Poly Means Many: Explaining it to monogamous people

Perhaps I’ve been lucky so far, but I haven’t found explaining polyamory to monogamous people (or rather, perhaps, people in monogamous relationships) to be much of a challenge at all. I’ve written a couple of posts abut coming out as polyamorous, and the two topics seem to me to be inescapably linked – the moment you ‘come out’ about this is often also the moment you explain what on earth it is you’re coming out as. Plus, given the way that everyone’s relationships are different, all I can do is explain my own version of polyamory, and how it works for me and my loved ones.

I have the advantage of being in a very visible committed, serious and stable relationship with The Rake, so anyone I tell about poly already knows I have one committed partnership. I say advantage, as perhaps that very stability is what makes it clear to people that this works and isn’t about either of us secretly wanting out (one of the more problematic assumptions – ‘open relationships are relationships on the rocks’).

The way the conversation goes is usually this: it comes up somehow, and is an appropriate moment to mention that actually, The Rake and I have been in a non-monogamous relationship for years. I have a wonderful boyfriend too (who has requested to go by the name of Fafhrd on here… Yeah, I’d like to make it clear this was his choice), and everyone knows about each other and is happy. I tend not to go into more detail about any other connections at this point; that can wait. The smile on my face talking about these two wonderful men seems to make it pretty clear that this is happy and fulfilling for me.

But the point I always go on to make in this conversation, because it’s just as important for me, is that I get similar levels of joy and fulfilment from The Rake’s relationships elsewhere. The love I feel for him is only multiplied and deepened by seeing the connection he has with his girlfriend, for example; being able to see how happy that relationship makes him, what he can be for her, and delighting in the fact that I can give him the space to explore that (sometimes literally… We have a small flat, logistics can be tricky!). It makes me so happy to be able to add to my loved ones’ general stock of joy – whether that takes the form of my relationship with them, or being able to delight in their relationships elsewhere.

I don’t usually talk about anything other than the positive side of polyamory when explaining it. Partly as I don’t want to reinforce any misconceptions about all the potential bad things that could happen. But also partly because that glowing positivity is genuinely my experience; it’s been a long time since any notable problems came up for us, life is pretty uncomplicated, and my day to day happiness level is pretty gleeful.

Related to explaining poly and coming out, one of the things that means a hell of a lot to me is that some of The Rake’s and my oldest friends have started, in the same breath as ‘how’s work? How’s London?’, to ask ‘how’s Fafhrd?’. Whether intended or not, it comes across as a recognition and acceptance from them of our relationship choices, and that this is an important person in our lives. Makes me happy.

I’ve never yet had cause to use any of the standard ‘poly person explanations’ – like no-one doubts that a parent can love two children, etc. And I’ve certainly never yet faced outright criticism or hostility for my choices. Everyone I’ve told – friends, some family, even colleagues – has absolutely taken me at face value, and accepted that (though it might not work for them) it very obviously works for us – people who are absolutely happy in their own monogamous relationships have said things like ‘it makes perfect sense the way you explain it’. Often they’ve gone on to ask very interesting and well-thought-out questions, too. No doubt there are all sorts of unforeseen complications yet to come, especially as we move into different life stages, but my experience so far suggests that any complications of actually explaining this to people in monogamous relationships will remain pretty minimal.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers – Amanda Jones, An Open Book, One Sub’s Mission, Polyamorous Parenting, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.

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10 responses to “Poly Means Many: Explaining it to monogamous people

  1. Wow, you are a very lucky lady indeed! I have experienced my fair share of the bad bits of being polyamorous, and totally agree with you about only focussing on the good bits when explaining things. Although we prefer honesty and accept that you take the rough with the smooth, many other people would just wonder why we would do such a thing if there was a chance of something bad happening.

    In addition, I have come across people who just can’t get their heads around the concept – my mother is one of them. Sometimes you don’t even get a chance to provide your best prepared explanation, because even the suggestion that you’re not monogamous but are very happy is just too much information on its own. I have lots of explanations ready, but they only work if someone *wants* to know.

    It’s always interesting finding out about other people’s experiences, and it give me hope if their’s are largely positive.

    • I’m incredibly lucky, in a huge number of ways; the fact that my closest family accepted this without even breaking stride is a massive and wonderful thing, and I’m very aware that my decision to tell them was partly influenced by my suspicion that they would be fine with it (I wasn’t certain, mind you!). If they were different people, my attitude might be very different.

