with me; we are too different to trust that we instinctively know each other’s boundaries, we don’t have enough time nor do we want to spend more time together in order to develop that trust even if it proved possible. I didn’t consent to sharing my living space with Sophia, just by being polyamorous. Intimacy cannot be coercive. And we’ve had to rethink a lot of things about how we spend our time and resources, because well, consent. Consent costs time when you need to create polyamory in parallel.

Morten deals with this lack of time in our slightly more parallel polyamory configuration by trying to create more time in his day. By buying sliced cheese, among other things.

I handle it by indulging in more expensive, smelly cheese because I am no longer the only one who eats it. Sophia does too–hurrah! For change also tends to be accompanied by opportunity and last Christmas opportunity was wrapped in a big fat red ribbon under the tree. Sophia had bought the family a raclette grill and after eight or so years of eating household variety cheese, I was the one who really appreciated it.

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