What does it mean to be poly?

Polyamory is not a method or a behaviour; it’s who we are as people.  While no two people are identical, there is a very bare boned archetype of a polyamorous person.

To be poly, one must be open-minded, honest, and willing to step outside of her comfort zone.  She must be strong, sensible, reliable, and able to put the needs of her family ahead of her own.

To the outside world, from conversations I have had, we take on a bit of legend and fantasy.  To those who support polyamory, or at least tolerate it, we are saints.  We are patient, selfless, and unfettered.  We never have a negative emotion or disagreement, and life in a poly family is nothing but a day in Shangri-la.  To those who are not supportive of our lifestyle, we are flaky, immoral, and non-committal.  We are either being taken advantage of or avoiding real relationships, and we never deal with real issues because we can’t possibly work together as a team.

Reality is what reality does, lying somewhere in the middle  Yes, polyamory requires patience, a skill many of us have had to hone as we go.  We must not be selfless, but able to compromise, and poly merely means setting or own limits and boundaries as they make sense to us, not that we can simply ignore rules.   On the  other hand, yes, there are some people who are poly just to avoid real relationships or commitment.  Sadly, it is my opinion that they will never grasp the full potential and freedom one can find in a committed poly family.

We’ve been over all this before, but what I have not discussed is how being poly looks and acts within the community, and even within the family.

Within the community we are a team, no matter what.  Past that, we may look different, because poly is not a set of rules.  No two poly families looks or acts the same.  To some we’re a little more conservative. To others we’re a bit more open and free.  In either case, we try to be a good resource and sounding board, especially to those just exploring polyamory.  Our lifestyle isn’t a closed cult or a patented method, nor are we the poly police, but we try to project a loving, sharing attitude to those who may want to learn and grow or just talk.  What’s that line about poly people talking a lot?  We do.

When I think of Hubby or A, I think of people I can trust and speak with openly without judgment.  I think of people who will fight just as hard as I will for our family and come to me with a problem before letting it cause resentment or discord. The fact that we’re human means that sometimes we get a little off track or lose sight of the bigger picture when something is important to us as individuals.  We have bad days, we get emotional and cranky, and we have fears and insecurities that can sometimes keep us from being as open as we hope others will be with us.  This doesn’t mean we’re “doing it wrong”, it means we’re not gods or angels, but mortals after all.

In a conversation I had with someone recently I was asked how I thought the “group mind” of a family changed our identities, and I think a lot of my answer to him fits here.  To the outside world we feel a need to look strong and well-adjusted.  We want the world to accept polyamory as a happy, healthy lifestyle, so we put on that facade to never let on that we have rifts, because to have an issue is to prove all the arguments made against polyamory.  Sometimes this behaviour gets internalized and becomes how we act with each other, which can dangerously lead to a lapse in communication and compassion and make us feel trapped.  At times I feel like we do the same within the poly community to prove our authenticity.  We hold ourselves to unreachable standards, leading to inner turmoil and an unstable family structure.

Now I may to contradict myself for a moment.  Yes, poly is a way of being not a way of doing.  No, this does not mean that every poly person will get along with or be able to love every other poly person.  I have gone on several date with people who admitted that polyamory was the only thing we had in common.  The only reason I was a blip on the map was our proximity and lifestyle and the size of our local community.  The problem here comes when people settle with situations that don’t make them happy because of the assumption that there aren’t any other local poly people.  This panic leads to bad experiences which can actually drive people away from the lifestyle, which I hate to see.  That’s like never eating pizza again because I assumed the place next door was the only pizzeria in town and got sick from it.

Polyamory doesn’t change who we are, and it is not an exclusive personality trait.  It’s merely a lifestyle that embodies a set of personality traits that make up part of who we are as lovers, families, and individuals.  By no means does it make us all compatible, and by no means does it make us all experts, but by no means does any of that make us less genuine.