Tag Archives: Open relationships

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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Coming out as poly, part 2

It’s a pretty inexhaustible topic, let’s be honest! The Rake and I are, these days, out to most of our friends, some work colleagues, and my close family (though not his). Our lovers and partners are out to various levels – some totally open, some almost totally closeted – all for excellent reasons.

I was explaining the primary/secondary model of polyamory to my sister (happily monogamous, but open-minded and very supportive), and how one of the most important reasons for me for being open about all this is being able to give the people in my life the importance they deserve – to not just introduce The Rake as my partner, but to also give value to other lovers or partners rather than passing them off as ‘just’ friends*.

In discussing how important it is to feel valued by people you’re in a relationship with, she drew an interesting parallel: in a previous relationship, when she met friends of her boyfriend, they met her with a blank ‘oh, hi, nice to meet you. So anyway, [turning back to the boyfriend]’. Reflecting, of course, the fact that he hadn’t given her the importance she deserved when he was talking about her or introducing her. In her current relationship, on the other hand, her boyfriend’s friends greet her with smiles and a unanimous ‘wow, so great to meet you at last, I’ve heard so much about you!’.

She commented on how nice it must be that, when The Rake meets someone new, they know how important I am to him and can greet me with that same delight when they meet me. I agreed, but said the corresponding nice thing is that as he generally has excellent taste in people, I look forward to meeting new lovers of his, too, as I know that anyone he wants to introduce me to is likely to be pretty awesome. Rather than a starting point of ‘here is a stranger’, it’s a starting point of ‘I expect to find some really excellent and likeable things about this person’. ‘Oh’ she said, ‘so all that work you’ve put into getting to know and trust each other over all this time means you can trust each other’s judgement with new people.’

It’s not flawless, of course (no-one can have perfect judgement in people all the time) but she got it absolutely right.

*Incidentally I write less about them here, so far, as I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy, though I feel I can judge The Rake’s comfort levels pretty well. I’d prefer to err on the side of too much discretion than too little.

Philosophical perspectives on non-monogamy are under development, starting with JS Mill!

OpenCon 2012

Well this looks interesting. It’ll be run on the unconference model, too.

OpenCon is a 3-day event in the English countryside for everyone who knows that happy and honest relationships don’t have to be monogamous. It’ll combine discussions, workshops and socialising to give you a chance to meet like-minded people, to build our community and to celebrate its diversity.
There are so many possible ways of conducting relationships, and even all the terms like open relationship, polyamorous, or swinger can’t capture all diversity of ways in which people can relate to each other.
There will be talks and discussion groups throughout the weekend, along with lots of opportunity for socialising.
OpenCon 2011 was hugely successfull, and we anticipate that OpenCon 2012 will be even more fun. OpenCon has grown out of Polyday, which has been run in various cities in the UK over the last several years. We hope you’ll join us!
When?
Friday – Sunday, Oct 5th – 7th, 2012
Beginning at 6.00pm on the Friday and ending at 3.30pm on the Sunday.
How Much?
£90 for the entire weekend including all food and a hostel bed.
Extra for a private room.

Coming out as poly

The Rake and I had different concerns about how people would react when we started telling friends (and, in my case, family) about our non-monogamous relationship. We’ve been together for a boring number of years, so for old friends who’ve known us since we got together – and longer – it had the potential to be a bit of a change in how they saw us.

My worry was that friends, male and female, might think that I was somehow being pushed into this; that I was going along with it for the sake of an easy life, or perhaps that I suspected he’d probably cheat if I didn’t agree to this, so I put up with it.

His concern was that it might damage his relationship with female friends; he’s always had lots of female friends and enjoys the company of women. Unfair though it is, I think a lot of women sometimes file male friends into those who are ‘safe’, ie committed elsewhere, and those who might unexpectedly hit on them. So he was worried that it might mean that his female friends might feel they needed to be more guarded around him, or withdraw, for fear that ‘being poly’ actually means ‘will hit on everyone and anyone’.

Of course, what both of us forgot is that our friends and family actually know us. Once we’d brought it up, and got mostly positive or indifferent responses, I confided my worry to a couple of friends. Were they secretly thinking that I’d been coerced into this?

Through the incoherent giggles, I managed to make out a couple of phrases – like ‘can’t imagine you being coerced into anything’ and ‘least doormat-ish person ever’. The Rake has, similarly, found his concerns to be unfounded. Hurray!

Interestingly, when I came out to my mum, she later put her finger on what clarified for her that it really was about open and honest communication. I told her in person, in the course of an evening that was about some Big Family Talks and a couple of other revelations, so the moment seemed right. After I’d told her, and answered a couple of questions, she asked where The Rake was this evening, and I said ‘he’s on a date, but I’ve asked him to come home later as I’ll need some looking after and cuddles after what we’ve been talking about’. She later said that this, for her, was what really made it clear that it worked, and how it worked.

We’ve both been remarkably lucky in the almost total lack of any negative responses; mind you, perhaps this just goes to show that we both choose our friends well 🙂