Friday, July 5, 2013

Top Ten Questions Poly People Are Sick Of Being Asked

There are a couple of things about me that I don’t talk about as much as I used to, just because they’re not really a part of my day to day lifestyle anymore. They’re still a part of me, they just…well, they don’t come up nearly as often as they used to. One of these things is my queerness, and I’ve talked a little about that here. But not only am I queer, I’m also polyamorous.

This means simply that I prefer non-monogamous relationships. Currently, I’m only involved with Mr. Reluctant Femme, and he’s only involved with me. However, just as not having touched any boobs this week doesn’t make me less queer, our lack of other partners currently doesn’t make us less polyamorous. I saw a call over on Poly Means Many for posts about assumptions, and I thought a fun way to broach this aspect of my life would be to write up two 101 type posts on the subject. Usual disclaimer applies - I can only speak for my own experience with polyamory, and don't want to speak for every poly person, everywhere.

Tomorrow I’ll be answering Ten GOOD Questions About Poly, because it’s something that people are often curious about, and I’m happy to answer interesting, respectful questions.

But today I’ll be going through the Top Ten Questions Poly People Are Sick Of – stupid, assumptive and sometimes outright offensive questions that people in non monogamous relationships get ALL THE TIME and that we really, REALLY wish we could never hear again. These are all questions I've either been asked myself, or been told about by friends, so these are all real things that people have ACTUALLY said. You might be surprised by just how rude some people can be about how you choose to run your relationships - or hey, maybe you won't be surprised at all. So get comfortable while I get into my ranty pants!

I found this on The Mind and Other Confusions

1. Polyamory? That’s the same as Polygamy, right? 

*sigh* No. No, it’s not. Some people don’t mind being called polygamous, and some people prefer it. I, however, really, really don’t like the term and get really annoyed when people treat polyamorous and polygamous like they’re interchangeable. Polygamy is technically defined as "the practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time” - HOWEVER the term has a couple of connotations beyond the literal definition that I’m not comfortable with. Polygamy implies one partner of a certain (cis) gender, and multiple partners of the opposite (cis) gender; one wife and three husbands, one husband and seven wives. While the literal definition isn’t specifically hetrocentric, in practice it’s rarely applied to any other type of sexual relationship. It also suggests everyone is on a relatively equal standing – one wife, two husbands, who are both equal. I’m just not comfortable squishing my relationships into a box that looks so small to me – I like to leave room for different genders, different hierarchies, different arrangements and combinations. Maybe one day I WILL end up with two husbands, or a wife and a husband. But in the meantime, I like to make sure there’s space under the term I’m using for all possible outcomes.

Polygamy is also quite commonly associated with Mormonism, and when used by people outside the Mormon community, it’s not often associated with any positive aspects. You say polygamy, and people immediately think of a crowd of subjugated slave wives being exploited by an all-powerful patriarch to pump out an ever expanding army of brainwashed babies– while I don’t think this is how the majority of Morman poly families actually ARE, it is the first image people think of, and not one I’m comfortable being associated with. Me, I like the term polyamory. It’s nice and loose and squishy around the edges so I can smooth it over whatever situation I find myself in. But as with anything else about another person’s identity, the best advice I can give you is to ASK the person in question, or listen to find out what word they use, and then use that. If you need to ask, a good non-judgemental question is, “So are you and your partner exclusive, or do you see other people?” If they call themselves polygamous, go with that. If they call their style of dating an open relationship, or non-monogamy, go with that. Don’t argue with them that the word they’re using isn’t the word YOU would use – that’s just rude.

 2. “Is it because your partner is bad in bed?” 

I should hope that I don’t have to expand on why this is such an offensive, rude, and ignorant question. But to answer it, I have not yet met anyone who has a non monogamous relationship because their partner was bad in bed. Maybe there are some out there and I just haven’t met them. But I’m going to go ahead and say for the vast majority, the answer to this question is a flat “No.” Perhaps followed by “Go fuck yourself,” depending on how the rest of your day is going. Or if you're feeling witty, "No, my partner is so good I feel guilty keeping them to myself" is a less abrasive option.

