Thursday, April 18, 2013

Being Fair Is NOT Being Equal

For those of us in multiple relationships, "fair" can be a loaded word. "It's not fair that she gets to sleep over but I don't." "It's not fair that you don't use condoms with him but you do with me." "It's not fair that he gets weekend dates with you while I only get weekdays." "It's not fair that we never take trips together but you do that with your other partners."

Sound familiar? Most of us hear things like this all too often.

The fact is, sometimes those things may be true. And you may feel you're being treated unfairly when you find that your metamours (your partner's other partners) receive different treatment than you do.

But please understand, fair isn't the same as equal.

Did you catch that? I'll say it again: fair isn't the same as equal. Fairness in relationships is ensuring everyone gets what they need, not ensuring everyone gets the same thing.

It's easy to recognize that fair and equal aren't synonymous when you consider, say, public transportation. People in wheelchairs are given special consideration on the bus, and sometimes even have a dedicated bus pick them up to ensure they get where they need to go. It's not an equivalent treatment that ambulatory people receive, and for good reason. Those of us not using wheelchairs have no need for such specialized equipment. Thus, fairness is ensuring that people in wheelchairs are able to use public transit just as everyone else is.

Similarly, not all partners in poly relationships will be treated equally. This doesn't imply unfair treatment of one or more people (although that certainly may happen).

In my own relationships, I've noticed that one of my partners needs a lot of contact throughout the day, while the other does not. Because of this, I text Ryder while on dates with Rusty, but I limit how much I text Rusty when I'm with Ryder. This isn't because I love Ryder more or don't value Rusty. It's because not hearing from me for a few hours doesn't bother Rusty, but it makes Ryder anxious.

Conversely, Rusty often has to rely on me for transportation for dates. He shares a car with another partner, so if she needs the car for something, he won't have use of it. I'm happy to pick him up at the beginning of our date and drop him off after, and I rarely do this with Ryder (Ryder and the partner he lives with share three vehicles, making it easy for him to have access to wheels).

These are just some of my experiences. Examples I've seen of unequal yet fair treatment in poly relationships: living with one partner but not others, having several dates per week with some partners but only a few per month with others, engaging in certain hobbies with one partner but not the other, owning a business with some but not all partners.

You may be struggling with this inaccurate idea of fairness right now. Perhaps one of your partners has asked for something and you can't figure out how you'll give it to all your partners. Perhaps you've learned about something your partner shares with another partner, and you feel slighted that you don't get it as well. You can stop worrying! No one is being treated unfairly just because things aren't equal.

Are there other ways in which unequal but fair treatment manifests? Please share your experiences!

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