      “many other people would just wonder why we would do such a thing if there was a chance of something bad happening.” totally – and added to the fact that most people to whom this is a new concept can ONLY think of bad things, rather than good things. So we’re kind of balancing out their preconceptions by telling them the good things 🙂

  2. Devil's Avocado

    Many of us love the security of a boundary and of tradition; some like to step outside it. Polyamorists throw away the rule book and start again. It made complete sense when explained by someone close to me. I could see that the freedom to share love would not diminish the primary relationship but could strengthen and enhance it. Trust is the basis of good relationships.

    • “Trust is the basis of good relationships.” – this should be written across the sky, or something. No relationship – monogamous, polyamorous, something in between – can work without trust.

      “many of us love the security of a boundary”… oh yes, and this applies no less to polyamorous relationships than monogamous relationships, it’s just that the boundaries are different ones! I’ve also sometimes talked to monogamous friends about how actually, *all* relationships are somewhere on this spectrum; it’s not as simple as ‘monogamous’ vs ‘non-monogamous’ – some monogamous relationships have agreements that even being friends with someone of the opposite sex is not ok, or that a bit of harmless flirting is fine, and some agree that maybe getting drunk and snogging someone else on New Year’s Eve is ok, and all sorts of things. The agreement of ‘we are monogamous’ is actually not as clear as it seems on the surface…

  3. The penultimate paragraph says it all for me.

    People don’t exist in isolation. Relationships even less so. To be close to me, you also need to understand who else I am close to. In some cases this may mean learning that I don’t model my life the way you do. It may not be easy – but I do think it’s necessary. I can’t imagine keeping a close friendship with someone who didn’t know; How would I even make sense to them!? What if I had an argument with a non-disclosed partner, or was missing someone and couldn’t explain why I was unhappy.. If I didn’t tell them, I can’t help but think the secrets would mount up and we’d drift apart.

    That said, I have had vastly neutral/accepting responses, the occasional positive, and only one extreme negative, so my willingness to feel this way is probably reflective of that.

    • “People don’t exist in isolation. Relationships even less so. To be close to me, you also need to understand who else I am close to.” Yes! No man is an island, etc (sorry Donne) – I am bastardising this quote to prove a point, that your connections to other people are essential (why else do we hold up ‘meeting the parents’ as a milestone? You’re introducing two [sets of] people who are important to you and to whom you are connected, and those connections matter).

      “If I didn’t tell them, I can’t help but think the secrets would mount up and we’d drift apart.” SO very much yes. Secrets are pernicious, damaging things; if it’s a big enough and important enough secret, after a while that big unspoken thing between you is all you can see, and it taints all of your interactions.

      Plus, I think, the more secrets you keep, the more power you hand over to other people. I am not keen on handing over power or control, in a general way! But if you have secrets, then the revealing of those secrets could be damaging to you (not only the facts themselves, but also the fact that you’ve been concealing/lying by omission). So therefore, if someone *discovers* your secret, they suddenly have power over you. You see this with politicians all the time; the secret affairs and whatever lay them open to blackmail and corruption, because their keeping of secrets has handed over power to the discoverer or keeper of their secrets.

  4. Yes – I’m definitely with you on the trust point, but not only trust, also honesty/openness. They’re not always the same thing – it’s easy (particularly in a monogamous relationship) to assume that your boundaries are the same as the other person’s – but often they’re not, and by not communicating what they are, you’re in danger of unwittingly breaking each other’s sense of trust. That’s definitely something poly people have helped me to understand – discussing boundaries, and exploring what your own are, is really important. Even if you’re in a monogamous relationship and it’s about flirting, or social situations.

    • Totally – and lots of people (monogamous, non-monogamous) only find out about boundaries when they butt up against them! But non-monogamous people of all stripes are at least more likely to have talked about it – or be open to talking about it – rather than just assuming that you share the same unspoken expectations of the relationship. Honesty is essential (including about the things you notice in your own brain that you think are kind of stupid, even if – as I do – you preface it with ‘I know this is kind of stupid, but can I ask for some reassurance about…’).

  5. Pingback: Explaining Non-monogamy « Poly Means Many

  6. Pingback: Poly Means Many: Series summary - Rarely Wears Lipstick

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