Poly Myths: Busted

From the desk of Jane

Like our intrepid author, I often hear a number of statements about polyamory that are utter tripe. The difference, though, is that I often hear them from people in or espousing traditional monogamous relationships who have one or more of the following problems:

a) they don’t understand polyamory;
b) they feel threatened by polyamorous relationship models;
or
c) they find some moral quandary within it or around it that precludes them from taking a rational stance on the matter.

Here, in the spirit of Jamie and Adam, ye busters of myths, I’ll lay out both how these statements are untrue and also how not to be a dick to your poly friends. You don’t have to grok it, but it is incumbent on you not to be a weenie about it.

#1 – “You’re just greedy!” / “You just want to steal someone’s boyfriend!”

I generally hear this from people who feel threatened about the fact that I have a few partners and am fairly open to more. (Amusingly, I’ve heard this same statement for a different reason from someone who was, ah, less than understanding about my pansexuality.)

I’m going to break this one down into two parts:
1. Polyamorous people — assuming they adhere to some model of ethical nonmonogamy — actually typically have a few more steps to go through when acquiring a partner. I, for instance, would need to give a heads-up to no less than three people, and probably more if we incorporate infrequent or casual partners. We would have to talk about it if it came around to being a serious thing, we’d have to talk if a metamour got upset, we’d have to talk about consent and condoms and coitus and all of the other bits and bobs that go with negotiating a sexual-possibly-romantic relationship.

Half the time, a serious relationship with someone would be impossible due to lacking enough time to devote to them, even if I want to.

2. I probably don’t want your boyfriend, and even if I did, fucking around in someone else’s relationship isn’t how I roll. It’s largely not how others in the poly community roll either. I mean, sure, we have our share of douchebags, but you get that anywhere and it’s best not to let them colour your opinion of the rest of us.

Besides, I’ve been in a relationship where my partner was a monogamous sort and I was polyamorous. I can say confidently that 99% of the time, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

#2 – “Aren’t you just cheating?”

Everyone knows about it and is, for the most part, okay with it, barring the few foibles that every relationship goes through. Here’s a pretty open secret: It’s really hard to cheat in poly relationships.

It is not impossible. Breaking the terms of your relationship agreement constitutes cheating — it just so happens that monogamous relationships, by definition, have a clause regarding sexual exclusivity. You are expected to direct your sexual attentions only to the person you are in a relationship with. Polyamorous relationships don’t have that, but I would most definitely be cheating if I neglected to use a condom with somebody without telling the boyfriend I’m currently not using condoms with.

In other words, we might not be exclusive, but we sure as shit have ground rules. You’d be hard-pressed to find a poly couple or group that has an anything-goes mindset — feelings getting hurt and inadequately dealt with is the number one reason that a poly relationship will fail.

#3 – “Isn’t polygamy illegal?”

Well, yes, but first off, polygamy is one man with multiple wives, and while that’s a similar relationship model, there are a lot of differences. More importantly, that’s a reeeeeally loaded word, and it’s not what we’re doing.

Polyamory is just what its roots say it is — “poly”, from Ancient Greek “polus” — ‘many, much’, + “amor”, from Latin ‘love’. “Many loves”. (Though it does indeed mix Greek and Latin roots. Shameful.) Ain’t nobody told me I can’t love whomever and however many I want — they just said I can’t marry them.

Given that I lack faith in the institution of marriage for myself, this isn’t much of a problem unless I want a partner to be on my insurance or some other practical conundrum that would be solved by being legally wed. In that case it would probably be a marriage of convenience, and further given that adultery and bigamy laws are not enforced (because then half of Congress would be in prison), I’m not particularly concerned and I’ll cross that bridge if I ever come to it.

So no — what I’m doing is aboveboard both in the eyes of the law and the eyes of my partners.

#4 – “You probably have an STI.”

In light of how I and our intrepid author just explained that protection is a must, this is a silly question.

Consider: there are monogamous people not currently in relationships who have a lot more sex with a lot less protection than I do. I use protection with all but one partner, get tested every six months for the full gamut of STIs, and have come back negative for everything in every test I’ve had. I also don’t do casual sex. Many do, but you’ll find that a lot of those same people in the poly community find protection pretty important and get tested on the regular.

