Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February's PolyBlog: Metamourically Speaking


The other day, someone called me an "advocate" for polyamory. Which scared me a little, because it sounded like just one step removed from "preacher", which as you know, I have no least desire to be.


Upon reflection, I have decided to embrace the label. Given some of the vicious attacks I have experienced in the past month online, and further given the extremely common misconceptions of what "poly" is and is not, I feel duty-bound to raise my voice. I've also noted that my monthly "poly" blogs are among my most read. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but I'm going to assume that my current pace of one blog a month isn't discomfiting you overmuch. If that is not the are never under any obligation to read.


I sat on the bed. Neither of us said anything. I wasn't slick and sophisticated enough for this. What do you say to boyfriend A when he finds you naked in the bed of boyfriend B? Especially if boyfriend A turned into a monster the night before and ate someone. I bet Miss Manners didn't cover this at all.”
--Laurell K. Hamilton, The Killing Dance

Like any community, especially those communities that haven't rowed their way into the mainstream just yet, polyamory has its fair share of jargon and bafflegab. Hell, "polyamory" itself is very confusing to many. I think I can help there with five simple words:

Once you've managed to wrap your head around the concept of multiple loving relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all involved, you're hit with a wall of terminology that can be a bit overwhelming.

"Poly" describes such a broad swath of relationships that one word can't fit all. And any given relationship structure may have four or five different descriptors, which may or may not mean subtly different things to people outside that structure or even inside it. That's one reason among many that communication is absolutely critical to successful polyamory. You may think you're in a primary relationship that takes priority over others, but unless your partner agrees with that assessment (and all "secondaries" are content with the status that has been inflicted on them), you're headed for trouble.

But there are words in polyamory that simply don't exist outside it, because the concepts they describe are so alien to life outside polyamory as to be almost unthinkable. I've talked about "compersion" before, it's the opposite of jealousy: happiness at your partner's happiness with another. That's a quintessentially "poly" word, even though the emotion it describes (happiness unadulterated by self-interest) is one anyone can experience.

Even more quintessentially poly, though, is the word "metamour".

Your partner may use any number of terms of endearment to describe his/her other partners. (It's bad form in most instances to use the same term of endearment with different people; the idea is to recognize that each relationship is special and unique.) But until recently there's been no single word to describe your relationship with your partner's other partners.

And there needs to be. Because polyamory is all about openness and consent--your partner's other partner isn't somebody who lurks in the shadows behind your back. Your boyfriend isn't "cheating", "f*cking around", "womanizing" or "philandering"--his other partner is a person (maybe not "just") like you, with his or her own needs, desires and shared experiences. I mean, you can say "my partner's other partner"--it's technically correct, if clunky--but that construction seems (at least to me) almost to exude distance and disconnection. And healthy polyamory is about closeness (insofar as is reasonable) and connection. You may be close friends with that person; you may be bare acquaintances; in some distressing cases you may hate each other's guts. Regardless, even though you are not sexually or emotionally intimate, the relationship is important. You share a love, after all.

Enter "metamour" (sometimes spelled metamor or metamore). I must admit I didn't like the word the first time I heard it. But if you break it down, it's actually a pretty nifty coinage. "Amour", of course, is love, the same love that's in "polyamory". "Meta" is a word denoting a higher perspective, in this case a recognition that there are at least three relationships involved: yours and your partner's; your partner's and your metamour's; you and your metamour's.

Metamours are where the rubber meets the road in polyamory. Until one appears, the whole concept is theoretical--not just for monogamous people, but for poly people themselves.

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is." --unknown, often misattributed

When poly theory becomes poly reality, there is inevitably an adjustment period. It can be complicated by what poly people call NRE ("New Relationship Energy"), which, if handled improperly, is all but guaranteed to raise up all sorts of insecurities in the pre-existing partner(s)...not just any free-floating little green monsters but jealousies that might be specific to each metamour. Maybe he's a better cook than me. Maybe she's better in bed. Dear God, that guy has muscles in places I don't have places. Oh-oh, she's drop-dead gorgeous and she rock-climbs just like my partner does (and I don't)?

I used to be afraid of heights, but I got over that by hanging out in high spots. Jealousy is just another form of fear, and once I figured out there wasn't anything to be afraid of I just wasn't jealous. There are still times when it creeps back up, but I just remind myself that there is nothing to be jealous of.  --"tulsatechie", posted to r/polyamory yesterday

Polyamory, by virtue of being poly--many--forces us to get past our insecurities about our metamour(s) and recognize them as people with needs, desires, and (yes) insecurities of their own. To do this properly, it's essential to engage with each metamour on some level. As I said, it's not necessary that you be best of friends, but ideally you should be on decent enough terms. For me, it would ring alarm bells if my metamour was an asshole towards me: it would indicate somebody who was not comfortable with polyamory, at best. A "what do you see in this jerk" conversation would ensue in short order.

It's this acknowledgement of our metamours as people and their relationship with our beloved as important that really tends to befuddle the average monogamous person. This is understandable. Remember, in monogamy the mere existence of an "extra" relationship implies both dishonesty/deceit and a threat to your partnership. It's hard enough to convince someone that you don't place limits on your partner's love--the idea that those lovers--your metamours--aren't "rivals" is practically inconceivable.

But they aren't. Not in polyamory, they aren't. He may be an important part of your lover's life--but so are you. He may be an important part of your boyfriend's life....but so are you. She's not going anywhere just because she spends her Saturdays and a night or two a week with her girlfriend; likewise, her girlfriend isn't going anywhere, either. It's not a competition. There may develop a perceived time imbalance (communication required); a perceived experience imbalance (communication required) or any number of other issues (communication required)....ideally, that communication should be among all parties in the larger relationship: you, your partner, and your metamour(s).

This sounds like it should be dramatic. No, it shouldn't, any more than hitches in your monogamous relationship should be dramatic. Presumably, whether there's two, three or seven of you, you're all adults and can act like adults. The key is for everyone to remember that. I would go so far as to suggest that if you can't treat your metamour with a modicum of respect, you're not cut out for polyamory.

Besides, it stands to reason that you're likely to at least get along. If you're monogamous, think of your husband or wife. How many of his/her long-term friends do you absolutely hate?  Few if any, right? Usually people have a set of qualities they look for in friends and intimates, and it doesn't tend to be a really varied set.

It's a balancing act, don't get me wrong, and a challenge. The least thorny issue you're likely to face at some point is your metamour wanting more of your/his partner than either you, or she, is willing to give. The worst (at least I think so) is getting vetoed outright by somebody who can't accept your place in her partner's life. Such vetoes are disturbingly common in so-called polyamorous relationships when somebody wants to retain as many of the trappings of monogamy as possible.

But for all the pitfalls and perils of poly, there is a great joy in it as well, or people wouldn't practice it. That includes the joy of metamours. If you "click" with one, you may end up with a very good friend--such a good friend that your shared partner might be on his own, occasionally. Imagine that, if you can: you're close enough to your partner's partner that your relationship isn't even about him or her, but about you two. Sound ridiculous? In poly, it's actually fairly common....

No comments: