Question for the readers. Do you consider it part of your identity as a poly person to attempt to grow the movement?
Abso-fucking-lutely NOT. I actually feel more that it’s my responsibility to demonstrate that poly people can be respectful of other people’s choices, because we’re getting a reputation for proselytizing and it’s not good. No one likes being proselytized to, and we actually hurt our movement when we make people who identify as monogamous feel condescended to, judged, or proselytized at. I hear mono people complain often that poly people act like we’re in on some secret that they’re just not enlightened enough to get, or like we’re somehow having better sex or relationships than them. I also hear growing complaints from within the queer community that there’s lots of pressure to be non-monogamous, and queer people who want exclusive relationships are getting frustrated.
Let’s don’t become the stereotypical vegans of sexual identities. To crib a phrase from the LGBT folks: Some people are monogamous. Some people are polyamorous. Some people could happily be either. Get over it.
My hubby and I have been together for almost 2 years, he is married. His wife and I get along splendidly, except when it comes to intimacy between hubby and I. She gets extremely pissed off whenever we do as little as hug in front of her. Kissing is completely out of the question, even if it’s just a peck. Yet she’s allowed to both hug and kiss him in my presence, which I don’t mind. It’s extremely annoying to not just me, but also hubby. Any tips on how we should talk to her?
That sounds frustrating, and a little bizarre, considering how comfortable she seems with everything else. My advice would be to ask her to explain why, exactly, she gets so angry about the PDA and has such a double-standard. As in all things poly, there are multiple stems for this emotion, and it’s most productive for all parties involved to understand and recognize those stems. Does she feel like PDA is the one “final frontier” that she and her husband have special and exclusive to their relationship? Does she feel like she isn’t always in control and wants to have “veto power” over just one thing? Does she worry about how it looks to other people? These are all different reasons for her to feel the same way, and you three can’t solve the problem if you don’t really get to the bottom of it.
The other piece of advice I have is to be gentle and validate her feelings even while advocating for your own needs. Even if her reasons for wanting you two to avoid PDA around her seem selfish, irrational, stupid, unfair, or just bizarre, don’t voice that opinion in those terms. She has a right to feel her feelings, even if they may not be healthy or productive. Come to the conversation from an angle of love and compromise, and make sure she doesn’t feel that you and your partner are “ganging up on her.” Approach it as a problem to be solved as a team, rather than her issue that you’re demanding she get over. It’s often tough to find that sweet spot in hard conversations like this, so be really intentional about it. Good luck!
My spouse and partner of seven years is poly. I guess she’s held it in for years because it hasn’t been much of an issue or a subject of the relationship until she has fallen in love, or at least a strong crush, on another individual. Now she wants to redraw the relationship. I’m mono. Not just that, I have trouble viewing sex casually, or as anything but a deeply emotional and relationship enriching thing. We want to stay together, but it seems untenable. I suppose I’m looking for advice.
It sounds as if you’ve already pretty much made up your mind that you two can’t stay together, and want someone to try to talk you into staying. I can’t do that for you, because only you know what the best and healthiest choice is for you. All I can advise you to do is be honest with yourself about your needs and to talk openly with your partner about those needs, look for potential compromises, and be gentle with yourself and each other through the process.
The only other thing I can tell you is this: polyamory does not mean “viewing sex casually.” We do not cheapen or devalue sex as something that can be “deeply emotional and relationship enriching.” Polyamory does not mean sleeping around, not taking sex seriously, or being immature or irresponsible with our sexual and emotional health. The difference between poly and mono attitudes toward sex is not how flippantly and casually we view sex, but our conception of sex as an exclusive and possessive reflection of a relationship.
If you decide you really want to make this work, you need to re-frame your understanding of polyamorous sex - and polyamorous love, because it’s not all about sex! Your partner is not telling you that she doesn’t see sex as something special and important, but rather that she is capable of having that deep sexual connection with more than one person. Think about the love you have in your life that isn’t exclusive or zero-sum - your love for both of your parents, or all of your siblings, or your multiple close friends - and try to re-frame your model of sexual exclusivity and possessiveness.
Good luck! You may never identify as polyamorous, or completely identify with your partner’s polyamorous feelings, but you can go a long way toward compromise if you work towards understanding the polyamorous experience of sexuality and do your best to re-frame the preconceived notions you’re bringing to the table. You don’t need to “view sex casually” to be okay in a polyamorous relationship - you just need to view sex as something that isn’t exclusive, possessive, or a zero-sum game.
This could be a cute poly symbol. (via Endless Love 8x10 inch Print on A4 poster in Crisp by theloveshop)
I’ve said for a while that this should be the official poly symbol. I move to officialize!