I have observed, and been in, situations where people explore poly relationships because they have kinks or preferences they would like to indulge that their current partner can’t offer. Maybe you’re really into being whipped, and your partner just isn’t into it at all. Maybe you’ve got a hankering for some soft smooth lady flesh, and your partner is a hairy, skinny cis man. I think it’s important to differentiate these situations from the idea of being “bad in bed.” Having sexual desires that aren’t 100% compatible, 100% of the time is NOT being “bad” at sex – it’s called human variety. And frankly, the amount of effort that goes into maintaining a poly relationship, you would be SO much better off just dumping or straight up cheating on a partner who was really SO bad in bed as to drive you into someone else’s pants

3. "Why did you get married if you’re just going to cheat on each other?”

One of the key problem with this question is that it assumes cheating and being non monogamous are the same thing, when they really really are not. Cheating, to my mind, is breaking an agreement that you've made with someone else. If you're monogamous, the usual agreement is that you don't have sexual contact with anyone else - if you do, you're cheating. If you're poly, it can get more complicated, but here's a relatively simple example. I was dating someone once, and the only strict, non negotiable agreement we had governing his actions was that I asked him not to sleep with one particular girl, because I didn't trust her and she made me uncomfortable. He went and slept with that girl - ergo, cheated. All the times he went on dates with people I had no problem with? Not cheating. See the difference? 

4.“How do you know you’re not going to fall for someone else and leave your partner for them/How do you know your partner isn’t going to fall for someone else and leave you?” 

This one actually has a very short answer - how does anyone know these things?
You don't know, and you will never know absolutely 100 per cent that your partner won't leave you. It's one of the more painful things about love, poly or monogamous. You just have to take it on faith. Being poly doesn't make your partner any more or less likely to break your heart - it just means there are more chances for it to happen, because there are more partners.

5.“How do you not get jealous/Don’t you get jealous?” 

Asking about jealousy is actually fine with me - it gets a bit tedious because it is THE NUMBER ONE thing people want to talk about, but if people ask nicely I'm happy to talk about. What annoys me is when people assume that poly folk have some sort of magical Anti Jealousy Pill. We don't, I hate to tell you. I've met one or two people who don't experience jealousy at all, and I am in fact, very jealous of them. But for the vast majority of people in non monogamous, open, or polyamorous relationships, jealousy and other icky feelings in the belly can and do happen.

However, most of us feel that the positives we get from being poly outweigh the icky feelings. Jealousy feels gross, but it's the not the worst thing in the world, and sometimes it can actually be quite useful in terms of sorting out your needs and wants. It's not the dealbreaker this question makes it out to be.

This question also seems to assume that monogamous people don't get jealous, and if I've learned anything from Cosmo, it's that this is total baloney.

6.“How can you let your partner sleep with other people?"

I've also heard this one as, "How can your partner let you sleep with other people?" and both ways are just as infuriating. Interestingly, I almost always have women ask me how I can let my male partner date, and almost always men asking me how my male partner can let me date. Make of that what you will.

The thing is, I don't OWN my partner. He's not my puppy. I don't tell him when it's time for walkies and when he has to go to bed. (Well, actually, I DO tell him when to go to bed, but that's cause he's super stubborn and hates going to bed even if he's really tired) His choices and actions are his own, and he can take responsibility for that. I don't LET him sleep with other people. I'm okay with it. He doesn't LET me sleep with other people. I do, and it doesn't bother him. It might seem like a small semantic change of language, but it makes the world of difference to me.

This question stems from the idea that exclusive ownership of your partner's genitals is the be-all and end-all of commitment, which drives me up the WALL. I mean, if you and your partner want to make an arrangement where you do actually own each other's genitals exclusively, then by all means go nuts. There are several websites out there that stock an enormous variety of toys for just that purpose. But since I'm not into cuckolding or chastity belts, let's stop assuming that I want to own Mr. Reluctant Femme's genitals or allow him to own mine. I have access to what's in his pants, sure. But in the end, he retains ownership of his body, just as I retain ownership of mine. This obsession with ownership and exclusive access comes from the idea that a body becomes devalued by the number of people who can see and/or touch it, and the higher that number, the less valuable the body. And I say BALLS to all of that.

7. “Which one do you love most?” 

