A weird thing happened the other day. My partner and I came out. Not in a bold decisive manner, nor a brave step toward acceptance. But in a rather anti-climactic, sneaking through the back door, it turns out everybody already knows way. I should probably explain at this point that we are polyamorous. It wasn’t exactly a secret, but it wasn’t something we chose to shout from the rooftops either. Especially in an age where trolling is all the rage and certain trends have become cool to hate (I’m looking at you Bieber). Anyway, being members of a few select Facebook groups which we thought were private, it turns out one of them is not. Not only is it not private, but it flags up in friends’ newsfeeds that we are members. So, cat, bag…definitely out.
We chose to share this aspect of our lives as and when it seemed appropriate, and although most people are supportive, some definitely react more than others. The revelation has often been met with a momentary silence and half cocked eyebrow, but for the most part people have accepted it fairly quickly and filed it under “well they’re quite eccentric anyway so it’s not that surprising”. Of course there has also been the occasional “how modern” and “is that what the cool kids are doing?”
Generally this doesn’t offend us. It is meant in good humour and a sign of acceptance. We can deal with that. Actually we have been pretty lucky; it is alarming how much vitriolic hate for polyamory and other alternative relationship models is still rife, especially from the comfort and anonymity of the internet.
That said, I wonder if I had come out as gay would the same accepting but mildly patronising comments, with a sub-text of ‘it’s just a phase’, be deemed as appropriate? It would likely be taken more seriously and handled with deeper consideration. What is it about this particular dynamic that makes people assume that we are either promiscuous or comically experimental? Why is it such a hard concept to get the mind around? It is true we haven’t always actively pursued extra-curricular relationships, but many consider polyamory to be an orientation as opposed to a lifestyle choice. That remains a grey area, but it’s true to say that people are wired differently and one size definitely does not fit all (no pun intended).
I find it perplexing that it is considered acceptable to be single and date, even sleep with, multiple people at any one time with little to no commitment, but polyamory is regarded as comparatively unusual. It is equally average to have a partner whom you have cheated on at least once. I have many decent friends who have been either cheater or cheatee. This may not be ‘pat on the back’ territory, but it certainly isn’t labelled ‘strange’. So what is it about polyamory that is so confronting? The honesty? The consent from everyone involved? The notion that it is possible to reason out any jealousy and to genuinely support and trust your partner to the point you don’t feel possessive over them?
A parent wouldn’t love only one of their children because their love was finite. You wouldn’t be jealous of one friend spending time with another because you can only have one friend at a time (unless you’re 6). There are countless arguments that we are biologically driven to seek multiple partners, and society is fairly secular nowadays. With little religious influence and increased diversity, it is not a given that people will marry into that traditional 2.4 setup any more. So what’s the problem?
Relationships, love, attraction and human interaction are surely what life is all about. So why does embracing this wholeheartedly make me somehow morally compromised in the eyes of society? I have been approached by many men looking to cheat on their spouses or have a pre-arranged one night hook up. Each to their own, but I don’t feel that I am the one with the moral compass pointing south here. Needless to say, I politely decline these oh-so-tempting offers.
I personally have never cheated. I have never been cheated on (touch wood). I am honest and open with my partners, almost to a fault. I appreciate the people in my life with a robust awareness that shit happens and one day they may no longer be around. From where I stand, love, sex, chemistry and passion are still things that should be cherished. Some will say I am naive and I’m quite sure many will call me a lot worse for my romantic practises; but I can honestly say I am on good terms with every person I have ever been involved with and this life choice has made me a more balanced, understanding and fulfilled individual. Maybe there is something in the concept that one person cannot, and should not have to, meet all your needs, and it is possible to love freely without trading your integrity in the process. Just ask Joke, Bell and Art.