Happy Polydays!

Forgive me for the play on words. It couldn’t be helped. ‘Tis the season!

It’s a sentimental time. The observation of traditions, time off work, exchanging of gifts, sharing food and space, and a connection to something larger than ourselves – whether that be God, or family, or love, or stringing more than two days together without having to go to work. All reverence is valid.

Thanksgiving is happening in a few days in the U.S., and a sizeable list of religious holidays fill the calendar between that and New Years. Many of us choose to spend this time with relatives, but a growing number of us prioritize chosen family as well – whether that means including friends who are far from family in our family’s celebrations, or hosting a gathering where all are welcome. But this can pose challenges for those in non-monogamous relationships when it feels desirable to include everyone who’s important to you, but logistics or secrets or judgements mean the holidays fall short of a Polycule Postcard Wonderland.

I’m branching out and attending Thanksgiving at my boyfriend’s home that he shares with his wife (my dear friend) this year. She’s having me over the day prior to help cook and prepare, which goes a long way towards making me feel like I belong. Most of my kids are coming, and I’ll be meeting some of their family members as The Girlfriend for the first time. Needless to say, I have all the feels.

Love may not be finite, but time certainly is – and while concessions and allocations seem to flow pretty smoothly in general when you get the hang of it, premium time like holidays has the potential to stir up some hurt feelings and leave at least a couple people in a less-than-ideal position.

It can feel patently unfair when you know your grandparents would accept your orphan co-worker at the dinner table before they’d accept your second husband. Or you’re torn between attending your girlfriend’s holiday dinner and your in-laws’ as they happen to be at the exact same time. Or none of your partners reached out to include you in their planned gatherings.

I have some suggestions, of course, because what would be the point of a sad blog that ended there? I want us all to look out for each other! So, here is a very short list of things to consider, discuss, and/or implement:

  • Take stock of what’s most important to each individual, and speak your truth to that end: if you have this conversation with each person, you’ll find that what they truly value makes it possible to cover a lot of bases. Perhaps you have a partner who really wants to spend a special evening with just you opening presents, and another who’s got their heart set on a traditional Christmas morning. For some, specific dates might have significance while for others “something in the ballpark” works fine. In most cases, there’s room for everyone to find happiness. Don’t assume; have the conversation. If no one’s initiating it, do it yourself.
  • Let go of what you’ve always done: the idea that you and your longest-term partner need to always spend Christmas eve with one set of parents and Christmas day with the other doesn’t leave a lot of room for the celebrations likely happening on the same days for other partners who are important to you. Be open to doing things differently. If your holidays are non-negotiable, they might not be in the spirit of the holiday itself. Try alternating years, scheduling at different times of day, or hosting everyone yourselves.
  • Advocate for the people you love, including yourself: while many of us have families who are aware of our multiple relationships, they may not value all of them in the same way we do. Just as we’ve had to unlearn some of what society has fed us in terms of mononormativity, we need to share with others who don’t have the same incentives to change. It is important to be active and intentional in reinforcing the value of our bonds with those who might devalue them out of hand. And if your family doesn’t know? Take the time to listen to partners who are affected by that and examine what you’re gaining in exchange for that experience.
  • Build new traditions with supportive people: as simple as a day to make lefse with the whole polycule, or a Hanukkah sledding excursion, or a themed ornament exchange. Some years we gather up friends to see Christmas lights – some years it’s cookie baking and board games. Surround yourself with those who value the way you live and build on that happiness.

To me, the most important thing is sharing the moments I cherish with the people I love the most. I have attachments to specific dates, but I’m starting to discover that’s not always what I value most; I am perfectly okay with actual dates sometimes and “ballpark” for the rest. Realizing that was huge for me! Often times these moments I cherish feel as though they’re supposed to follow a script. When I remember where that script came from, I find it easier to deviate from.

And there is one last thing I learned a long time ago I find to be of particular importance around the holidays: don’t participate in things that don’t make you happy. If your heart hurts when it should be otherwise, do something else. I have never regretted wanting better for myself and acting on it.

Happy Holidays, poly peeps! I hope they are amazing and fun and filled with lots of love.

When to Disclose

When do I tell someone I’m interested in that I’m polyamorous?

