Sometimes being polyamorous means your days are filled with joy, your heart bursting at the seams with love and happiness, and walking round like a lovestruck teenager with a Cheshire Cat-like grin pasted on your face. Sometimes, being polyamorous hurts. Not just because sometimes relationships have troubles or even end, but because of the way people react to your lifestyle choice. Up to now I’ve not experienced many major fall outs because I am poly, but in the last couple of weeks, things have errupted in a serious fashion.
When I first came out with my husband as being polyamorous, we were considerate of our friends and families, gave them space to deal with it, answered any questions they wanted to ask and calmly dealt with any bad reactions. But that was 18 months ago, and to be frank, my patience is running a bit thin. My choices are no longer new, or shocking, and my friends and family should be able to see how gloriously happy I am because of it. But they don’t. They refuse to discuss, accept or understand the situation. Instead they make snide comments about my “complicated life”. I’ve had family discussions held behind my back about my lifestyle, and various insults thrown about my sexuality, kink and my integrity – all because I am polyamorous.
I may think polyamory is the best thing since sliced bread, but I hardly go shouting it to the rooftops. I’m out to my family about who I am, kinky, poly, pansexual. Not because I rub their noses in my sex life, but because I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in what I am, and I refuse to be closeted because of other people’s prejudice. Having been outed as kinky by a vengeful ex many years ago, I thought this wouldn’t be too shocking by comparison. My family and friends had to know I was pansexual as well as poly, because I had started a relationship with a woman, and I wanted them to know, and meet her, and have her be a part of my life just like my husband is. So whilst I don’t go round trying to convert everyone, I do actively talk about my partners, in an attempt to make it all seem as normal as possible, so in time, my friends and family will too. Sadly any reference to other partners is met with silence, and a new topic is quickly brought up. After all this time, I realise they actually aren’t even accepting of the fact that the situation exists, let alone being accepting of the relationships themselves. To them, if it isn’t discussed, it isn’t happening, and so they manage to close themselves off from that part of my life by denying its very existence.
One of the downsides to being poly is that I can’t share the things I normally would with the people closest to me: my family and my friends. I can’t ring my monogamous friend to discuss a relationship problem, or talk to my Mum about falling in love with my boyfriend. In some ways, being polyamorous can be incredibly isolating outside of the small poly community, because no one wants to hear about it. Compare for example a situation most of us have been in: our close friend starts dating someone, and they turn out to be horrible. But our friend is in love, and can’t seem to walk away from this bad relationship, however much they are made to hurt, and however many times as a friend we advise them truthfully when asked that we think they should. As much as this situation can be tiresome; we never run out of patience with our friend to their face. We continue to be a suppportive friend, even when they act against what we think is the “best thing for them”. Contrast that with being polyamorous: if I have relationship issues, I can’t talk to my friends or family, because if I raise the issue I get the terse reply “what did you expect?”, simply because I am polyamorous. That simple fact has transformed endless sympathy for the monogamous person into absolutely none for me as a poly person. They see it that I’ve caused this myself because I chose to have multiple relationships, and therefore because these additional relationships are “unnecessary”, they have no sympathy or time for me. Anyone see the hypocrisy here?
As much as this hurts when you can’t share your happiness, the times it hurts most is when you are in pain. When I broke up with my first polyamorous relationship, I was heartbroken. I did exactly what a monogamous person does, I cried, I grieved, I got angry and I pined. The difference was that not only could I not talk to the people I normally would, I did not have their support. I had no offers of girly nights in or out to “get over it”, no shoulders to cry on. Beyond that, as a poly person with other relationships, I felt unable to talk to my husband about it. I try hard not to let relationships spill over into other relationships that I had to deal with the whole thing on my own, and it was incredibly difficult, and made me question whether I could do this poly thing at all. I’m very lucky now that I have a support network with my poly extended family, and the larger poly-kinky commuity for advice, support and friendship.
The cost of being polyamorous doesn’t end there. In the last few weeks, I’ve lost two very old friends because they couldn’t deal with my lifestyle. A 23 year friendship in one case, vanished off Facebook and my life, simply because he and his wife have decided their recent conversion to evangelical Christianity means they cannot be friends with someone who is married and sleeps with a) women and b) other people than my husband. Initially outraged by their prejudice and un-Christ-like behaviour, it quickly turned into hurt, upset and tears. Frustration at why people find this so hard to deal with, and feeling powerless to do anything that would help, but remain true to myself. Another 15 year old friendship followed suit, when apparently my friend, a former escort, had decided now she was a respectable married woman with a child, she didn’t want anything to do with “our kind”, or having us anywhere near her child. Rage. Tears. Frustration.
Since being out about poly I have lost friends, family and had countless heated discussions, disagreements and arguments with others. People have cold-shouldered me, unfriended me on Facebook, or excluded me from social gatherings. Why? Because I love more than one person at the same time. Parts of me rage at this hypocrisy – society is filled with cheaters and broken relationships and divorce, simply because they follow the monogamous relationship template. I chose choice. I chose living how I want, ethically, consensually, and for that I am reviled. I am rejected. I am despised. Parts of me are stricken with grief at what I have lost, friends, family, loved ones, old friends, good times past and future. Hurt at the reaction to what I consider something perfectly acceptable given the way it is carried out, and not comprehending the venom with which people react to it. I am treated like a cheating wife, incapable of raising children, a slut, a disease ridden whore, a nymphomaniac, an attention seeker, a narcissist. The other part of me refuses to give in, refuses to be brow-beaten by the narrow minded. Reminds me that these people I have lost are not worthy of my friendship and love if they chose to be so closed-minded and judgemental of how I want to live my life. Reminds me that life is for living, how I want to, within my own ethical boundaries and agreed norms, not those of a patriarchal, monotheistic, conservative society. I remember those who have previously faced such opposition for their choice of lifestyle, and how eventually, by being true, they gained some level of acceptance. I remember that this is the price I pay for the life I live: for loving more, and being loved in return.
There are two choices: to gain acceptance by conforming to a monogamous lifestyle – either hiding my other loves, or by not engaging in them at all. The second is to carry on regardless, stay true to myself and fight for acceptance. That may mean my friends will desert me, my family will revile me. It is a heavy cost … I pay it gladly.