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 will be found at www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Misconceptions and Judgements”.
I thought I’d tackle this month’s PMM topic by relating some of the comments I have personally received as a polyamorous person, and bust some of the myths of those misconceptions or judgements. Whilst most of this is light-hearted, there has been genuine strife behind some of these people’s views, and the times I was unable to change those views, we lost those people as a result. Others are just wanky comments I get on dating sites, but become so common or so insulting that I deleted my profiles in dispair. Sometimes people make comments in the best of intentions, and will openly listen to your response and take on board what you have said in response. Others make comments out of judgemental and prejudiced views and changing their minds with simple information can be nigh on impossible.
1. Multiple parters = free for all, right?
Actually, no. Playing with, dating or sleeping with me does not and will not in any circumstances guarantee or oblige any of my other partners or metamours to get involved with you. Not only is that a hideously ugly thing to do (dating someone in order to get close to another), it completely misunderstands polyamory. Every relationship and person in the circle is separate from each other until they decide otherwise. There’s no obligation or pressure on anyone to add another into anything existing, or start something new with a new person in the group. If that happens: cool, if not, suck it up, sunshine.
2. Dating someone in a poly circle or family = group sex
Similar to number one, only instead of dude x wanting to get to shag me, my girlfriend and my partner, person z wants to know if they date me, can we all fuck together? I guess there’s no harm in asking, but possibly not in a preliminary ‘hi’ message on a dating site. Kind of works against you at that stage, because I’ll assume you’re only interested in sex and numbers, and not me as a person. If I end up dating someone and not only are we getting along swimmingly but one or more of my other partners fancies a group session, then at that stage we can talk about and and do it if it all feels right. But no assuming it’s going to happen, m’kay? Dating me is not a golden ticket to orgies.
3. That I’m shagging all my partners (or everyone in the room)
This one was from my sister, bless her cotton socks. I think she meant it in the best of intentions; she only wanted to know which of the people at the party I was actually fucking, so she could be introduced to them as ‘important people’. Only thing is, I have lots of important people in my life, and I definitely don’t fuck them all. I don’t even shag all of my partners; many of my connections are kink focussed, not fuck focussed. I love them, and count them as important to me. Not all significant relationships are formed around genital contact.
4. That I want to fuck everyone in the room
Sometimes it seems that poly folk can come across as somewhat predatory and constantly ‘on the lookout’. Well, I can approach that a number of ways. First, human beings are constantly on the lookout. Yes, you two over there, in love and necking all the time. You both look at that hot number who just walked down the road. You, unhappily married person, you look too. Not forgetting you, single person over there. Lots of people look, and that’s absolutely fine. Obviously I’d argue that’s because lots of us want to be with more than one person but a number of constraints stop it happening. Poly folk are just open that not only can they look, they could approach, and that can make it seem a little intimidating.
Second, there’s also a tiny feeling of jealousy going on there. Lots of poly folks have more than one partner already, so looking out for more is just greediness, right? Well actually no, because anyone who is ok dating me (bar mono folks happy to date polys) is potentially up for dating others too. I’m happy to share. Third, just because I am polyamorous, doesn’t mean I am constantly actively seeking partners. I find it works the other way round, I look and can’t find people, I stop looking and meet someone in an unlikely place or setting. Finally, I may be polyamorous, queer and switchy, but I still don’t want to fuck absolutely everybody. I do have preferences, yanno.
5. That I have more sex than everyone else
A common one, and easily dealt with. Unless you engage in group sex a lot (which I don’t), you see your partners individually, at least for sexytimes. Which means if you are seeing partner z on tuesday, you can’t be fucking partner b. As there are only seven days in a week, we’ll assume you probably get the same amount of sex as everyone else in a relationship, unless you possess some kind of wormhole device or a time machine. The difference is you do it with different people.
6. That I’m flirting with someone if I talk to them
Related to number 4, and can cause major issues if the people you hang out make this assumption. Not to mono-bash, but there is a higher prevalence of possessive/jealous types in monogamous relationships, due to the nature of the beast. So when I’m chatting animatedly to your partner about the intricacies of the decolonisation of empires, try not to assume it’s because I want to fuck them. Similarly, when I’m talking to your girlfriend about Hannibal, don’t assume I want us to have a threesome. Most of the time, I’m just geeking out or sharing mutual spaff-material with someone.