If you could only have one flavour of ice cream forever, what would you choose? Stupid question, right? That's how this question feels to me. It's apples and oranges - my relationship with him is not my relationship with her, or him, or them. Each relationship is different, and has it's own flavour.

Some people DO have various relationships where they love one partner more than the other - I've seen many situations where there is one solid, untouchable primary partner and a cluster of various lovers, friends, fuckbuddies etc who are important, but not loved in the same way the primary partner is. For myself, I've tried this and have an unfortunate tendency to get too involved, so I like to acknowledge from the outset that's possibly going to happen and leave room for it. But some people manage a strict hierarchy really well, and for those people this question might make sense. But for me? Baffling.

8.“So, do you all fuck each other?”

 Ugh, I wish.

Seriously though, while some people do enjoy group sex, some people don't. This is also true of people in poly relationships. Some people love sleeping in a big puppy pile, some people don't live together and rarely sleep over. Some people in poly relationships aren't actually interested in sexual contact at all. There are as many different ways of having a poly relationship as there are poly people, and this kind of assumption is utterly infuriating.

For myself, despite being in a relationship with two guys for around three years, there was only one occasion we were all in the same bed, and there was NO sexy times, much to my disappointment. One boyfriend went to sleep immediately and started snoring at a deafening level. The other boyfriend lay awake completely rigid and staring fixedly at the ceiling, while also insisting when asked that he was fine. I was stuck in the middle, and did not get a great deal of sleep that night.

This question also totally dismisses the idea that anyone would be poly for the emotional bonding, which pisses me off and also leads me to the next question.

9. “Are you poly because you need A LOT of sex? You must be like, REALLY into sex.” 

Maybe there are people out there living this amazing fantasy live where they have amazing sex with all the people they want all day, every day. If so, I give you all the high fives in the WORLD for your incredible achievement. My experience has been that having more than one partner does NOT consistently guarantee more sex. There were times were I was having crazy amounts of sex, it's true. Wonderful, brilliant times. But there were also times when I was seriously emotionally involved with three other people, spending equal amounts of time with all of them, and only having sex with one of them. I was getting laid maybe twice a week, so at a rate  pretty comparable to a lot of monogamous relationships - only I was doing the emotional work of three at once. Not exactly ideal.

But when it was working well, the emotional support was the most incredible thing I've ever experienced. Having two, even three people to look after you, hold you, fetch you chocolate when your brain is being unkind was absolutely amazing, and utterly irreplaceable. This is why I totally understand asexual people who enjoy polyamorous relationships, something that seems to baffle a lot of people - it's not the sex that is the most precious memory from that point in my life. It will always be the love, and support, and warmth I got from my partners and was able to give them in return.

10.“So when are you going to settle down and commit to one of them?” 

Also known as, "It's just a phase", "Oh, are you STILL doing that?" etc etc etc. I'm sure any queer folk in the audience will know the blood boiling fury that accompanies THIS particular question, and probably some of the trans* folk as well. It just....ugh. I can't even write about this, it still makes me SO ANGRY.

What this question always expressed to me was the idea that polyamory is some sort of game, some sort of frivolous fancy that I'd taken up for the hell of it, to be put down on a whim. Maybe it is for some people, but for me, it was a lot of hard fucking work to create a life that worked the way I was happiest. It was sometimes difficult, and sometimes painful, and sometimes stressful as fuck, and definitely way more effort than anyone would go to just to fuck around. For me, the rewards were worth it. But it's not a game - people get invested, feelings get involved, and you can hurt them so easily if you're not paying attention. It's serious business, just like any serious emotional relationship - only there are more of them. There's nothing frivolous about trying to hold three hearts in your hands at once.



Based on feedback, I have two more things to add to the list.

11. "But if he/she leaves their partner, you would be monogamous, right?"

I LOATHE this question so very very much. It assumes so many really problematic things about me, my partners, and my choices or apparent lack of them.  To add insult to the injury, this question is asked of me FAR more frequently than my male partner - the underlying assumption seems to be that he is some sort of Machiavellian schemer who has forced me into this terrible lifestyle to satisfy his own carnal needs. While I acknowledge there ARE men out there who attempt to (or succeed in) forcing their female partners to accept an open relationship that they're not comfortable with, I don't think this is a Poly Problem per se - I think it's an Asshole Problem, and these people would still be Assholes even if they were monogamous.

