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Note: This letter is written mostly as snark, but partly as a genuine list of concerns families have on both sides of coming out.  I found that when I stopped trying to gently explain things and just started pointing out to our family just how ridiculous some of their concerns sounded to us, they began to understand more that our lifestyle choice didn’t have to be a lifestyle change for them, that we were still the people they raised to be responsible adults, and that we weren’t going to destroy our extended families with our poly laser vision.   Maybe don’t print it out verbatim, but feel free to use it as a rubric for conversation.    

Dear Friends and Family,

I have chosen to be open with you about my family and how we choose to live.  This honestly means that I trust you to at least not condemn me, though I hope you’ll try to open your heart and accept my extended family even if you do not understand how or why we have made these choices.  I understand that this may be unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable territory for you to navigate, so I will do my best to give you some helpful highlights to make this holiday season enjoyable for us all!

1.  My partners are people, not aliens or monsters.  They have lives, families, and personalities of their own.  Try having a conversation.  About anything, really.  You don’t need my mediation.

2.  My partners are not made of glass.  See above.

3.  My partners are not homewreckers.  See number 1, and see my husband/wife/etc.  That smile?  That means we’re still happy together and that this is a mutual decision we’ve made.

4.  Remember when I went to prom and you met my date at the door cleaning a shotgun and interrogated him until he had sweat through his cummerbund?  Don’t do that.  We’re all adults now, and the fact that these are people I love and value alone should convince you that they’re good people.

5. There is no need to tiptoe around our children.  They know exactly what they need to know, that they have a family full of people who love them and that there are presents to open.  I assure you they are more concerned about the presents than who sleeps in what bed with whom.

6.  You don’t need to buy us all gifts.  Don’t worry, this is not a scheme to get more stuff.  If you want to include us all, and we hope you do, you can give us something we can all use!  Or feed us.  We LOVE that.

7.  We don’t care if you say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or Hi.  Just be nice, and smile.

8.  There is no need to worry about us acting inappropriately at your gathering…unless it’s that kind of gathering.  The important thing here is that we’re people, not animals.  Those manners we’ve exhibited for years?  Didn’t disappear when we chose to love more than one person.  Let’s add to that that we won’t discuss our sex lives out loud if you will promise the same.  Lookin’ at you, Grandma.

9.  I understand that members of our extended family may not understand our relationship situation.  If they question you, tell them whatever you feel comfortable saying.  It’s not integral to our household that you use titles.  When I introduce my family to people who might not be poly-friendly I simply say “this is Jane”.  Jane knows she’s my girlfriend.  People who have asked me know she’s my girlfriend.  Let Aunt Gertrude make her own assumptions.  People do it all the time for all kinds of ridiculous things.  Again, see that part about acting appropriately at a family function.  We have this covered.

10.  Please don’t feel like you can’t ask any of us questions or trust us not to make the entire family name look like a circus.  I’m still your son/daughter/etc, and we are all family.  We want to share these celebrations with you, and we are thankful to be included as a family.

Love,

(sign here)

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I swore up and down after my last boyfriend that I was done “training” poly newbies. Then I got a taste of people with plenty of experience who really should know better and realized that any new partner has the potential to be difficult or complicated. I honestly could not tell you which case I prefer, but bringing someone in who is completely new to poly can be a trying experience, and without a little warning could turn one off to the idea completely.

In many cases even those who have never been in a poly relationship have heard of non-monogamy in one form or another. Some have always been attracted to the lifestyle and have never found a willing primary, some have never considered it but are willing to with the right person, and some have even sworn it off. I have experienced all of these scenarios, and each one holds unique challenges.

In the first scenario there can be two types of people: those who really understand and appreciate polyamory and those who think it precludes them from any real responsibility or commitment in a relationship. In the first case people can sometimes be a little too cocky, but in most cases they have done some serious soul-searching and really understand what it means to be open. I have had many friends in this boat, and it can be one that is frustrating for someone who is already in a monogamous relationship. The caution here is to make sure this type of partner doesn’t jump in head first before knowing how deep the pool is. They can often be overresearched and underprepared, because nothing can really prepare you for everything. In the second case be prepared for a lot of alone time. Unicorns and rainbows are great, but few and far between. If you can handle having a fair-weather lover, have a ball, but I need to know that all my partners on are board when I need them. I have a pretty severe allergy to flight risks, and this one causes it to flare almost immediately.