Marriage equality Gay marriage advocate John Corvino demonstrates an astonishing ignorance of the sexual and legal culture of 2012 America in this video, which Dan Savage for some reason chose to share this week. Corvino is trying to counter the right-wing “slippery slope” argument that legalizing gay marriage will lead to allowing plural marriage, but instead of making a true case for marriage equality (“So what? Still none of your business”), he files in alongside the pearl-clutchers in a remarkable display of bigotry-shifting. His claims - that plural marriage is bad for “social stability” and generally a “bad idea” - sound identical to the fears that other people voice about gay marriage:
Whether it’s a good idea to allow people to marry one unrelated person of the same sexis a different question from whether it’s a good idea to allow them to marry multiple partners, or their relatives, or their pets, or their kitchen appliances, or whatever…Take polygamy, which is in fact very common historically…Polygamy tends to be polygyny, that is one man with multiple wives, and the societies that practice it tend not only to have rampant sexism, but also serious class differences, where high-status males acquire multiple wives, and then low-status males become virtually unmarriageable. From the standpoint of promoting social stability, this seems to be bad public policy. But look, I’ll let the polygamy advocates make their own case, which is different from mine. My case is that it’s a good idea for everyone to have someone to marry, which is a different idea than saying that it’s a good idea for them to have anyone or anything to marry.
Unfortunately for John Corvino, he doesn’t appear to have any idea of what “plural marriage” looks like in 2012. Sure, there are religious sects in America pushing for legal recognition of their polygamous practices, but there’s a small but significant and still-growing group of Americans who practice healthy, consensual non-monogamy and would also like hospital visitations, custody rights, healthcare, protection against discrimination, etc. By throwing us under the bus in such blatant terms, John Corvino reveals that he’s fighting for his own rights not on the basis of human dignity and equality, but by trying to shift the other-ness onto a different, less understood and thus more easily demonized group of people.
It’s very common for oppressed groups to fight for their rights not by breaking down the entire structures that oppress them, but by fighting to re-define certain social terms so that they are included in the privileged group. John Corvino is not questioning the institution of marriage as a legal concept tied to health care, financial status, or parenting. He’s not questioning our society’s conceptions of love, relationships, or partnership. Instead, he’s asking for the group that is “people allowed to get married” be readjusted to let him in. He’s standing under the rope ladder of the Heterosexual Monogamous Marriage Club Treehouse shouting I know the password and I’m totally cool so come on and let me in you guys rather than questioning the idea of exclusive clubs in the first place or chopping the damn tree down.
Doing a bit of research for a video I’m making.
If you’re in an open/poly relationship, what misconceptions or questions have you had aimed at you about it?
If you’re not, what questions might you have for someone who is? What misconceptions have you had about open or poly relationships? What do you struggle to understand about them?
I’m not wanting to judge anyone for anything here, I’d just like to know what people find difficult to understand or deal with when it comes to polyamory and open relationships so I can try and deal with those misunderstandings.
Do help out and spread the word!
The 10 misconceptions I encounter most often, in no particular order:
1.) The assumption that polyamory is primarily about sex rather than relationships. The question I get the most, by far, is whether my partners and I all have threesomes.
2.) The assumption that my parents are disappointed or upset with my polyamory. My parents are really supportive of my multiple relationships - and even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t change the depth of my love or commitment to my partners.
3.) The assumption (more of an assertion, really) that “polyamory causes a ton of drama.” This is funny to me because 99.9% of all relationship drama I ever hear about is monogamous. People cause drama. No group of people has a monopoly on jealousy, lies, heartbreak, or gossip.
4.) The assumption that this is a “phase,” related to my time in college, or will fade out when I “grow up” or if I want to get married and have kids. People ask me what I’ll do when I get married, and I usually say something like “Invite my boyfriends.” I experience my polyamory as an innate sexuality rather than a this-seems-fun-now choice.
5.) The assumption that polyamory is “cheating.” It’s not.
6.) The assumption that I have a ton of sex/dates/boyfriends. This is not actually true! Polyamorous relationships take as much time and energy as mono ones - it’s not like I have a rolodex of boyfriends! The largest number of committed partners I’ve had at once is three, and right now I have two. In fact, being polyamorous limits my opportunities for sex and relationships in a lot of ways, because most guys who are interested in me back out when they find out I’m polyamorous. If you want a lifestyle of nonstop dates and hookups, I’d recommend being single, not polyamorous.
7.) The assumption that polyamory and the polygamy practiced by fundamentalist Mormon sects have anything to do with each other. They don’t.
8.) The assumption that I am bisexual or pansexual. There is a lot of overlap between the communities, but polyamory bisexuality, and pansexuality are different. I’m wired to like men - just more than one at a time!
9.) The assumption that I look down on mono people, think they’re less enlightened, or want to “convert” them. People sometimes get defensive of their own relationship practices when they find out that I’m poly, and I always make a point to let people know that I don’t think anyone should be judged for their preferences in relationships and that I have a ton of respect for monogamy - it’s just not for me!