I see this question posed a lot in online forums when the topic of dating is up for discussion. My answer is very simple: first thing.

I’m on one or two online dating sites, and my status as a non-monogamous person is very clearly referenced not only in the body of my profile, but also in any filtering criteria I’m allowed. When someone new expresses interest in me and I see potential there, my first message always includes a query regarding their awareness of me being polyamorous and if so, if they know what that means.

From what I’ve observed in the non-monogamous community I have access to, there are a large number of people who defer disclosing this information about themselves until after they’ve met a potential partner in person, claiming that being up front about being non-monogamous scares away too many people.

Well . . . sucks for them, but guess what? That’s not ethical.

As much as I would love to live in a society in which monoamory, polyamory, and the 537 shades of “open” in between were each as normalized as the other, I do not. I don’t owe anyone my measurements or my GPA or my profession or my star sign, but I do owe them the courtesy of not wasting their time and possible emotional investment in something that’s never going to be on the table for them: namely, a relationship with someone who will never be limited by anyone else in the number of romantic partners she has.

I think back to when my boyfriend and I were first chatting. I met him in person without his wife and he was very forthcoming about being married. That evening we struck up a non-stop conversation online that continued for weeks. To be quite honest, I started to fall for him immediately – and if he had been of the mind that disclosing his relationship status or polyamorous nature to me was going to ruin his chances, and I were someone for whom monogamy was the only option, I could have been hurt. Emotional investment happens on a different timeline for everyone, and if we can’t respect that, we have no business being out there accepting these interactions.

But it’s really more awful than just that . . .

If you say you’re inclined to wait until someone is invested in you to disclose what is in most cases a deal breaker in our society, then what you’re really saying is that you see emotional manipulation as a valid tool in your relationships. Newsflash: That makes you a bad person, and a terrible partner.

The moment you know you’re interested in pursuing a connection with someone, you are bound by ethics to disclose your non-monogamy to the object of your affection. I’m not going to get into when you should be telling your other partners about this new person – we all have different agreements there, and they may even vary from one partner to the next – but I am unwavering on this edict: You cannot claim to practice ethical non-monogamy and enter into an exchange with the intent to deceive in order to secure another person’s connection to you. The two are mutually exclusive.

That’s all I have to say about that.

 

Desperately Seeking Normal

One of the reasons I write this blog is to contribute in whatever small way I can to the normalization of polyamory. I want the way I love to not be weird to people. It feels normal to me, but at times I’m struck by how my treatment of it as normal is seen as aggressive by others.

If I talk about my girlfriend and my boyfriend, I’m “talking about poly” when really, I’m just talking about relationships . . . as you do. My ups and downs just look a little different sometimes.

If I use words that are specific to polyamory, I’m “talking about poly” when really I’m using words that make the most sense in my life. People “talk about mono” all day all night, but it’s not notable because that’s all anyone sees unless someone like me makes a point of being visible.

Being visible is how shit gets normalized.

I get that when something outside the scope of normal gets brought up over and over again it can feel like saturation or promotion. But what are my options? Do I pretend that I have only one partner? Do I pretend we’re monoamorous? Of course not.

No one needs me to pretend to be anyone other than myself because nothing I’m doing in my relationships affects anyone who isn’t in them, regardless of whether or not they think it does.

So why is normalizing polyamory important?

Because anytime people are allowed to be themselves, they flourish.

You cannot tell I’m polyamorous to look at me. The assumption is that I’m not. That is how our society views relationships and anything outside of that is taboo or unethical. I mean, there are plenty of unethical relationships happening in and outside of monoamory, but poly is not inherently so. It’s not even mostly so.

I have encountered more people claiming to be mono and lying about it than I have encountered those who are poly. Mono relationships don’t have a monopoly on ethics, by any stretch. In fact, I believe that if poly were more acceptable in mainstream society, we would see far more ethical behavior with stigma eroded in favor of honesty.

But there is no path to that without normalization.

And there is no path to normalization without visibility.

And there is no visibility without talking about it . . . so you will have to forgive me for insisting on being visible. If you don’t see me for who I am and give me an opportunity to show you I’m perfectly normal, ethical, happy, and healthy, then I won’t be able to hope that someday I won’t have to be a secret in certain situations.