The second scenario is the most common in my experience. This partner is someone who understands the basics, hasn’t had any strong objections or aversions, and usually likes you enough to give it a shot. There is a lot of time, work, and energy involved that could end up being tossed aside should he decide polyamory just isn’t his preference. It can be a pretty amazing thing to watch, though, when it all clicks. You see the epiphanies and the new experiences as they happen, you share the joy and bliss that comes with opening ones heart, and you can act as a guide through the things that might have been a deterrent otherwise. I admit, it’s an exhilarating experience watching someone open up, and it’s pure energy when it can be felt in a loving relationship. There is no power, freedom, or intimacy like it on earth. It makes up for all the small stepping-stones along the way.

The third scenario is a bit precarious, and one I only suggest for those who like to play high dollar slots. It’s a gamble no matter how you play it, and one that historically does not pan out in the long run. I’m not sure why these folks decide to give it a try. Lust? Love? An addiction to failure? These men and women in the past have expected me to jump ship, have hoped I would leave Hubby, and have actually tried to break up my family. Sometimes they pretend extremely well, and sometimes they even succeed in convincing themselves and everyone around them that they’ve changed or evolved. They usually have not. In the end there can be a lot of resentment and negativity on both sides. I’d like to say I’ll never put myself in a situation with these people again.  Aforementioned allergy aside, however, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic with a dash of White Knight Syndrome. I love a challenge, and I like to believe people change. I will continue to put myself on the chopping block, and I will continue to bleed for it. Period.

How does one go about introducing a Poly Newb to a poly household? It’s a process, but for me it’s not much different that introducing any new partner. I do not stand for much awkwardness around meeting the rest of the household, and I will only tolerate the excuse “I’m new to this” so many times. In the end, the basics are not much different from any new relationship, and choices are made from common sense, respect, and compassion not my established marital status or the company I keep. Don’t take this to mean I am heartless or cut throat. I simply expect those who say they love me to act accordingly.

I set up very early on in any new relationship and need for communication with no fear on either side of reaction or retaliation. No love can be born of fear, and nothing can stunt love like doubt. I almost always request that my new partner not start another new relationship at the same time we are building a foundation, a request that can either build or break the relationship. With those new to poly this can be an especially tough request to follow. The temptation is there to express this new freedom and do it with no discretion. This can cause severe poly saturation, confusion, and the collapse of all the new relationships. It is my firm belief that if I am not worth a time of focus and energy then the relationship is not strong enough to hold substance. Newbs sometimes see this as hypocrisy, since I am already married with possibly other partners, but I follow the request as well. I cannot ask anything I would not have the courtesy and care to do myself, especially with someone inexperienced in poly. I won’t even take new casual partners or BDSM encounters during this time. This is the dedication and commitment I am always willing to give.

That aside, it is always my goal to make a partner’s first experience a positive one, not just because it’s a new loving relationship, but also because I know plenty of people who have been turned off of poly forever because their first encounters were with jerks. I do my best to help sort out feelings of jealousy or insecurity, to give assurance that this is a firm and stable situation, and to welcome them into a family that will treat them the same way. This, I think, is one of the most crucial steps in bringing in a partner who has never been a part of a poly household before. We are a family, and starting a new journey with me you start a journey with my family. This means the main relationship is not the only new one forged, as there will be some kind of interaction and rapport built with each member of our household. It also means a support group, not just for poly but about me in general. Who wouldn’t love having a handbook for every new person they date?

While I imagine this feeling can be overwhelming, I hope the overall feeling is belonging. When we made the decision to be poly and I was able to fully embrace it I felt like I was at home in my heart. My hope is to give that to any partner I bring in who is new to polyamory, because ultimately I feel that all the work and processing is worth the love and family that grows from it.

lock

I once mocked Kamala Devi’s proclamation that she was an expert on relationships because she was involved in so many of them.  This is not always a case in which practice makes perfect, especially in the sense that no two relationships are the same, even within the same household or with any of the same people.  This I know intellectually, but recently I found myself just as guilty of personal assumptions.

