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.