7. Poly is just screwing around /it’s just about the sex
Wrong, in a number of ways. First, the clue is in the name: it’s polyamory not polyfuckery. Not to say that sex doesn’t happen, but that’s kind of accepted in adult relationships. The primary difference between polyamory and say, open relationships or swinging is the focus on connections between people, love, feelings rather than on sex and sexual activity. Second, most poly folks I know screw around a hell of a lot less, and a hell of a lot safer than the majority of monogamous folk. We might be dating three people at once, but we’ve usually adopted some level of safer sex, and we probably know the people we’re fucking. It’s important to say that I have no issue with casual sex; do as you will with consenting adults, but for the love of the gods, please use safer sex methods!
8. Marriage is pointless if you’re poly
I’ve talked before about the price of poly and how when EGB and I got married, one long-standing friend of EGB’s in particular was extremely judgemental about our decision to get married if we were to continue, as he put it ‘messing around’. To many people, polyamorous marriages are a sham because they are not exclusive.
It’s hilariously ironic that the majority of people who have criticised my polyamorous marriage have been from monogamous people who have cheated. I’m criticised for being open about having multiple partners (ethically) whereas they consider themselves moral and proper for doing it on the sly. Which relationship is more valid or true, I could ask. I could talk at length here of my justification for marriage within polyamory, but its almost irrelevant. It’s more important to do what works for you and makes you happiest. I know lots of poly folks would happily do away with marriage altogether, whilst others would love more marriage options.
I subscribe to relationship hierarchy; it feels right and works for me, and I’ve never met anyone who made me want to change that (but I don’t say it never would). In the last ten years EGB is the only person I’ve ever wanted to cohabit with, consider having children with, and be with for the rest of my life. I love him an insane amount, and in a way I’ve never felt about anyone else. Sure you can do all those things outside of marriage, and I don’t hold particular sanctity of marriage given that I am atheist. Being a spouse does afford you recognition and rights in the monogamy-dominated world, and I, rather hypocritically, want them for myself. My marriage isn’t purely down to the benefits I get from the outside world, marriage reinforces my primary status and essentially carves out a little space for me that no one else can have (and likewise for EGB). I’d argue that my marriage is stronger because of our openness, and that neither myself nor my spouse should never need to cheat, or leave the other for a new partner because we are forced to ‘pick one’.
The point I’m trying to make here (as we tried to tell our former friend) was that we’re married because we want to be, because we love each other, and that should justify it just as much as any monogamous couple who want to get married. Just like I date all genders because I want to, wear stompy boots because they feel like ‘me’, or listen to Rammstein because I want to, I got married because I wanted to. End of story.
9. That jealousy is a problem
Possibly the most common and well-meaning comment: ‘I couldn’t do it, I’d get too jealous’. Well… jealousy and envy happens, but you either let it rule you or you don’t. In a society where relationships run on the survival of the fittest (read: most vigilant) model, it’s easy to see why jealousy and fear of loss is a problem. But turn it on it’s head: my partners have the ability to walk away from me whenever they want to. Their choice to stay in a relationship with me, each and every day, tells me something. It tells me that despite the ability to walk away, despite their ability to have other people, they choose to have me in their lives. If you don’t fear someone leaving you (not that you should become complacent, good relationships require ongoing investment), then other people aren’t a threat. Not that all of this avoids jealousy entirely, but there are ways and methods of dealing with jealousy and envy, and thus far, in over three years of being polyamorous, I’ve yet to hit a jealousy issue that couldn’t be overcome with work.
10. I’m more likely to have an STI
After one douchebag comment too many about how poly folks are STI ridden, I wrote this post about safer sex. Every poly person I know well or have talked to consider safer sex methods as part of their poly practice. Most of them have quite stringent rules, which vary to fit their personal circumstances, risk taking levels and relationship types. Poly folks are some of the most careful and most importantly risk aware people around. I personally feel more likely to catch an STI from unprotected sex with a serial monogamist than from a poly person.
So there are my personal top ten misconceptions and judgements about polyamory: busted. I hope it’s been a useful insight into how poly can ‘really’ work, and perhaps how to avoid asking silly questions of people or making judgemental comments without realising.