Inappropriate questions

One of the topics that sometimes comes up is people unfamiliar with non-monogamy asking inappropriate or offensive questions. I’ve had very little of this, personally, and I don’t know why – but on a couple of occasions I’ve been asked questions that perhaps others might have felt were inappropriate. I didn’t mind.

Everyone has a right, of course, to draw their own boundaries, and if someone asks you a question that you feel is intrusive or too personal, you’re entirely within your rights not to answer. But I will happily answer most things, and I say so as well.

When I’m speaking to people about non-monogamy, often it’s their first exposure to it. And people understandably have questions about how it works! On mentioning my partner and my boyfriend to someone recently, he said “and do you sleep with both of them?” then immediately clapped his hand over his mouth and said “I can’t believe I just said that, I’m so sorry.” I laughed, to me it was so clearly well-intentioned but tactless (and then I said “I couldn’t possibly comment on that. But they are both complete and loving relationships.”)

Really, that’s what people are trying to find out. Most of us have come across someone who’s listed themselves on Facebook as being ‘married to’ their best friend. I’ve had jarring moments reading something online where a married woman mentions going out for a drink with her girlfriend – I assume ‘poly and bisexual’, but it turns out I should have assumed ‘straight, monogamous, and refers to female friends as girlfriends’. I see these kind of questions, artless though they may be, as a genuine reaching out for knowledge and understanding. It’s possible I might have a really close platonic male friend who I refer to jokingly as my boyfriend; it’s possible that when I said partner and they first assumed I meant domestic/life partner, I actually meant my business partner.

Aside from people who are asexual, a happy and healthy sex life for most people is a crucial part of a loving adult relationship, and one of the most obvious things that distinguishes it from a close and loving friendship. This is true to such an extent that it is assumed – in fact, assumed in a way that it wouldn’t have been for unmarried relationships in earlier parts of the twentieth century. If you mention your boyfriend or your girlfriend, people will assume that you’re having sex with them. It doesn’t mean they want to know about it, or that it would be appropriate to talk about the amazing sex you had last night, it’s just an assumption; it’s just there.

However, because culturally we hold sexual exclusivity in such high esteem, and consensual non-monogamy is a very new concept for most people, the sex thing is, I think, the bit that people want to get straight in their heads. The idea of close friendships with lots of people is not difficult; even, I think, the idea of loving more than one is not difficult for most. But understanding that yes, these relationships do include sex just as any other relationship does… I don’t see that as hunting for salacious detail. It’s just looking for context, for a framework, for a way in which to understand these relationships.


5 responses to “Inappropriate questions

  1. Devil's Avocado

    Very well put. I am not in a relationship just now but two of my best friends happen to be men. If they should come up in conversation, I tend to make mention of the wife of one, or the girlfriend of the other. Why? Well, I don’t want to mislead anyone. However, poly people might just assume these were poly relationships! It seems odd that a close friendship plus sex, should be so very different from one without, but it usually is.

  2. i don’t know that anyone’s ever asked me whether i have sex with both my husband and my boyfriend. to me, it’s implicit in the labels of each relationship. i did spend one amusing evening with a person who exists between the acquaintance and friend spheres, answering his questions about what it’s like to be in an open/poly relationship. he may have been trying to gauge my sexual interest in him, or he may have just been genuinely curious.

    • That’s the only time I’ve every been asked so openly! But I do think sometimes people ask questions that aren’t that (because they know it wouldn’t be appropriate) but that are around the edges of it, if you see what I mean.

      Yes, that’s a tricky one, too – how do you disclose (and talk honestly about) an open relationship without it sounding like a come-on? I’d be tempted to say that it’s something that primarily concerns women, but actually that’s just not true; when we came out as non-monogamous to old friends, my partner (who is male) was worried about it unnerving his close female friends and whether they’d think he was hitting on them if he talked about it.

  3. Devil's Avocado

    If you’re non-poly, it’s easy to reject someone politely by saying “Actually, thanks, but I’m with someone.” If you’ve revealed yourself as poly, much more difficult to say, “Actually, thanks, I do have several partners but I don’t want you.” Ouch.

  4. Very well put! Short and sweet and right to the point. I love this post!

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