I’ve always been a day-planner type of person. In the current iteration of my life, scheduling has taken on a whole new meaning — it’s not only relationship maintenance, it’s been providing a rubric for compromise and communication in a super-busy, polyamorous, multi-household family. The idea first struck me after reading The Offbeat Home & Life post about Family Meetings.
We do ours a little differently, and it has proven invaluable. Here’s how it works:
The cast of characters
Me: Full-time dayjob with occasional freelancing.
P: Husband, full-time dayjob, doesn’t drive. We live together.
J: Partner, full-time dayjob and working on starting a business. Lives about one mile away.
Also often involved: my platonic wife, her husband, their two kids, my brother, his wife, their two kids. All live in the same(ish) city as me, P and J. Finally, there’s P’s dad and stepmom that live in a camp trailer on our property during the cold months and share our kitchen and bathrooms when they’re here.
How the meeting developed
Long before we had additional partners, micro-farms, or businesses, P and I developed a scheduling system after we moved in together. Between trying to combine social schedules, bill paying, and general household chores for two young adults, a few big things got missed and dealing with those consequences wasn’t exactly pleasant. To try and fix it, we bought a giant whiteboard, made a 35-box grid on the top ⅔ and gave it a prominent place in our main living space.
Once a week, we made it a point to sit down together to make sure that the whiteboard calendar included everything that had come up the last week from bill due dates to social engagements. There’s also a space on the board for shopping lists and random notes and, because it’s magnetic, we can attach letters or pieces of paper to it. Everything on that calendar then got copied over to my Google Calendar, because I prefer to work in digital.
When we brought new partners into our little poly “pod,” the scheduling meeting gained additional importance because including those partners in the meeting became an expression of their importance in our lives. It is both practical — a chance to check in, make plans, make sure everyone was on the same page; and a sign of respect for those partnerships — showing in action the fact that everyone is equally respected.
What the meeting looks like now
About seven years in, this is what our once-a-week Scheduling Meeting looks like:
Those of us with heavily intersecting schedules, usually P and J and I, all get together over dinner on Sunday nights — on the occasional evening when we can’t get together, we put a call in on speakerphone or get together on Gchat. We come armed with our smartphones, the giant whiteboard calendar, and our own notes about any scheduling items that have come up over the week.
We each start with an “opening statement” of our wants, needs, and desires for the upcoming week and anything big upcoming in the next few weeks. This would be something like “I want to make sure to have a date night with J this week. An overnight would be nice in the next couple of weeks, and there are requests to watch kids on Tuesday and Saturday. I have a late night at work on Wednesday, so J, if you could drive P to his meet-up, that would be awesome. The cherry trees are crazy full of fruit, so I would also like to set aside a day or two to pick and process what we can.”
Once everyone’s put their statements out there, we work our way through the week. The things that match up are easy. When things don’t match up, we try to talk things out and work out a solution that meets everyone’s desires as best as possible. We try to plan ahead for commuting together as often as possible, date nights, big projects, and especially things as mundane as “I seriously need a night to catch up on laundry.”
During the week, if things change, we each address things individually as they come up with the people affected. Generally, the scheduling meeting takes 20-30 minutes at most. Everything goes on the big house calendar and shared Google calendars. Then it’s back to eating dinner, playing video games, or otherwise relaxing.
The big calendar on the wall serves well when P’s dad and stepmom come in to the house, as they can tell at a glance what’s going on and who’s probably where that day. Everyone’s got access to at least most of the digital calendars as well for planning ahead, which cuts down on the “are you available on X day” questions; the conversations are instead usually things like “I see you’re free Friday evening, want to grab drinks?”
The philosophies behind The meeting
If this sounds all-too-Utopia, there’s a lot of communication challenges and philosophy that go into each one of these meetings that we’re still figuring out (and probably always will be).
First and foremost, it’s about holding everyone responsible for their own schedules and lives. The idea of “your schedule, your business” sounds simple, but seriously, it’s a challenge. It’s easy to unthinkingly obligate a partner to do something with you, or to off-hand say “sure, we will try to make it.” It can also easily feel like you’re being evasive when you’re saying to someone used to scheduling off-the-cuff “I’d like to make it, let me bring it up in the scheduling meeting and I’ll get back to you.”
Second, a functional scheduling meeting means respecting each other enough to actually communicate and then follow through with what we say we will do. The scheduling meeting isn’t set in stone — life happens. When life happens, telling the people it has an effect on is important. Date nights can and do get cancelled or moved. Sometimes friends are having a rough night and need some company. Work goes late. Whatever happens, we try to see communicating that as a sign of respect — and knowing what’s on your calendar for that week helps a LOT in figuring out who you should tell first.
There’s also the additional layer that scheduling off the cuff after work drinks or hanging out is a lot easier if you actually know your calendar is clear for that day, instead of having to call everyone to ask if you had anything planned (or worse, accidentally stand someone up).
Third, when it comes to relationship maintenance, there is almost nothing better than a quick business check-in. Sharing lives can get messy, emotional, complicated, and exhilarating (and sometimes all in 20 minutes). It’s extraordinarily nice to, once a week, have a time set aside for the exclusive purpose of figuring out the logistics. It’s easier to sit down, relax and enjoy an evening on the couch together, or a long bike ride, or coffee out with a friend, if you’re not stressing out about if you missed the mortgage payment or wondering if your husband/wife/partner/friend remembers that work dinner tomorrow.
Finally, a quick word on boundaries
One of the more surprising things we’ve discovered over the years is that there can be quite a bit of pushback from people about these meetings. I’ve encountered responses ranging from “seriously, you schedule sex?!?” (to which the answer is, yes, sometimes, and that’s not a bad thing) to “well, if you want a week’s notice, I guess we just shouldn’t hang out.” Most of the time it’s just seen as quirky and a bit odd.
There are a not-insignificant number of people that will try to pull the passive aggressive “but if you caaaareeeedddd you would say yes RIGHT NOW” or “It’s disrespectful of your autonomy to have to check in with five other people just to go out to drinks!” That’s usually a sign to me that that person may not be a great fit for our group, or at least doesn’t understand the moving pieces.
It’s gotten significantly easier to learn that asking someone to respect the scheduling meeting isn’t imposing on them, it’s asking them to respect the things that I find important. If nothing else, setting that boundary enforces priorities and self-care, and those two things make everyday life a heck of a lot easier.