Sunday, September 16, 2018

"I'm finding sometimes poly really is best kept secret"

Sometimes, despite ludicrous and ill-omened beginnings, relationships somehow manage to take root and grow.

Exhibit A would be the series You Me Her, the first season of which I reviewed here.

The first episode of season one was flatly ridiculous, and almost convinced me to stop watching. If any couple has ever successfully opened their marriage in this way -- well, in light of what I'm arguing, it probably has happened, but it felt beyond improbable. How many couples both fall for the same person -- an escort, no less -- straight out of the gate in a formerly completely monogamous, heterosexual marriage?

I'm very glad I kept on, because after the beginning, the rest of that first season was the most believable and realistic portrayal of polyamory I've seen on a screen.

Disclaimer, and one that's going to be hard for you TV watching people to understand: I haven't seen seasons two and three. I binge-watched season one on my computer, streaming from one of those sites that felt a little shady before everyone and his pet dog had an Android box. I raved about that show to the very few people in my life at that time -- Eva and Mark -- who would listen...and then, gradually, forgot about it. HBO's the only way to see it in Canada now, so far as I know, and I think that requires cable, and no bloody way am I paying $120 a month for one TV series.

Exhibit B would be Jack and Lucy's Polyamory Diaries, an ongoing series in Cosmopolitan which I savaged here. The way they went into this, I was certain the marriage would go boom mighty quick, with lots and lots of collateral damage.  To my utter shock, as this series has progressed, not only has that not happened, they've managed to make it more or less work. More or less. He's even starting to sound polyamorous, which is amazing because he was extremely reluctant to even try.

What do I mean by "starting to sound polyamorous?" Several things.

  • It’s not that I don’t feel jealous when my wife tells me she’s going on a date – I do. But it’s not quite the gnawing green-eyed monster of old. It’s more of a fleeting feeling that is quite easy to dismiss as useless and destructive.  

He's still prone to that gnawing green monster if things get too close -- if, for instance, his wife discusses the great sex she's having with her other partners. Which she initally did, quite insensitively,  almost trying to coerce him into feeling compersion.  (If your partner is happy because of someone else and you're angry, that's jealousy; if she's happy because of someone else and you're happy for her, that's compersion.)  As he says, though, he's MARKEDLY better than he was.

Those little twinges of jealousy? Even seasoned polyamorists can feel them, sometimes for no discernible reason. And they really are, almost always, "quite easy to dismiss as useless and destructive" if you're secure in the relationship with your partner and you've worked through them before.

But Jack has actually met a metamour. It went a bit awkwardly but not at all badly, especially when he realized his wife's other partner was just as anxious as he was. You don't have to meet metas to be ethically polyamorous, but my god does it help with the yips in many cases. Once you discover your partner's other partner is human, not a god or goddess...some common bonds can be established. You may never be best of friends, but you will almost certainly get along. After all, your partner loves both of you for a reason.

Lucy does the compersion thing pretty well. When it came time for Jack to get intimate with his first serious partner (Nell, also polyamorous), Lucy suggested Jack use a gift they had received much earlier, a night for two in a hotel, on Nell, rather than her. That's some high level selflessness, right feels kinda familiar.

  • ...sometimes it just feels normal. Having spent a lifetime listening to pop songs that tell stories of monogamous love and heartbreak, now when one particularly lovelorn singer comes on the radio, I just can’t relate to them any more.
No freaking kidding. I feel this every single day.

But the biggest thing that made everything in me actually wrench was Jack's growing realization that however normal he's beginning to feel, his friends don't think it's normal at all. 

