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;
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.