I wrote this letter in response to the Life on the Swingset episode 73. You can find the podcast at lifeontheswingset.com.
During the segment about Dylan's poly mismatch, Cooper made a comment about compartmentalizing, and conjectured that maybe Dylan's mismatched date simply wasn't the type to have partners and primaries meet. I've been thinking about this a bit, and have asked some poly friends what their take on compartmentalizing is. I know people from both sides of the spectrum.
Personally, I don't compartmentalize much. My spouse has met both of my partners and their respective spouses, and even one of my partner's secondaries. Our kids all play together pretty frequently, and I will spend time with my metamours without my partners. I'm an oversharer - everyone has an idea what is going on in all of my relationships, although there are details that are kept between partners of course.
I don't have a specific timeline for when to meet other partners/spouses/etc. With one partner, I met his wife on our second date. With another, I met his wife after about 6 weeks. My husband met them both somewhere between those two time frames. For me, the key is comfort. Everyone needs to be ready for the emotional stress of that first meeting, because in a lot of ways it's almost like a first date. If my husband isn't ready to meet a new partner of mine, I don't force the issue.
Both of my partners operate similarly to me, but my spouse and one of my metamours are completely opposite. They would prefer not to mingle the constellation overly much. In my husband's case, it's an issue of not wanting to feel as though he is competing for my affection during an evening with the boys. He has learned over time that I don't withhold affection from him just because a partner is hanging out with us, and he has become more comfortable with multiple partner dates on my end. His dates, on the other hand, he keeps mostly separate until he feels that the new woman is going to understand my attitude towards dating.
My metamour keeps every single one if her relationships separate. My partner (her spouse) very rarely meets her secondaries. She will come and have what I like to call poly family dinner at my home, but it is a stretch for her emotionally. It has taken a long time to get to this point. She and I have a tenuous relationship. She doesn't like for her worlds to collide.
After hearing Dylan's story, I felt so much empathy for him. I think that the biggest lesson from the experience should be to pay close attention to his wife's cues. If she is freaking out about meeting a partner, push back the meeting. Make sure she is ready for the emotional impact of meeting someone that you are experiencing relationshippy feelings for. I am not a swinger, so I don't pretend to know the dynamics of it, but in poly relationships the initial shock of realizing your spouse has strong feelings for someone can be overwhelming. It's not as though you are bringing a play partner home, the person you are bringing home is someone you want to build a full on relationship with, even someone you can potentially grow to love. It's a lot to process.
Communicate! Make sure everyone is on the same page. All parties need to be ready for this step to be taken. Not communicating to a secondary that your primary is uncomfortable (or vice versa) results in what Dylan experienced - the loss of said secondary relationship.