  • It happened when I attempted to introduce an old friend to my girlfriend, Nell, who I’ve been seeing for nearly eight months. He knows about mine and Lucy’s set-up, and has previously been keen to meet Nell, but he lives out of town and, when the subject of sleeping arrangements comes up, he says he’ll have to check with his wife. There’s an ominous silence for a few days, before I’m told there is a complete ban on me bringing any of my girlfriends to stay the night at their place....Two weeks later, the same thing happens to Lucy. A different friend who lives in London and, over the years, has repeatedly offered his spare room to us flatly refuses to let Lucy stay with her new boyfriend, Max.* “I don’t know if I’m ready for that,” he tells her, ending the conversation.
I'm not completely insensitive to people's feelings, but I do like to know what I'm dealing with. Because I've seen this personally. This and worse. I mean, I can certainly understand why some people might feel uncomfortable with, say, Kathy and I staying over, because that might lead to (sssshhhh) s-e-x. Never mind that EVA and I have never been exactly comfortable with s-e-x in places not our own, and I'd sure refrain from that with another partner in someone else's home.  But sometimes people aren't even comfortable meeting another partner, and that, let me tell you, wounds very deeply. I don't want to force discomfort...exactly the opposite. I want to alleviate it. 

 So if Lucy was me, above, that wouldn't....quite...end the conversation. "Ready for what, exactly?" I'd ask. Not in a confrontational way, just in a "I'm confused and seeking to understand here" kind of way. I'd let them answer without my prompt, but in the spirit of dialogue, here's what I'm wondering.

Do you think I'm cheating?

I hope not. This is the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around, because it's still quite common. I've lived with Mark for two and a half years now. If there was cheating anywhere in these relationships, I'm really quite curious to know how you think we're getting away with it. That'd be a neat trick, wouldn't it? 

I think I've already addressed the sex issue--it just plain wouldn't happen.  I'm just not that crass as to go out and seek new beds to colonize -- with anyone.  

For some people, though, it goes beyond staying over to a point where a partner isn't even welcome in someone's home at all, and this is where I just want to cry. Or scream. Why?! Are we threatening you somehow?

Okay, so I've introduced two people to polyamory and they've both taken to it like fish to water.  Maybe people think I AM recruiting. 

I'm not. I'm certainly not out to 'steal' anyone. People can't be stolen the same way people can't be owned, because people are not things. Let's put it this way: if someone's considering another partner in a monogamous relationship, though...they are MUCH more likely NOT to tell you about it.  Do you know how I know this? Because we polyamorous types ALWAYS run into people more than happy to cheat on their partners with us, and when we insist on everything being aboveboard and honest with their partners and ours, they scamper away as if they suddenly noticed we're radioactive.So if your partner's gonna cheat, they're gonna cheat. Most poly people won't touch cheaters with a ten foot pole. 

Well, upon reflection, there's one very large difference between the kind of polyamory Jack and Lucy are practicing and the kind my polycule does. 

Jack and Lucy are doing parallel poly right now. In parallel poly, you know about your metamours, you might even meet them and interact a little from time to time, but by and large you run in parallel. Which means Jack and Lucy's friends don't get to see Lucy and Nell, or Jack and Max, interacting, and so there's probably this perception that there IS some skullduggery of some sort going on there. Though I wonder what those friends would make of Lucy's compersive gesture to give Jack and Nell a night alone in a hotel. I bet there's some that imagine Jack made that part up. 

It read true to me. Eva would do that. She's the most compersive person I have ever met in my life. 

 The other kind of poly, the kind I live, is called 'kitchen table' poly, and I think it's pretty self-explanatory. It's not that every partner has to share a roof, let alone a bed (ugh). Kathy doesn't live here, and should I gain another love, she won't live here either. No, kitchen table poly just means that there's considerably more interaction. We've all gone out together. Dinners have been made and eaten. Eva and Kathy have jointly given me a gift; Eva's helped me make a gift for Kathy.  And Kathy's daughter Jade--well, I love Jade and wish I could have been in her life much earlier. 

One thing I would say to Jack and Lucy: it's important to find a poly community. I'm amazingly lucky in that I have monogamous friends (not partners, friends) who accept us without reservation. Many aren't so lucky, and so they need to find people who know what it is to be poly because they live it themselves.  Maybe your old mono friends will never get it. You really kind of hope they will, though. Take some of that communication you need to function in a poly relationship and apply it to your friends.

This way of life is only becoming more and more common. I guarantee you know someone besides myself who is practicing consensual non-monogamy. Please, for our sake and the sake of our partners...try to accept us.

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