Hubby has pointed out to me, not just recently but many times in the past, that I have used poly as a crutch in many ways.  While it has given me the confidence to find people who truly enrich my life and the faith that I am not only lovable but someone people want in their lives, it has also allowed me to hide parts of myself from these same partners as I see fit.  Until recently I have not been completely open to a single one of my partners.

I can’t with any honesty say this is a new behaviour.  I realize how how much I’ve missed and talked myself out of because I built a very intricate suit of armor.  Historically people I have not guarded myself against have hurt me pretty badly, so even those I loved and cherished got the Reader’s Digest of not just my heart but my personality as well.  I built an entire suit of slutty armor and superficial romanticism to avoid even getting deeper than the surface, and if anyone did happen to find a way in I had plenty of booby traps and Sphinxes waiting to deter them from sticking around too long let alone going any deeper.  It worked for a long long time.  Hubby was the first time I found myself completely trusting and comfortable with anyone despite my best wards and precautions, until now.

This brings me to an interesting part of our poly story.  This is the first time Hubby has watched me fall in love.  Don’t get me wrong.  He’s seen me sweet and loving and committed to a new partner, but this is the first time he has seen my process of opening up and giving myself over completely to the experience.  It’s akin to the “awakening” I mentioned before when you watch someone new to poly find that comfort zone where it all clicks.  He is in absolute awe and thrilled for me, but it has also caused him a little anxiety.  I’m not sure he realized it was happening when it was with him, so the intensity of my focus has been slightly unsettling.

I have to admit, friends, that I was just as unsettled.  I am never comfortable being this ridiculous, this vulnerable, or this hopelessly without strategy.  I feel like I’ve lost half the small ration of sanity I had to begin with, and a bit confused and chastising of myself for this kind of reaction over someone who may be a flight risk.  On the other side of the coin, I’m really enjoying the feeling of absolute optimism and naivety I’m allowing myself to uphold.  I am embracing not always feeling like I’m “playing the game” or watching my steps for landmines.  I realize that I’m completely setting myself up to be completely disarmed, and that that leaves me naked in a tornado, but I no longer see that as a devastating thing but an experience to build on.  (Ok, so I’d never expect to survive being naked in a tornado, but you get my drift, Dorothy.)

With my family behind me it’s a much less daunting and terrifying feeling to leave myself on the line for as long as I have been.  It’s something I’ve missed, and something I didn’t revel in much with Hubby because by this point in our relationship we were handfasted and taking new steps.  It reminds me why I love being poly.  Yes, I love the close-knit family we’re starting to form, but I also adore the beginning stages of something really good once I can eschew the self-doubt and insecurities that usually push me to rush through it.

In the end, no matter what happens, this will have been a huge learning experience and a unique opportunity to grow and solidify the bonds of our existing household.  I am quickly learning to enjoy my NRE while continuing to be not just attentive to Hubby but also supportive as he and A experience some tension and growing pains and he has his own reaction to my unexpected insanity.  I am just as quickly learning to not insert myself where doesn’t need it, when my advice is useful and valuable, and how to not take offense when he starts calling me “dude” and talking to me like one of his buddies when we talk about his relationships in particular.  This is an interesting new level in our marriage, and one that I think will ultimately bring us closer and make us stronger.

For the first time in a long time I can say that I am content and really enjoying where my life is at the moment.  I am feeling the best parts of the stage each relationship is in and ignoring the parts that would normally wound me until I added armor and a padlock.  This is what healthy love feels like in complimentary levels of deeply, committed dedication and flirty, blossoming adoration.  Feels like the perfect place to spend Mabon, in balance.

Aloha.

Go now, stop thinking about it so much!

 

Think of the word “Polyamory”.   What images does it conjure?  What emotions does it bring forth?  What questions or assumptions does it bring to mind?  Are any of these things inherently negative or positive, or are they born of sheer curiosity?  Do you accept or understand polyamory, or is it a foreign and confusing concept?  Have you ever considered it?  If not, would you?