The main reason this question drives me up the wall though is that for me, it's so completely and utterly untrue. Let me tell you the story of how I came to polyamory to illustrate my point.
Once, way back in the way back times, I was a little Goth kid frequenting clubs and taking home boys on a weekly basis. One week, I met a very very pretty boy, and we started dating. Eventually, this boy suggested rather hesitantly that maybe, perhaps, if I liked, we could consider seeing other people as well. I thought about it for a little while and then decided that yes, that might be nice. So I started going to clubs and sometimes taking home other boys, and almost immediately found another boy I really really liked. I told him the deal, that I was seeing someone else as well, and he was cool. Happy times for little proto Cassie! Lots of sex and lots of boys and it was all super fun, until the first boy started getting jealous of the second boy. In hindsight, I do wonder how much this had to do with first boy not having found anyone else to see, but at the time I just wanted to make it all work out. Due in -part to first boy's jealousy, but much more because of his speed addiction, I ended up breaking up with first boy. Second boy then assumed that we would naturally be monogamous, and the whole thing had been a crazy experiment. Fast forward to six months later when second boy and I had broken up, and I realised that it had not in fact been some crazy experiment, and that trying to go back to monogamy had made me miserable. And from then on, it's always been me who has insisted on open relationships with my partners. I'm not interested in forcing anyone into something they're not comfortable with - but when I first meet someone, I make it clear this is how I prefer things to be, and they can make their own decisions from there.

12. "Well, *I* could never do that."

This one isn't actually a question, but it is an INCREDIBLY annoying pattern of conversation I've come across again and again. Just like the issue of jealousy, it's not WHAT is said, but HOW it's said that can trigger my annoyance. Telling me that non monogamous relationships aren't for you once is no problem - poly isn't for everyone, and if you're hearing about it for the first time then I absolutely expect you to have some sort of opinion. Let's say, I'm telling you about how I'm poly, and you say, "Gosh, I could never do that!" I would reply jokingly, "Well, lucky I don't want to date you then!" and we can both laugh and have a good time.


If every single time I mention my other partners, or poly in general, you insist on repeating to the exclusion of all other comment "I could never do that" it starts to sound very much like a snotty, judgemental criticism. For example, I say "Gosh, I've been having such a bad run on dates lately, I just keep meeting assholes," and you reply, "Yeah, I could never do that whole thing". I might sigh, and continue, "I don't know what it is, whether it's bad luck or what, but it's starting to really get me down." If you reply "I don't understand how you can do the dating thing. I couldn't do it," I'm going to get annoyed. Do you see the difference between these conversations?

My limit on this sort of conversation is usually three or four times before I WILL snap, "Nobody wants you to ANYWAY so SHUTUP."

...and this is probably why I don't have that many friends ;)

So that's my Top Ten Stupid Questions, and now you've read the answers you can spare any poly people you know the irritation of asking them. Tomorrow, stay tuned for much better, more interesting questions and much fewer rage gifs.


  1. Bonus points for Freaks and Geeks GIF.

    1. *bows* Glad you liked it/recognised it :D

    2. I picked up on that too, definitely a pleasant surprise to see someone else has even heard of the show!

  2. Very interesting post! I never knew there was a technical difference between polygamy and polyamory, but to be fair I've never really given it much thought. Looking forward to the next installment :)

    1. The difference between polygamy and polyamory is small, but significant to me - polyamory covers one husband/three lovers, or six lovers and no husband, etc etc. I just find it a lot more...flexible.

    2. Interestingly, -gamy/-gamous refers to marriage, whereas -amory/-amous refers to love. Whilst Mormons (& some Muslims) have polygamy allowed as part of their religious beliefs, that's not reflected in the law in the US or UK although they are in Saudi Arabia - so assuming we're talking about people in the US, even polyamorous people, if there's a marriage present are mono*gamous* - or they're breaking the law on bigamy. Now that we have legally recognised gay marriages we can have monogamous gay marriages within a polyamorous group, but not polygamous marriages within a polyamorous group.
      Articles on polygamy within Islam & Mormonism often use the word "polygyny" - meaning many women. The counterpart to that, practised in Tibet, is polyandry (often a woman in Tibet would marry 2 brothers - this prevented farms being split between brothers over generations as happened in France, the result of which is usually farms too small to support a family).
      Personally I'd like to see legal recognition for the kind of setup Clarice Willow had in "Caprica" - she had a network marriage, with multiple husbands, multiple wives, all living together & supporting each other like a tribe. Get that recognised & you have full rights for *all* kinds of poly- (and mono-) relationships.