10.) The assumption that I’m mono! It’s difficult to casually come out as poly - when meeting new people or having a relaxed conversation, opportunities to let people know that I’m poly without grinding the conversation to a screeching halt are rare. The extra energy required to just “be yourself” as a poly person can be a little exhausting sometimes.
Most of my more-than-bullet-point posts seem to spontaneously generate in the shower, and today that led me to some wet-haired poly ponderings about presentation and the social sphere.
Namely, that I don’t consent to being presented as monogamous.
Hypothetical Example: A friend introduces me to her parents, and during the getting-to-know-you conversation, said friend introduces me as married, and leaves it at that. In this conversation, I’m specifically partnered to my live-in partner, the one the state legally recognizes, and there is no mention of my other two relationships. The conversation about my relationship status begins and ends with my socially-sanctioned relationship.
I’m not at all okay with this. I anticipate it and even understand it, but I am not okay with it.
“But that puts your friend in such an awkward position!”
Yes, it does. Much like me being queer would have put said hypothetical friend in an awkward position ten, fifteen years ago. (Granted, there are circles where this would be the case even today, but those scenarios are rare in my social circle. Most of us are really fucking queer, and it’s obvious.) Discomfort doesn’t mean it’s okay to present a queer person as heterosexual when they don’t consent to it, even by implication.
I rail against heterosexism, and I rail against the erasure of my partners.
This is one reason why, for me, polyamory has at once significantly expanded my intimate connections, and contracted them down to a tiny handful of folks who are comfortable with being “seen” with me, so to speak. People who are comfortable with actually being friends with me—all of me, and not just the palatable, socially-acceptable, easy-to-understand me.
I am not just the me who is married to my legal spouse. I’m also the me who’s in love with two my girlfriends. I’m not okay with those versions of me being socially partitioned, compartmentalized.
I find it cruel to erase my partners as a means of social lubricant. They’re not erasable, to me. I don’t want to be erasable either; I’d be hurt to find out I’d been erased by my partners, or their friends, or anyone else. My partners are human beings, not dirty secrets, and while I have nothing but understanding for anyone else who might choose to be closeted—and even understanding for people who have the impulse to erase me or my partners—I’m not okay with it happening to me or to my partners, unless we consent to it.
And speaking for myself? I don’t. I don’t consent to being erased, and I don’t consent to participating in the erasure of my partners.
When a friend asks about my live-in partner but not my other two partners, it hurts me. (This is rare, these days. Fortunately.) When I’m spending time with a friend’s friends and my friend mentions my live-in partner but not my other two partners, this hurts me. When a friend’s family erases my two other partners by referring only to my socially-accepted live-in partner, this hurts me.
Again, it’s not as if I don’t understand the mechanisms at work here.
But, like stepping on someone’s foot, understanding that it’s accidental or incidental or the result of confused flailing doesn’t make it any less painful to experience.
These are human beings we’re erasing. Not ideas, not political statements. People whom I love, who love me. So no, I am not okay with it, even if I understand why it happens. I am not and never will be. To accept me is to accept my partners—all of them. I would not feel good about someone erasing my career, which is such an integral part of who I am. Similarly, to reject and erase any of my partners is to reject and erase me, full stop.
Replace “polyamorous” with “queer,” and few people bristle at the idea of accepting some level of social responsibility for a friend’s visibility. It’s a matter of loving the friend for who they are, yes? I can’t think of a single friend of mine who would deliberately lead their family members, coworkers, other friends, or acquaintances, to believe I’m heterosexual because the alternative is too difficult.
If it’s going to be too difficult, too uncomfortable, then I just shouldn’t be invited along. I’d much rather not be there than be erased, or prescriptively endure the erasure of my partners.
Generally, I’m not visible to make a political statement, though the overlap is inevitable. My visibility is about love. About appreciating my partners for who they are. About insisting that anyone who wants to be part of my life in any meaningful way is going to have to accept my partners as equally real and valid—all of them.
If that means alienating people who are otherwise attempting to conceal their discomfort with who I am, that’s okay with me. If being part of a social event means I’m going to have to play monogamous for the evening, I’m not interested. My partners mean more than that to me. My live-in partner is not the only partner who matters, and to suggest otherwise feels hurtful and cruel. They all matter. They are all real, integral parts of my life who deserve just as much social recognition as my easily-socially-recognized partner. They’re not friends with benefits; they’re partners. People I love and could conceivably grow old with, even if not in the way most people conceptualize it.
Insisting that folks acknowledge my partners as human beings who deserve to be visible (if these folks want me around)? Worth it. Completely.
(Standard disclaimer applies: While this is how I practice, conceptualize, and live polyamory, that doesn’t mean any of what I’ve said applies to any other person who practices polyamory. What’s right for me may be a nightmare for someone else. These are simply my feelings as applied to my own social sphere. Given my strong feelings about visibility, I generally do not date folks who choose—for themselves—to remain entirely in the closet, as a matter of compatibility. That would significantly change the dynamic of how I relate to my partners in the social realm.)