There were a few moments in the past few months when I have felt judged by people who found out I was polyamorous. It felt strangely familiar – like the experiences I had in high school as an non-native speaker who had just moved from another country ("oh, you can't speak English well? Then I’ll make fun of your accent and judge you based on my limited past experience with your culture"). Polyamory is something most people don't understand (yet) and often make assumptions about. I’ve found that I can't openly talk about it with just anyone, including some of my relatives, because more often than not I will be judged and the nature of my situation will be misinterpreted.
I'm not the only one that feels the judgment, unfortunately. We had a great conversation in a polyamory group around people's experiences with coming out as polyamorous. The discussion started with a question: "What are the first 3 questions people ask you when they find out you are poly?"
Here are some of the more positive or at least neutral reactions that people have received:
What does it mean to be polyamorous? How does it work?
This question is quite subjective but I generally talk about the fact that we, as people, have an infinite capacity to love, and being poly means exploring connections with people outside of our primary relationship in an ethical way. Sometimes I point them to my long form answer on what I think polyamory is all about.
What if you fall in love with someone?
We may fall in love with someone regardless of whether or not we are polyamorous. Being poly allows us to explore it safely and ethically.
So how do you deal with jealousy?
I believe that jealousy is not a real feeling but rather a flag that points to some underlying insecurities and lack of trust. There is also compersion - the feeling of joy for your loved ones when they are happy with someone else. Focusing on being happy for my loved ones rather than on my own insecurities has helped process some of those emotions.
What about if you want to have kids?
I already have kids, actually, but if I wanted more I don’t see how a poly lifestyle would get in the way of that. I feel that having an extended support network of multiple partners and metamours (my partners’ other partners) would actually help me with childcare.
...And these are more negative reactions and judgements that we commonly hear:
Does being poly mean you just want to have an excuse to cheat? Isn't that just an excuse to be a slut?
If you look for trouble, you are going to find it!
You'll never find a good girlfriend/boyfriend that's willing to put up with that.
I used to be like that when I was younger, when I was getting intoxicated and having lots of casual sex with random people, you'll grow out of it and settle down.
Is there something wrong with your relationship?
I think all of these negative reactions are driven by a lack of understanding of what polyamory means and by assumptions based on past life experiences. Not always positive life experiences... I started this blog for that exact purpose – to help people understand more about this lifestyle.
Many discussions in my poly group tend to focus on logistical and legal issues. How do poly families split kid duties and share custody? What if one of the partners becomes ill – how can all partners visit them in the hospital, if only family is allowed? How do poly families decide who marries whom?
Because of the legal implications of having multiple adults in a family unit some people are fighting to make a case for recognizing polyamory as a sexual orientation. Ann Tweedy, a lawyer in Tulsa, wrote an article about why that is especially important in a work environment. I personally believe that polyamory is more of a personality trait that may change over time, but I do often wish for more general awareness so poly people can talk about their lifestyles openly and receive acceptance.
If you don’t identify as polyamorous and meet someone who does - please try to keep an open mind and ask respectful questions if you want to have a better understanding of it. Try to stop yourself before making sweeping generalizations because more often than not that person already has a system, a set of beliefs, for making this lifestyle work for them.
If you do identify as poly - I’d love to hear about your experiences in sharing that part of yourself with the world.