    3. That's an interesting point about married polyamorous people also being monogamous technically - I hadn't thought about it like that before.
      I also didn't know about polyandry in Tibet. That's fascinating and also makes a lot of sense in a country with relatively limited farming land.

      As for legal recognition of multiple marriages...well, it's a nice idea but I think it's a long way off, despite what sci-fi likes to tell us.

  3. My answer to 4 is quite different and sums up how I can Poly. Being a touch romantic and a bit traditional the idea of poly never occurred to my until my partner suggested it. Thinking for a while q4 worried me. Then I realised that I loved her and wasn't going to stop just because I loved someone else. Sure things might come up like moving to another city which makes the three impossible or difficult but the answer to both was the same. I decided to commit to my current partner and only leave her if there was a problem with our relationship not any others I might have. That might mean having to give up other relationships to make this one work sometimes but I made things safe.
    And it's worked for me. I'm married and Poly. My wife always comes first but my other relationships are real and loving. And honest.
    This works for me but I think it's different from many people.
    Having my cake and eating it? Best idea ever. Takes some work but well worth it.

  4. I'm happily mono and I still think some of these questions make silly/offensive assumptions. Especially the genitalia one - I find it completely bizarre that so many people get het up about the sharing of genitals (beyond the icky diseasey considerations, which I think is fair and rational), but not the loss of emotional intimacy/betrayal-secrecy-nondisclosure etc. which almost always precedes it. To me, emotional betrayal is so much worse than any junk-squishing. In fact, I'm 100% cool with disclosed junk-squishing (conceptually, anyway, though that may change if/when it occurs in reality).

    I'm also always confused by declarations that someone could "never" do something, but perhaps I'm more open-minded/un-fundamental attribution error-prone than I realised.

    1. I totally agree with you about emotional betrayal ranking higher than genital squishing - I saw a fascinating documentary about a female porn performer years ago, who was dating a male porn performer. They said some fascinating stuff about their relationship, but the thing that stuck with me was that they both agreed that seeing the other one holding hands with someone behind their back would be more hurtful than watching them fuck someone else.

    2. I read a similar article about a woman in an open marriage, and they had a focus on setting the boundaries they required to make it work. I remember their one main rule was no spooning. They could stay over at other people's, and they could have sex, but spooning with someone else was considered cheating.

    3. Where various people draw their various lines is really fascinating to me - one of the things you have to do to maintain a successful open relationship is really take apart every single of kind of interaction you have with your partner and ask yourself, "Can I share this?". It leads to some really intriguing discoveries about what you value most in a romantic relationship. Often the lines aren't where you thought they would be.

  5. Another thought provoking post.

    I know I'm guilty of asking about the jealousy thing. I really admire people (poly or not) who can get past that, because I sure can't, even in a monogamous relationship. I guess it's just easier to assume there is some magic pill. :P

    1. Heheh, it's alright to ask, it's a matter of how you ask. I'll actually be covering the same question phrased differently in the next post. :)

  6. I disagree with answer number 4. I'd be a lot more worried about a partner leaving me if I were monogamous. Why? Because there is more curiosity about what else is out there. Plus, In my somewhat limited experience, non-monogamy tends to strengthen good relationships.

    Also, for me, I actually enjoy my partners having other people besides myself. As long as I know where I stand with them, and that they do in fact love/like me (depending on the specific relationship) I feel compersion rather than jealousy. Jealousy only comes up when I'm feeling unloved.

    For number 7. I do love my primary most. I love her with my entire being. She always comes first.


    1. I'm hesitant to agree that non-monogamy helps to guard against betrayal - it sounds a little too similar to "poly is better" for my liking. Poly is better for some people, but not all. There's nothing inherently superior or inferior about it, it's all down to how you go about it.

