Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Poly Questions and Answers

LONG blog coming.

People have shown signs of becoming more accepting of my polycule. I really want to go out of my way to thank you for this. I'm very glad that my heartfelt love for Eva and Kathy both is beginning to be grasped and appreciated. I'm also very glad Eva's love for Mark is likewise recognized. (I think I get more upset at his exclusion than he does.)

To that end, I'd like to do something a little different from my usual 'deconstruct the polyamory myths' article: I'm going to take an article that's already deconstructed some myths...and raise some questions of my own.

My first beef is with the title. I'm in a polyamorous relationship and I'm not "sick" of any of these questions. (Well, to be fair, the very first one grates on my nerves a bit).  But I am a patient man, and I'll work with you at your level of understanding. I've been gently educating people about polyamory for four years now, and I have no plans to stop.

I get that these questions are invasive, and never the sort of things anyone would ask a monogamous person. But to many people, still, this is just so WEIRD. They have no frame of reference. Forgive them.

1) Isn't that sort of like cheating?

This is the one that grinds my gears just a little. No, it most emphatically is NOTHING like cheating. Cheating is breaking a relationship agreement you have made, or can reasonably be expected to assume you have made. If your agreement includes other partners, having other partners doesn't break the agreement and hence is not cheating.

People in polyamorous relationships CAN cheat. For instance, a common agreement is that a partner will inform his other partner(s) before engaging in sexual relations with someone new. This isn't to seek permission; we don't own our partners' bodies (or hearts, for that matter). Rather, it's part of informed consent: it's important to know that your partner has other partners to properly assess your risks.

For me to cheat, I would have to do one of three things:

a) withhold existence of another partner;
b) remove my wedding ring;
c) use 'our' bed.

Other people in other relationships have other rules.

You may say that there's no way Eva could know if I took my ring off. True. We have trust in our relationships too, you know. Actually, I'd argue it takes a great deal of trust in the security of your relationship to welcome your partners being with others.

Regarding cheating, though.

There's a phenomenon very well known to polyamorous people called "First Night Effect". It's extremely common for both men and women, particularly in heterosexual relationships, to wake up feeling guilty after their first night with their first 'new' partner. Men tend to feel like they're inconsiderate pricks. Women often slut-shame themselves. People feel, in short, as if they've cheated.

"That's because they did", you'll say...and I'll counter that monogamy is so entrenched in our culture that even people who consciously reject it can feel its cues. For the majority of people, the only way to view "plus one" relationships is through the prism of cheating. You can't blame them for going there.

2) How do you do it? I'm way too in love for that.

I, too, have heard every variant of this question, though for me it's usually phrased as a statement: "I could never do that." And I usually respond, "I wasn't asking you to." That addendum, "I'm way too in love for that"? I don't get that one often, although I have heard it, and it rankles. The assumption is, I must not be in love. I defy you to spend any time around Kathy and I, or Eva and I, and tell me I'm not in love with either of them.


"How do you do it" is a perfectly legitimate question. Many polyamorous people once asked it of someone themselves. Reacting harshly to that question is very counterproductive. If it's asked with respect and a genuine interest in the answer...well, I like to narrow it down.

"How do I do what, exactly?" Asked, always, with a smile.
"Let your partner be with other people," is the usual response.
My answer to that could fill a book, and might, someday. But boiled down:

  • I don't like that 'let'...as if she's mine to command and I'm doing her a favour. 
  • You 'let' YOUR partner be with other people, too...does she have a job? Does he have friends? 
  • Oh, yeah, of course you meant sex. 
They always mean sex. Well, there are lots of reasons why somebody might open a relationship, among them mismatched sex drives, mismatched kinks or sexual preferences, or just out of fully absorbing the idea that people, like things, can be too good not to share.

3) Who's your primary or favourite partner?

Okay, I love Tikva Wolf's response to this, which doesn't surprise me: I love Tikva Wolf. She is the creator of Kimchi Cuddles, a comic based on polyamory. In short, many of us (including me) reject the 'primary/secondary' hierarchy and strive for egalitarian partnerships. It's true that Eva is my nesting partner and we are domestically and financially entangled. It's also true that Mark lives here and Kathy doesn't. But we do everything we can to make sure she doesn't feel relegated to 'secondary' status, even with innocuous sounding words. For instance, I never  refer to Kathy as my "other" partner. I haven't actually asked her if that would bother her...I don't have to. That phrasing bothers me.

"Favourite"? What a loaded word. I don't have a favourite. I have favourite activities with each partner...that's a big, big difference. 


Some polyamorous people ARE hierarchical, and it can work very well if everyone is content with their assigned place. I think most of those folks would still bristle at the word 'favourite', but wouldn't hesitate to name their primary. 
(And here, let me blow your mind: it's entirely possible to have more than one primary partner.)

4) What happens if...

Again, because people have so much trouble approaching this weird thing called polyamory, they're going to imagine all kinds of crazy things. Forgive them. And answer honestly...almost every answer is going to boil down to "we'll work it out". 
Let's face it, "working it out" is an ongoing thing in these kinds of relationships--not because there are more problems, but because there's simply more. Processing, we call it.  And before we even get started on this road, if we're smart, we'll work out preliminary answers to the most realistic "what ifs", like "what happens if she wants more of him than you're willing to give?" And answers may change along the way.
It does puzzle me that so many people don't think we communicate. I guess they imagine we're too busy frolicking like bunnies to use our words. (Note: the reverse is more often the case for most of us...)

