Polyamory Isn’t What You Think It Is

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[IMAGE] Author is an adult woman, lovingly hugging two men.
[CAPTION] There’s no one right way to be polyamorous, but it’s often misunderstood.
[CAPTION] The only rule is that it’s open, honest, and full of communication.
[CAPTION] People misassociate us with those extremist polygamous cults that are abusive, and one-sided.

[IMAGE] An old man with a beard surrounded by women with babies.
[OLD MAN] You all belong to me.
[CAPTION] Polygamy and polyamory are different things.

[IMAGE] Author is in a restaurant with one of the men she in a relationship with. There are hearts in the air.
[CAPTION] We don’t see love as a possessive thing.

[IMAGE] Same scene as previous panel, but they are now having a happy conversation.
[AUTHOR] How’s your other partner?
[MAN] Great, she says hi. How’s yours?
[AUTHOR] He says hello too.

[IMAGE] A man passes by the table, and looks at the MAN and the Author quizzically at first, then looks angry.
[PASSER BY] Are you kidding me?

[IMAGE] Author looks up at the Passer By.
[Author] I’m sorry, who…

[IMAGE] The Passer By looks angry, leans into the table.
[PASSER BY] You were here yesterday with my friend! WTF?
[PASSER BY] How long have you been screwing around behind his back?

[IMAGE] The Passer By is waving his arms in the air, making a scene, lecturing the two at the table. Author and her partner are holding their head in embarrassment.
[CAPTION] Do we out ourselves as poly?
[CAPTION] But then we’d also out his friend too…
[CAPTION] Or let everyone think we’re cheating?

[IMAGE] A scumbag looking guy with gaudy sunglasses and huge rings is making excuses
[CAPTION] It doesn’t help that so many people use “poly” as an excuse to cheat.
[SCUMBAG] Oh, I’m “poly”. I can’t help but cheat!

[IMAGE] Author and her partner are hugging in the street.
[CAPTION] That’s not being poly.
[CAPTION] I love all my partners, and their other partners know about me.

[IMAGE] Author is walking back home, when her phone rings.
[CAPTION] No one owns anyone, everyone knows, and we’re in equal, open relationships.

[IMAGE] Author is looking down at her phone. She has two texts from two different people. One of them says “Love you!” and the other one says “Goodnight sweetie!”
[CAPTION] Being poly is liberating for me. It just feels like natural.

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I grew up in a world of couples. As a young girl, all my friends talked about how they wanted to find the perfect boyfriend. What he’d look like, dress like, and do for a living. I did too.

When I started having romantic and sexual experiences, gender stopped being so relevant to me. I liked making genuine connections, to cool people. I was very lucky that my friends were all pretty accepting that sometimes I dated girls, sometimes I dated boys, and sometimes I dated people outside the binary.

They weren’t so accepting when I wanted to date more than one person. I now identify (among other things) as polyamorous.

People ask me how it works. Don’t I get jealous? Aren’t I afraid they’ll find someone better? They get confused when I refer to “my other partner”. Sometimes people give us dirty looks in public when I hold their hands.

So here’s how it works: There’s no one right way to be polyamorous. The only ground rule is that polyamory is supposed to be open, honest, and full of communication. When you’re polyamorous, you don’t see love as a possessive thing. It’s about being free to love different people in different ways. There are rough spots that arise (scheduling dates around everyone’s work, family, and social life can be really tricky), but everyone learns pretty quickly how to communicate openly and honestly about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling.

But people think our connections aren’t real and spend a LOT of time trying to invalidate our relationships, shame us, and trying to convince us to conform to their standards of what a relationship means. This forces us into positions where we have to choose – who do I bring to family dinner/how many partners can I bring to my work party? I’ve been insulted in restaurants for holding hands with two people. Or I’ll go on a date and people who know one partner throw a fit when they see me with someone else and start chewing me out (sometimes loudly in public) for being a cheater.

For example, I’ve been approached by friends of a partner who isn’t out as poly, swearing at me.

“Are you kidding me?”
“I’m sorry, what-”
“You were literally here two nights ago with my friend. What the fuck? How long have you been screwing around behind his back?”

There’s not really an opportunity to defend myself. I either out him as poly to his friend (and myself in a public setting) or let everyone think I’m cheating. It means I feel like I have to go to a different part of the city for my next date, or just never have a date in public.

Or even just walking around with a partner holding either hand and getting “slut” yelled at me, or “freaks” at all of us. It’s hard to face that, and feel safe holding hands in public.

On top of all that, being a polyamorous woman brings extra challenges: polyamory is really heavily associated in folks’ minds with either extreme, abusive, one-sided polygamy, or dangerous (even gluttonous) female desire – that I’m playing a bunch of men and just in it for sex. My male partners don’t get that as much.

The world isn’t set up for poly because people are so focused on monogamy as an end goal and people seem genuinely threatened by polyamory. Good luck with marriage law, finding couples counselling that takes polycules, custody law, co-parenting and legal guardianship.

It doesn’t help that too many monogamously-oriented people say they’re poly when they’re in a monogamous relationship – i.e. use the term to explain away their cheating. What makes poly different from cheating is that it is all above board, but a lot of people who are only interested in an affair thinking that using the word “poly” makes it ok.  You start talking about poly and they don’t actually know anything besides “you can sleep with multiple people”. I’ll start asking if their partner knows about me, and they suddenly clam up and tell me that they have to be discreet because their partner would be devastated. That’s cheating. You may be polyamorous in your affections, but poly relationships and cheating aren’t the same.  And treating them like they are makes it harder for those of us with healthy polyamorous relationships.

I love my partners. I adore most of their partners, and even the ones I’m not close with are friendly and excellent communicators. My relationships have never been healthier or happier. Different people require different dynamics, levels of affection and quality time. It’s a balancing act, but my life has never felt so balanced overall.

For me, being poly is liberating. It means that when my heart feels like it’s going to burst with affection for one person, and I start getting butterflies for another I don’t have to squash those butterflies. I can embrace them. I can meet amazing people and connect with them in ways that weren’t available to me when I was practicing monogamy. It means I’ve experienced love, and other types of affection in so many different ways and learned so much more about the way I give and receive love in the process. It means that when I’m sick, there’s always someone to bring me soup; when I’m sad there’s a network of people to lift me up; and when I’m happy I can share my joy with a lovely group of wonderful people. Most of all, poly just feels like being me in how easy and natural it feels.

This week’s comic was illustrated by Julia Naves.

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1 response to “Polyamory Isn’t What You Think It Is”

  1. Maiko says: |
    February 20, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    Thank you for a refreshing insight on the topic. I find that some negativity towards polyamorism boils down to confusing polyamory with polygamy. There’s obvious potential for juridical complications in web-like marital contracts and regarding children’s rights. It’s just peculiar how these problems are not seen as a much as a part of the monogamy norm than as a value polyamory people choose to selfishly ignore.

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