Secrets and Security

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that secrets are almost always colored with pain.

When people feel some level of insecurity in their own relationships, that feeling is intensified by witnessing relationships that don’t fit their idea of what’s normal and safe. Because if I’m doing something that looks scary, (say . . . oh, I don’t know . . . loving more than one person in a romantic way), then it’s possible their partner might want to do that too – and Holy Hannah, let’s just make sure that’s not a thing right now because OMG too scary!

The more secure someone is, the less they care how I conduct my heart-business.

My polyamorous experiences have included plenty of secrets. I’ve never kept partners unknown to each other, but I’ve been kept as an unknown partner – sometimes without my knowledge or consent. I’ve had to pretend I was not involved with people I loved in certain circles – both to protect the lies of my partners who were being dishonest (I no longer put myself in these situations), and more recently to protect the relationships my partners have with family and friends who do not know they are poly.

The latter is what I want to write about; I do not condone the former.

I am “out” as poly in most areas. This means I don’t hide my relationship structure on social media, in public, or with friends and family – the only place I stay relatively quiet is at work. But I am lucky: I am not in danger of losing any portion of my support network by being myself and that’s not the case for everyone. Not by a long shot.

In one of my relationships, there are times I need to appear less-than-girlfriend. There are family members, friends, and professional contacts who are not in the know, and in many cases that’s a secret that needs to be maintained out of security – both financial and emotional.

And I’m not gonna lie here: that’s hard.

As someone who freight-trains through life leaving haters in her wake, I’m not used to having to show up as anyone but myself. I’m torn at times – I want to be supportive and attend social gatherings, but I struggle so much with my feeeeeeeelings when my role in a loved one’s life needs to be kept under wraps.

So look – I’m a wuss about some stuff. This is one of those things!

I know I am valued and loved and very important. And I know, without a doubt, that it’s not about me. But there’s a nasty little voice in my head that likes to play with my emotions – even when I work so hard to remind myself to keep my perspective and focus on what I know to be true.

I’m going to share with you the awful things my inner emotional jerk-face comes up with in case any of you experience the same things – because I think they can be overcome, and I think it’s important to work on them instead of burying them.

A list of things my Imaginary Horrible tells me:

  • You will never be more important than the insecurity of others
  • Imagine a future where you hide in plain sight for the rest of your life
  • Oh, look at them showing affection to their other partner and not you
  • You would never ask someone else to pretend like this
  • This is a way to keep you “secondary” and prevent closeness

Lovely, aren’t they?

And so, after experiencing the heartache of that rigamarole on a regular basis, I let my poly pod know I would no longer put myself in situations that required me to pretend to be just a friend.

But that sucks, too – yeah?

On one hand, I’m trying to keep myself safe with an emotional boundary – I can’t lie, so I don’t want to put myself in situations that feel like lying or might require me to lie.

On the other, I want to celebrate birthdays and holidays and attend sporting events to cheer people on when they play! I want to see major accomplishments recognized and meet families and be a good friend!

We’re closing in on birthday, holiday, and sports season. I’m going to be invited to go places where I can’t reveal my actual status in the lives of people I care about. But I can take comfort in the fact that none of us are particularly pleased with that necessity, and that over time we’ve made some progress with being more visible. I can also adjust my self-talk.

I’m realizing that part of my poly is going to be learning how to switch gears as a way to love my partners.

Here’s how I plan to approach that:

  • Negotiate each situation beforehand as far as expectations go – can I ride to and from with my partner? Can I sit next to them? How can I answer personal questions without lying?
  • Share my feelings instead of locking them down – what are my worries beforehand and how did that go in the end?
  • Ask for understanding if I need to bail, and have a plan in place to facilitate that if need be. And also, to be gentle with myself when that happens.
  • Actively remind myself why I’m there – to be a good friend!
  • Bring another partner for support, if possible and appropriate – using people is never okay, but sometimes “the more, the merrier” is super effing true

For me, being a good partner means doing some extra work at times. I refuse to get down on myself for not being perfect at poly or feelings or anything, really. What I strive to do is find the greatest amount of happiness in any situation and the fact of the matter is, I’m happier with my people than without, no matter what that looks like!