Polyamory has been getting a bit more mainstream attention lately, so you’re probably not entirely unfamiliar with the concept. However, understanding the general concept of something and dealing with it in your own life can sometimes be two different things.
I’ve been polyamorous most of my adult dating life, so I’ve had to “come out” as poly to quite a few people. Because I’m so loud and open about my polyamory, I’ve also had a lot of people “come out” to me as poly in that time. Despite being totally comfortable with my own polyamory, I also understand it can be super confusing and perhaps even confronting to people who’ve only ever considered monogamy, so with this post I wanted to offer some advice for some of you who might be coming across polyamory in your personal life for the first time. Let’s assume you’ve had a friend “come out” as polyamorous to you – what do you say? What should you ask? What shouldn’t you ask?
My first, and strongest piece of advice, is don’t be a judgey jerk. Your friend has come to you with something in trust, and that’s a big deal. If polyamory isn’t for you, that’s okay. Not everyone should be polyamorous – for some people it’s totally unworkable, and you don’t need to feel bad about that. But don’t assume it’s the same for your friend, and don’t put your feelings about whether polyamory would or would not work for you on your friend. If you wouldn’t ditch a friend over a boyfriend you didn’t like, don’t ditch them over polyamory. You might think I’m being silly about this, but I’ve seen plenty of otherwise excellent friendships ruined because someone mistook their dislike for polyamory in their own life for dislike of someone who was once a friend.
My second piece of advice is don’t ask the first questions that pop into your head. From experience, I can tell you that they’re probably awful, rude questions that you should at least sit on long enough to phrase them politely, if you ask at all. Don’t feel like you’re a terrible person though – we all think rude, judgemental things sometimes, and there are certain questions that people always seem to really, really want answers to when it comes to polyamory. I’m going do your friend a favour now and answer those questions for you, so your friend doesn’t have to. Here, I’ve listed the questions I’ve been asked most frequently that I really wish I hadn’t been, along with my answers.
1.”So are you polyamorous or polygamous or what?”
As with anything else about another person’s identity, the best advice I can give you is to ASK the person in question what they call their relationship style, or listen to find out what word they use, and then use that. If they call themselves polygamous, go with that. If they call their style of dating an open relationship, or non-monogamy, go with that. Don’t argue with them that the word they’re using isn’t the word YOU would use – that’s just rude.
Technically speaking though, there is a distinct difference between polygamy and polyamory. Polygamy is specifically a marriage between one man and more than one woman. Polygyny is a marriage between one woman and more than one man. Polyamory is a very broad, squishy term, which is why I tend to prefer it. It covers all sorts of relationships from snuggle buddies, to soulmates, and every combination of everything in between.
2.”Is it because your partner is bad in bed?”
I should hope that I don’t have to expand on why this is such an offensive, rude, and ignorant question. But to answer it, I have not yet met anyone who has a non-monogamous relationship because their partner was bad in bed. Maybe there are some out there and I just haven’t met them. But I’m going to go ahead and say for the vast majority, the answer to this question is a flat “No.” Perhaps followed by “Go screw yourself,” depending on how the rest of the conversation has been going so far.
However, humans are curious creatures, and if you’re new to the whole poly “thing” you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to complicate their life with more than one partner. For some reason, in my experience, a lot of the time people unfamiliar with the concept of polyamory seem to leap to the conclusion that polyamory is all about making up for an unsatisfying partner, and that drives me a little crazy.
There are as many reasons for poly as there are poly people. However, one particular subset I’m part of are people who explore poly relationships because they have kinks or preferences they would like to indulge that their current partner can’t offer. Maybe you’re really into being whipped, and your partner just isn’t into it at all. Maybe you’ve got a hankering for some soft smooth lady flesh, and your partner is a hairy, skinny cis man. I think it’s important to differentiate these situations from the idea of being “bad in bed.” Having sexual desires that aren’t 100% compatible 100% of the time is NOT being “bad” at sex – it’s called human variety. And frankly, considering the amount of effort that goes into maintaining a poly relationship, you would be SO much better off just dumping or straight up cheating on a partner who was really SO bad in bed as to drive you into someone else’s pants.
3.“How do you not get jealous/Don’t you get jealous?”
Poly folk do not have a magical Anti Jealousy Pill. I’ve met one or two people who don’t experience jealousy at all, and I am in fact, very jealous of them. But for the vast majority of people in non-monogamous, open, or polyamorous relationships, jealousy and other icky feelings in the belly can and do happen.
However, most of us feel that the positives we get from being poly outweigh the icky feelings. Jealousy feels gross, but it’s the not the worst thing in the world, and sometimes it can actually be quite useful in terms of sorting out your needs and wants.
This question also assumes that monogamous people don’t get jealous, or that monogamy is some sort of tonic against jealousy. If I’ve learned anything from Cosmo, it’s that this is total baloney.
4. “So, do you all sleep together?”
Ugh, I wish.
Seriously though, while some people do enjoy group sex, some people don’t. Some people love sleeping in a big puppy pile, some people don’t live together and rarely sleep over. Some people in poly relationships aren’t actually interested in sexual contact at all. There are as many different ways of having a poly relationship as there are poly people, and this kind of assumption is utterly infuriating.
The real bottom line here though is that what your friend prefers specifically isn’t really any of your business. Unless they offer that information, or they’re staying over at your house and you need to know how many beds to make up, it’s best to keep this question to yourself.
5. “So what CAN I ask?”
There are lots of perfectly reasonable things you can ask, that will hopefully quell some of that burning curiosity.
“Are you seeing anyone right now?” is the sort of open question that lets your friend know that you’re okay with them discussing polyamory, and their partners with you. As someone who’s had this conversation a dozen times, I never get over the wave of relief this question brings.
An often overlooked question is “Who is is it okay to discuss this with? Do your friends/family know?” Perhaps your friend is like me and is happy to tell anyone who will listen. But maybe they’re not – maybe they’ve only told a few friends, maybe even just you. As someone being entrusted with personal information, you have a responsibility to make sure you don’t spread it where your friend doesn’t want you to.
If your friend is seeing “extra” people, ask if you can meet them. Ask if your friend would like them included in their social life. Maybe they’d love that, maybe they’re not seeing anyone seriously enough to consider it right now. But just asking shows acceptance, and if you haven’t been on the “coming out” side, you can’t understand just how much every little bit of acceptance means.
These are just the most common questions I’ve been asked, but I’d like to throw the comments open: What are your questions about polyamory that you’ve been dying to ask? What can I answer for you, so your friends don’t have to?
Image Credit: Meerkats cudding from Pixgood.com
The author of Reluctant Femme, Cassie is a queer thirty-something Australian who thinks too much, reads too much, and has way too many pretty things. Her writing revolves around exploring concepts of femme and femininity, feminism, and just how much glitter you really can fit into a polish before it’s unusable. You can catch up with her in shorter bursts on Twitter , look at pictures of her favourite pretty things on her Tumblr, and browse her handmade accessories at her Etsy store