While an STI isn’t something to be ashamed of, rather a preventable medical issue that should be discussed with your doctor, assuming that those who are fairly promiscuous but adhere to safer sex practices must have them is lashing out for no reason.

#5 – “Oh, you’ll settle down and commit to someone someday.”

“Oh, you’ll be straight someday.”
“Oh, you’ll be white someday.”
“Oh, you’ll be cis someday.”
“Oh, you’ll be upper-class someday.”

Just to establish how completely fucking absurd that sounds.

Also – I am committed to my partners. If I’m with them all for the rest of my life, would that not be commitment of the highest caliber? You can commit to more than one friend or family member – why not more than one lover?

I think that covers the bulk of the things I hear from monogamous people or couples about polyamory. I’m not going to touch on the moral quandary parts as they’re contentious, prescriptive, and often beneath contempt.

Our intrepid author has graciously agreed to allow me to vent my spleen more than once, so you’ll be seeing more of my howling and yowling.

‘Til next time.

5 thoughts on “Poly Myths: Busted

  1. Ripley

    “Here’s a pretty open secret: It’s really hard to cheat in poly relationships.”

    This is not an accurate presentation of cheating. Cheating is not exclusively about creating the monster with two backs, but is about breaking an established trust with your partner/partners. Just because a relationship is set up to make shagging other people possible/plausible does -not- in any way make cheating harder. Cheating is inherently a choice to break a rule that has been established— whether that is about getting your freak on, using protection, or simply not verbalizing who you have been with, poly does not make cheating harder in the same way that locking your front door does not (necessarily) make your home safer. If there is a will, there is a way… and windows.

    Reply
  2. Jane

    Which is what I elaborated into. It’s more difficult, realistically, when you have explicitly established rules to break them, both because they’re very clear and because humans have a natural guilt response to doing such things unless the human in question lacks empathy.

    It makes it harder to cheat by nonexclusivity, but that’s not what we’re referring to.

    Reply
  3. Ripley

    My response comes from the fact that your phrase on the difficulty of cheating in poly relationships is seated as #2′s thesis, and as a thesis it is flawed.
    I am still going to quibble your word choice. Specifically “difficult” and “natural guilt response.”

    “Difficulty” is determined by communication, and while it might seem shocking to some, the number of Poly people I have met who don’t communicate in the most helpful fashion is great enough for me to think this is less a poly thing and more of an overall communication thing. The it’s-so-wrong-it-makes-me-horny mindset still exists in the poly lifestyle, and if that is what gets Sally Sexual and Bobby Boner hot and bothered, the “natural guilt response” is nothing more than fuel in the fire. If “natural guilt response” were truly a thing, you’d think religion would actually work in creating good wholesome folk. (I could further quibble ‘natural guilt response,’ but there is only so much Freud/Catholicism I can stomach in a single sitting.)
    I understand for the purposes of this blog we appear to be approaching the concept of Poly from the far end of the “wtf is that” spectrum— But I have never found painting in black and white to be that helpful. Communication with ones partner(s) is the key point here, not trying to “fix” a pattern of cheating/transgressions through Poly/open when the real issue is communication— which is a misconception I have quite often seen people fall into. (No really, and oh jeebus does it get annoying).

    Reply
  4. Jane

    I think we fundamentally agree, and are more quibbling over context. I’m coming at this with an audience in mind of the monogamous people who have the “WAO WHAT IS THAT” mindset rather than those of us experienced in the ins and outs of polyamory.

    So cheating, in a monogamous person’s mind, would mean generally “going to bump uglies with someone else” or “being romantic with someone else”. This is tricky to really screw the pooch on in poly relationships as they tend to be more forgiving in that realm. In other realms, like communication, it’s actually a lot easier to fuck it up, and I’ve heard of situations that have bordered on inadvertent cheating because boundaries weren’t clear.

    Maybe with the natural guilt response, I’m putting too much faith in people in poly relationships not being jerkwads to each other, but you make a good point with the strength of “it’s so wrong but it feels so right“.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Link Miscellany: -isms and -ists » Ashley Miller

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