Polyamorous people are usually faced with many questions when they “come out” to their friends and family. This is not surprising, and should generally be expected by the polyamorous folks who have to face this situation several times over. If you know any polyamorous people, or just like to keep your foot out of your mouth if you meet some, here are 10 situations you may wish to avoid!
10. Speak only to their first partner as if they are the “real one”.
This is not only irritating as a polyamorous person, but is often a hallmark of those who either do not believe polyamory is a real thing, those who believe it is wrong and those who wish to try and disrupt the polyamorous relationship. This is not the same as speaking mostly to one partner because you have known them the longest – that is understandable. This is specifically for those meeting a poly family or group for the first time. We attempt to treat each other as equals – please do the same.
9. Use the terms polygamous and polyamorous interchangably.
Polygamy (specifically in North America) points to individuals who may have more than one partner because of their religous leanings. This often includes a power imbalance, which is something that polyamorous people try to avoid. In certain situations polygamy involves choice, but many times it does not. Polyamory always involves choice, as there are no religious restrictions or societal framework to follow. Polyamorous relationships come in many different shapes and sizes because of the agreements made my the participants.
8. Ask: “Who is your favourite?”
This question follows the same emotional path as when you ask a parent who their favourite child is. Usually people do not wish to answer this question because they can recognize individuals as whole people that contribute to their lives in many facets. One may be your favourite to watch a movie with, another may be your favourite cook, and still another your favourite to talk to about political causes. All people bring something different to a relationship, so this is an unfair question when dealing with multiple people.
7. Tell them how you wish you were poly.
This feel very similar to when someone tells you they wish they were gay (as I have experienced both). My answer in both cases is “Then try it.” I have yet to have someone who wished they were poly or gay report that they have followed these expressed desires. I have internalized this in the past as people with good intentions that do not really understand how devaluing these statements are. Being gay or poly means you have gone against many established norms – which takes both strength and determination. It is not the same as wishing you had bought black jeans instead of blue.
6. Ask “How does the sex work?”
How would you feel if you were asked about the specifics of your own sex life? Would you want that to be on the table for others to judge? I am a fairly open book when it comes to these discussions; however, asking how my sex life operates does not just involve me. Maybe my partners would be embarrassed to know I’ve been spreading this information around. Try not to put your poly friends in this position.
5. Let them know what your religious text or figurehead has to say about the matter.
If I want to know what your religion thinks about my choices, I’ll ask. If you want to prosthelytize, you may wish to ask if someone is interested rather than treat my life as the fertile ground for you to plant seeds. For myself, my choices are my own. I am 100% capable of finding out what various religions think and feel about my choices (that is, those religions that do not make it their BUSINESS to already have forced it down my throat).
4. Assume they are recruiting, or are trying to build a bigger family.
There are poly groups that welcome new members in. There are closed groups that are good, or are working on their relationship and do not need further distraction. In any case, do not assume that they want to bring you in just because you are friends. Friends can become lovers, but only if all parts are on the same page. Trying to insert yourself into a poly relationship could mean you lose your friendship, or the group fragments in the same way it would for a monogamous relationship.
3. Ask “Who is in charge?”
The answer is likely no one, or everyone. For functional relationships to exist in any construct, no one person should be “in charge” lest some needs get overlooked. This points back to the confusion between polygamy (or the lesser acknowledged polyandry) and polyamory. If one person is in charge of your relationship, you may wish to question how you got into that situation. This may work for some people, which is not my place to judge, yet it feels parental rather than fraternal.
2. Being supportive does not mean you have free license to tell anyone you want.
When friend or family member decides to bring you into their confidence about their relationship – that is exactly what they are doing. They have trusted you enough to be honest. Do not break their confidence as it could mean disastrous consequences for them. Polyamory isn’t a protected practice in most or all places (likely due to its confusion with polygamy and bigamy). Your slip up could cost your friend their family, their job or their partners.
1. Describe yourself as poly because of that threesome you had ten years ago.
Having a one time (or multiple times) sexual adventure is not the same as polyamory, even if this is with the same partner. Unless you have had conversations with your partner about having external relationships (either together or separately), it is likely that you simply enjoy having multiple partners when you have sex. Polyamory is about relationships, not about sex (even though one can often follow the other). The poly people I have known are looking for long term relationships with multiple partners. This can take many forms, but does not include situations where a partner does not know (cheating), situations that are solely sexual (monogamous partners who have a threesome) or situations that are kink based.
The take away here is that polyamorous people are simply people who are living what they believe their truth is. Find out more about polyamory by doing research before you approach a polyamorous friend for answers. The best way to find out what they believe is to bring forth your own information and see what they think about it. Poly people are just people and can have the same amount of openness or privacy about their relationships as anyone else. Consider how you would feel about being asked a question before you pose it!
If you are poly and have something to say, we’d love to hear from you!