Category Archives: Practicalities and planning

Planning a poly Christmas

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com. This month, our topic is “poly holidays”.

What does a polyamorous Christmas look like? As ever, ask three poly people and you’ll get five different answers. Shorter version: whatever you and your network want it to. A quick disclaimer – I’m not in any way religious, and I love celebrating Christmas as a secular holiday.

Longer version: for one reason and another (sometimes my reasons, sometimes reasons I agreed with, and occasionally reasons I didn’t like at all) I’ve never yet spent Christmas with any partners (or metamours) other than the Rake. This may very well change in future. As a celebration, at the moment it’s something I feel I want to share with only long-established and stable connections; family-like connections; if not cohabiting then potentially heading that way. I value the opportunity to withdraw at Christmas and spend time feeling nurtured by spending time with family and loved ones – and for the moment, that doesn’t feel like it would fit with a comparatively new relationship.

Of course, I reserve the right to go back on this completely in future, and laugh gently at past-me.

That said, some of the techniques learned by navigating complex modern families are just as applicable here. Celebrating Christmas on more than one day, in more than one way, and in more than one place; creating personal and private traditions that aren’t specifically tied to Christmas Day; making sure to be in contact and within metaphorical reach of those who aren’t physically present.

Christmas can magnify stresses, because it can be invested with such significance. Some people have wonderful and uncomplicatedly loving relationships with their family, and love seeing them at Christmas; others are completely and happily separated and out of contact. Most people are somewhere in between. So even leaving polyamory aside, it’s a time of year that can be very stressful, full of careful navigations of expectations spoken and unspoken. Multiply this with issues of ‘out-ness’ (are you out to your family? Do you want to be? Are they supportive, or critical, or worse? Are your partners keeping you secret and you wish they weren’t?) and it can be especially difficult for many people to mix family and partners.

But as ever, it’s about making sure people feel valued and important, in the ways that are uniquely suited to them – there is no magic formula. “Come and spend Christmas with my family!” might be what one partner is longing to hear, or it might make someone else feel smothered and rushed. “I’ll be out of contact all Christmas as I’m focusing on my primary partner” might be a clear and reassuring statement of fact to one partner, but to another it might sound like telling them they’re unimportant and unwanted.

Tread gently; Christmas for some is just another day, and for others is invested with huge emotional significance. As ever, talk about your hopes and expectations, and don’t let yourself or others be disappointed by an expectation you kept secret and then went unfulfilled.

Poly Means Many: FOMO

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com. This month, our topic is “FOMO and loneliness”.

FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out, and as an acronym is often thrown around when talking about social media and the worries it can exacerbate – after all, if you weren’t invited to that party, it can be hard hearing friends mention how much fun it was, but it’s far worse if they spend the next week tagging each other in party photos on facebook and exchanging jokes on twitter about what they got up to in your absence.

In terms of polyamory, it’s probably more specifically relevant to feeling like you’re missing out on something that a partner is doing with another partner, and not you. Rather than the big stuff (‘my partner and his other partner are buying a house together and I wish I was too’) let’s look at the everyday kind of FOMO.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s crucial that all couples get a chance to present themselves as a couple, in social situations, in your ‘community’ etc. It’s really important – though especially so for non-primary relationships – to give them that level of social visibility, recognition and acknowledgement, When you’re poly, this means that there will not only be times when your partner and their other partner are off doing something without you, but there will even be times when they are presenting as a couple in front of your friends and acquaintances (hardly uncommon if you’re a non-primary partner, perhaps more unusual if you’re a primary partner – both have their own difficulties). I don’t mean to imply any dishonesty or shutting out occurs – quite the opposite; like so many things, this is very easy when handled with honesty and good intentions on all sides.

Two examples: one, The Rake and his girlfriend went to an event a couple of weeks ago while I was spending the weekend with my girlfriend Poppy. I’d heard about the event before, and it sounded like a fun night, a great excuse for dressing up, and a good crowd. I was a touch envious of the fun it sounded like they were going to have, but mostly excited to hear about how their evening went, and pleased for them that they’d managed to find this chunk of time to spend together. As it turned out, I was too engrossed in my own plans to give them a second thought that night, but was glad to hear the next day when the three of us lounged around at home together about the night they’d had and friends they’d run into.

Two, there’s a party coming up which will be the Rake’s opportunity to introduce his girlfriend to many of his (our) friends who haven’t met her before, so they’ll be going ‘as a couple’ – which works out perfectly, as not only will I have a lot of friends to catch up with, I’ll also have other duties to be getting on with to help run the night. If you’re not poly, you might be wondering how this works – do you ignore each other? Do you pretend you’re not together? No, nothing so odd. As far as I’m concerned, it just means that their primary connection for the evening will be each other – when this has happened before it means their focus for the evening is each other, they’ll meet people together, introduce each other to friends, hang out together etc; basically everything you do at a party as a couple! I hang out with them too (his girlfriend is great fun) but in these situations I defer to the fact that their evening is together and am careful to give them space to present themselves without me. They get to welcome me into their space, rather than the Rake and I welcoming other partners into our space. I’m intentionally taking on a pretend-secondary role for the evening, in some ways. The Rake has given exactly the same graceful distance for me in the past with other significant partners – it feels like a very easy give and take.

