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?"
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?”
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.
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.
BONUS CONTENT!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.