    2. I'm not saying that it does. I'm saying that I, personally would be more worried. Non-monogamy tends to strengthen good relationships because of all the communication required. That's also why it tends to intensify bad ones. I also won't say that it is inherently better or worse, but it does require much more communication. I'm one of the people it works for.

  7. Having been around poly, kink and alt circles for the last several years, it makes me really sad how ignorant and close-minded a lot of people can be.

  8. The funny thing about you being "annoyed" by these questions is that you are doing something to attract them. You're saying something or behaving in some way. My wife and I don't find ourselves talking about our sex life with our friends or anyone else for that matter. Our sex life is between us privately. We "get a room" so to speak. Don't get me wrong I'm not offended by your lifestyle choices or anyones for that matter. What I find interesting is that in our culture everyone is looking to be different and in that search uses a some wounded, victim or "look how special, beautiful and unique I am" or some other ego saturated approach to get people to pay attention to them... then complain about the attention. The reality is people ask these questions to fill the mundane silence with someone else's sideshow when... ultimately they couldn't give less of a shit. They completely forget about your answers only to ask them again later.

    1. Sean, you sound like one of those straight people who wonder why gays have to "flaunt" their orientation without realizing that the photo of your wife on your desk, your wedding ring, and statements like, "I need to leave early because my wife's car is in the shop," flaunt your sexuality pretty bluntly.

      My experience with polyamorous people involve long-term committed relationships involving more than two people, so this doesn't apply as much to people who merely have sex outside of their committed relationship, but there's lots of ways this could come up. You go to work, social, school, etc. events and don't always bring the same partner (or Johnny's mom and both dads show up for parent/teacher night), and people will ask questions. You ask to have three people made signatories for the household checking account, and people will ask questions. Youll make three people party to your medical information or your daughter's school information, and all three have the same phone number, and people will ask questions. You refer to your wife in one sentence and your husband or other wife in the next, and people will ask questions. In other words, you treat your non-traditional relationship with the same respect that others treat their traditional one, and people will ask questions.

      Remember, as with homosexuality, polyamory is about who you LOVE, not who you have sex with, and people talk about the people they love all the time.

  9. Great article. I think there are far more polyamorous people out there than would care to admit it. And even more people who would like to be, but don't have the confidence to take that step. Good luck to you and yours.

  10. this is just a sickness of modern american sexuality!! this is what's wrong with western culture!! they call muslim a bigotry but at the same time practising those such very disgusting things in my life ever which is poly-things (esp. polyamorous). maybe they're possessed by demon or evil sex. i know they are using love as a shield from being called as a sex addicted and a WHORE!!

    shame on you people who living with this lifestyle. at least in muslim religion althou some practising polygyny but it's because not just about to have sex and being whore. let me teach you western people on what muslim really is. in our religion polygyny is allowed with a very strict quotation and condition and not just merely fucking like a whore. you guys are lives together and have extra-marital sex and pregnant mother gives birth which is a product of fornication. how true is that. dont deny it coz i know how western people living with and i am living in usa right now. i am so sick seeing lots of people cheating on their partners(a married partners) so do a couple gf/bf. how sick is that? and you think it's a cool thing? i might say you're such a whore if you going to say yes.. and yes you're fucking whore because you just couldn't commit to one partner while in mean time having so-called love relationship with someone. what an open relationship you have in there western people. i am so sick of you guys. so sick of seeing this filthy thing. you're leading this world into such filthy thing and dont hope it's gonna work cause a GOD will not let this things happen to this ravaged world!! sick of you!! im sick of you!!!

    1. A God will not let this happen?

      Nice blasphemy, bro, way to uphold the first commandment.

  11. I picked up on that too, nice to see other people have even heard of the show!

  12. #4 starts off well enough and then turns completely illogical. The first line (i.e. there are no guarantees) is all that is needed.

    "You just have to take it on faith." Faith should never be used to justify anything. Period.

    "Being poly doesn't make your partner any more or less likely to break your heart - it just means there are more chances for it to happen, because there are more partners."

    You do realize that by definition if there are "more chances for it [breaking your heart] to happen" then it makes an event more likely to happen, right?

    The statement is a complete contradiction.

    A partner doesn't have a set % chance of breaking your heart that stays constant no matter the environment. That % rises and falls based on several factors and prominent ones are opportunity and available temptation.


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