I couldn’t do it

One of the very common responses to mentioning polyamory is often ‘Oh, I couldn’t do it’. Many polyamorous people I know (myself included) meet this with varying levels of amusement, annoyance or boredom, with stock responses including ‘That’s ok, I’m not asking you to’ or ‘It’s not for everyone but it works for me’.

But I’ve been thinking some more about this, and I think as a phrase it’s actually not a dismissal, and more about finding a way to be actively supportive.

I was talking to a friend recently about how nice it was to be at a social gathering that included babies and small children – but more importantly, how nice it was that people who have happily decided not to have children of their own could still hang out with and play with children, without anyone making it a Big Deal. The issue of having children has become binary, in many people’s eyes – either you must definitely want children (probably right now) or you definitely don’t want children because they’re all hateful snotty screaming monsters. There’s no middle ground there. There’s no space for someone who is absolutely firm and happy in their decision to not have children of their own, but still really enjoys playing with friends’ toddlers – it’s unpleasant how many people will look at that and try and see it as ‘oh, they secretly *must* want children, they must be *so sad*.’

I suspect that lack of middle ground pushes people to the extremes, to avoid awkward and incorrect (and offensive) assumptions – so to avoid people saying ‘oh, you must want a baby *really*’, I imagine it’s sometimes easier to slide into the extreme of claiming all children are hideous and you can’t bear them and oh god don’t bring that child near me.

Similarly, I would imagine it’s hard for people in monogamous relationships – or monogamously-inclined – to feel free to say ‘that sounds great, you all sound really happy, it’s obviously very fulfilling’ without worrying about getting the side-eye from their friends or partner, who might assume that what they therefore mean is ‘I want to be poly too!’. So instead, they feel the need to pave the way by making it clear that it’s definitely not something they want, or could do, and once that’s out of the way only THEN are they free to say complimentary things.

I know this isn’t always the case, but I do think this probably applies more often than we give it credit for. People want to express their support, admiration, understanding in the best ways they can, without causing pain or distress to those they care about in turn.


4 responses to “I couldn’t do it

  1. Makes sense. Also touches on a wider issue that there’s no way to get across “I would in principle be OK with a poly relationship but if you do not want to go that way that is also fine” without it sounding like it should have “… And I’ll always resent it” on the end.

  2. I have heard that comment so many times I had almost blanked it…
    I think your comparison with the all-or-nothing of wanting children in relation to people’s fear of suddenly seeming sexually available if they ‘come-out’ as a poly ally is spot-on in many cases but…
    I really do feel that a lot of people mean that they can’t imagine putting the effort in or can’t imagine their own relationships surviving the pressures when they say they couldn’t do it in that they are horrified by the idea of so much negotiation and by the examination of their own insecurities and sense of not being good enough..
    I recognise the feeling.

    • I don’t think it’s necessarily a fear of appearing sexually available (though that might also be part of it); it’s more that I think sometimes it comes from not wanting to actively hurt or worry a monogamous partner.

      But yes, I’m sure in some cases it comes from perceiving non-monogamy to be a lot more hard work than it actually is.

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