Both of those examples, though, I could – if I wanted, or if I was feeling especially low – conjure into something miserable. Into ‘why don’t you want me around’ or ‘is she more important than me’ or ‘are you ashamed of me’. But it would take real effort to see something that’s so far from my lived experience. Instead, if the Rake is off doing something without me, it doesn’t really even matter whether it’s with another partner or not. Maybe I have plans of my own, or maybe I get to seize the chance for a precious evening in alone (I can’t tell you how much I love getting the place to myself for a night, and spending time alone with my own projects or reading) – either way, I really value whatever I’m doing with that time, and look forward to sharing stories of our evenings. But if I was really jealous of a night out that didn’t include me, so much so that I wanted to be included, then I’d try and work out what was missing from my life. Is it that I feel like I don’t get to go to enough parties? Do I feel like a certain set of friends doesn’t recognise my importance in a partner’s life, and want more visibility? Have I secretly always wanted to go to the opera myself but never had the courage to suggest it as a date activity? Do I wish I got lazy weekend time with that partner, and rarely get the opportunity?

Just like with the poly discussions about jealousy, with this sort of FOMO there’s generally something underlying that instant emotional flash of “NO!”. Rather than responding to the instant emotional reaction, it’s far more valuable to dig further and find out what the problem really is. If you can find the root of it in yourself, you’ll be able to ask clearly for what you need, and that often means you can solve the problem with far more positivity and joy – by adding more awesome to your own life, rather than trying to subtract it from your partner’s.

Poly Means Many: Time and busy-ness

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com. This month, our topic is “time”.

One of the analogies people sometimes make when explaining poly, and how your partner’s other partners aren’t actually out to cruelly steal your love away from you by stealing their time, is about hobbies. What if your partner had a hobby they really loved? Or a demanding job?

I’m going to give you a concrete example of this. I met up with someone recently who was researching non-monogamies in a professional context. After I’d got in contact with them and said I’d be happy to talk, we then got on to fixing a date. I sent over a list of my possibilities (‘I can do next Wednesday between 8 and 9, most Thursdays, I’ve got a Tuesday after 7.30 in four weeks…’) and eventually we found a day that worked.

When we met up, one of the first things they said to me was how characteristic this was of the non-monogamous people they spoke to – busy calendars and forward planning.

And yet, what was filling my calendar wasn’t dating. What I was having to schedule around included: a series of dance classes, personal writing projects, volunteering to run a couple of major events, seeing friends, theatre tickets (admittedly, with The Rake, so that’s technically dating activity), a work-related drinks reception, a craft project I’d had to schedule an evening for so I got it done, a couple of parties…

Perhaps counter-intuitively, I think some of this busy-ness comes from being fairly introverted. I love seeing lots of friends together at a big party, but I can’t do it often – I prefer to see people (especially people I’m close to) one-on-one, so we can really catch up. Which, of course, can take up a lot of evenings if you actually want to see your friends.

But anyway, my point is certainly not to say ‘look at my glittering social life’ (and you’ll notice some of that is time scheduled on my own, and some is work-related). My point is: that lack of time had nothing at all to do with me being poly, and everything to do with having a reasonably busy social life and a few creative outlets and projects.

Time management is one of those things, like communication and honesty, that sometimes get talked about as though they’re special magic poly skills. They’re not. Time management is something useful to most people. The only thing that begins to differentiate poly time management is other people’s feelings.

If I change my plans one evening and don’t work on the creative project I’d planned to (or just lie on the sofa playing Kingdom Rush instead) I feel a bit rubbish about that, but no-one except me is hurt.

But if I cancel plans with someone who cares about me and would like to see me (or, worse, cancel plans because someone else is free and I’d rather see them) then I’ve hurt someone. Possibly very badly.

Again, though, this isn’t in any way restricted to poly. Just because in some ways it’s easier to say to a partner ‘that was really shitty of you to cancel plans with me because your other partner was free’, it doesn’t mean that friends aren’t badly hurt by exactly the same behaviour.

And this is why polyamorous people tend to talk about time management and scheduling a lot. It’s not because it’s a skill that’s only or especially relevant to poly people. It’s because we’re working within a framework in which it’s already often widely understood and explicitly agreed that how you divide your time is a fairly clear marker of the importance you place on your relationships with people – and, therefore, how hurt people can be by poor or inconsiderate time management. Just because that’s not something talked about between friends, doesn’t mean people aren’t still badly hurt by feeling like they’re falling off the end of your priority list.