5) Don't you get jealous (of each other's relationships)?


Oh, you wanted more.

I've noticed that I only feel jealous when I feel insecure. In fact, for me the two things are one and the same, such that I'd rather say "I'm feeling insecure". And when I feel that way...if it's just a little twinge, I think of all the reasons I need NOT feel that way. If it's a larger yip, a few words of affirmation from my partner go a long way. 
I think it's very important here to distinguish jealousy from envy.

Envy: wanting something that someone else has.
Jealousy: wanting to take something from someone else so they can't have it anymore.

Envy is perfectly natural. There are times I'm envious of something Eva and Mark are doing that I'm not able or available to do. I'm sure she feels the same about Kathy and I sometimes. But neither of us would even dream of wanting to take those experiences away from each other...much less others away from each other.

6) Are you concerned about STIs?

Thanks for phrasing that as a question, rather than accusing me of spreading them, which is how this topic usually comes up. 
Yes, I'm concerned, hence the rule about knowledge of new sexual partners. There is a trust level here, of course. You trust your partner to be diligent about sexual health, and not to fluid-bond with someone until their trust level in that person is unassailable (and backed up with hard data in the form of a clean panel of tests). But people in ethically non-monogamous relationships are generally more diligent in this area, as Dedeker Winston notes, than your average cheating monogamous partner or the person she's cheating with. 

7) How do you plan to settle down one day and have kids?

This is the only question I haven't fielded myself, and that's only because of my age. I, too, would immediately make note of the "how". But then three parents is just as inconceivable to the average monogamous person as three partners are. 

I take exception to "settle down", but again, that's because of my style of "kitchen table" polyamory that emphasizes closeness amongst partners and metamours. I could do parallel poly -- that's where partners know about each other, but rarely if ever meet)...but Mark is a friend. Kathy and Eva are friends. I like it like this.

Would Eva and I have embraced polyamory if we had had children? 

Yes, probably. And here's where people gasp and moan and say we'd be corrupting them. Oh, please. How privy are your children to the sordid details of your love life? About as privy as ours would have been, right? Part of the suitability of new partners in that case would be how well they got along with our kids. We certainly wouldn't be looking for co-parents; few people are willing to, or should even be asked to, take that on. But there is NOTHING wrong with having stable loving adults in a child's life. Used to be quite common a few generations back, when entire families would live together, from grandma and grandpa on down.

We might have waited, though, until the kids were older, simply for lack of time. 

8) What does your family think?

I don't like the response here that Summer gives. It's an honest question, and whatever she may think, the answer is often not exactly positive. In some cases, the most we can hope for is "as long as you're happy". In some cases we don't even get that...which hurts. A lot. 

Speaking for myself, Kathy and Mark are family to me. As for what the rest of my family thinks about that...you'll have to ask them.

9) Do you have orgies?

"The thing to do with a nosy question," said Robert Heinlein, "is to fail to hear it." The problem with that approach is that you'll assume the answer is yes.

The answer is no. I've never been in an orgy. I've never had a threesome. And the ONLY reason I'm giving you an actual answer to the question is because people tend to assume, upon hearing I'm polyamorous, that threesomes are orgies are on the menu every night.

Never. Not once. 

We keep our relationships separate out of respect for those relationships. We don't share details. Some people get off on doing that. We don't. Many polyamorous people are in different arrangements where they don't just share details, but share each other, and that's fine if it works for them. 

10) Once you find the right person, you'll settle down, right?

There are those words again. "Polyamorous? You just haven't found the right person yet!"


Again, though, I get why people ask this question. For many people multiple partners is a phase they go through, usually when younger, and so there's this widespread notion they'll outgrow it. Speaking for myself, I grow INTO relationships, while not restricting my partners.

11) What do you tell the kids?

We spare no details. We describe every sensation and every--seriously, you people are sick if you think we'd sexualizing kids somehow. We would have talked about relationships in an age-appropriate way. As I said above, I can't imagine we'd have launched this while the kids were young, anyway.
I love Kamala Devi McClure's answer here:

“The truth? I know this is a radical concept, but we have an 11-year-old son and we have never lied to him. Not about the stork, the boogie man, or even Santa. Not all poly parents have the privilege of being this honest, but we raise our son with the same values of inclusion, transparency, love and freedom that we practice with all of our life partners.”
12) What if your partner falls in love with someone else?

This is a very interesting question. You can tell a lot about the questioner's misconception of love AND polyamory from the fact they pose it.  While acknowledging Dedeker's excellent answer here, I'd like to add a couple of answers of my own:

(a), uh, kind of the name of the game here;
(b) and given (a), a tougher question CAN be. "what if they don't"? "Scorekeeping" is an issue for many people, especially men, new to polyamory. It's pathetically easy for women to secure partners...so easy that men tend to forget a good 95% of those partners tend to be pathetic. It's hard, although starting to get a little easier, for both men and women to find compatible people who are even willing to consider polyamory. Finding compatible people who can "poly" properly? Nontrivial. It's a tribute to everyone in my polycule that we mesh as well as we do.

Anyway, I just want to reiterate: thank you to all of those who are coming around. It means the world. 

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