To me the word Polyamory means honesty, love, and communication.  It means family, and a lot of fun.  It means helping hands and moral support.  It mean patience at times, and possibly a little consideration of things that make me uncomfortable or frustrated because I am not the only one in this relationship.  Basically, it means most of the same things the words girlfriend, or husband should evoke, only with a slightly larger cast of characters.
Now, casually throw the word Polyamory out in conversation and see what kind of response you get.  The reactions around you may be surprising, or not, considering what kind of company you keep.  My family is open and free with our poly lifestyle.  We believe it’s only fair to all of us.  Why have a family we’re ashamed to admit exists?  Because of this we have gotten some pretty interesting questions and opinions.  I will always answer questions, and opinions I will listen to as long as I’m not being insulted and respond to if I see fit.  Opinions are like children.  Some are perfectly fine, even noteworthy or intelligent.  Others are loud or crazy, and if they are full of crap I don’t need to be near them unless they are mine.
The question I get most often when people find out I’m poly is, “then why bother get married?”  I have two answers for that.  Poly does not mean lack of commitment, and lawful marriage is not the be all end all of commitment, but it does have legal protections pertaining to property and children.  It seems to escape people that I may have found someone with whom I want to live my life and raise my family and have connections with others as well.  I got married because I believed wholeheartedly that Hubby is going to be in my life until it ends.  I may or may not find others about whom I feel that way, and I can make the same commitment to them should that happen, but I have made a declaration to Hubby that I am committed to him for life.  The law says I can only legally marry one person at a time.  It says nothing about commitment.  I can commit myself in the long run to as many people as I can hold in my heart. No one can govern that.
Another common reaction I get is the assumption that I have no standards or morals.  I have lost friends who were like family to me because it was assumed we were having sex or that I would try to steal them from a monogamous partner.  I have often wondered what kind of monster people think I am to even put someone I care about in that kind of predicament, but it has been a repeated issue.  I have been called a slut, a home-wrecker, and on the other hand a tease and a prude.  It seems that because I may share intimacy with more than one person I need to sleep with ever man who offers.  When I politely decline it is sometimes taken very personally.  Men of the world, listen up.  I have standards, I have opinions, I have tastes, and I have a life outside of sex.  If I don’t have an attraction, the desire, or simply the time for what you think I should be falling over myself to accept, I apologize in advance.  I am pretty selective and conservative in who I have relationships with, and this includes those relationships that might be purely sexual.  While we’re at it, I will not help you cheat on your significant other, I will not hide my relationships, and I will not pretend to be your friend or roommate in front of your friends or other women.  This is unacceptable.
For the most part, other reactions and concerns I get are pretty common.  No, my life is not one long sexual adventure.  Yes, we are extremely safe and healthy, and our whole family gets checked often, as any sexual responsible adult should.  The fact that my actions affect my entire family might make me a little more conscious of my decisions.  Poly is not all unicorns an rainbows, but it can be at times.  While every man’s dream is two women, every man’s dream may not be the effort and dedication it takes to have two girlfriends with different needs and personalities.  We are just like any family.  We have fights, jealousy and miscommunication arises and is dealt with, and people have bad moods.  We get through it all and move on as a unit.  That’s what family does.
In closing, I will say that while I have focused on negative perceptions of polyamory, there are many who really do understand even if they do not live the lifestyle.  Our families have been indescribably open and supportive.  My coworkers barely bat an eyelash these days when I mention Hubby’s girlfriend or a date I’m going on.  People have heard the term “open marriage”, and for the  most part will live and let live as long as I’m not obnoxious about it or shoving it down their throats.  This is probably a very naive view of the world, and I’ve chosen to hold that view apart from the one where I am judged solely based on my family structure, let alone my sexuality or spirituality, because it’s the one I choose to embrace.  People will disagree with me, they may even be cruel and petty because of it, but if I focus on those people there is no joy in this.  If there is no joy, what’s the point?  I’m not poly to make a statement; I’m poly to make a life and a family.  I’m poly because it fits me and it makes my heart happy.

Watching Polyamory: Married and Dating, I’ve heard some interesting things.  The one that really sparked my interest is the idea that polyamorous relationships don’t break up.  That they merely transition into friendships or find ways to remain in each other’s lives.  Like most blanket sentences, this is just not true.  If a partner seriously hurts me or we find we have moved so far apart that we no longer relate, there may not be a way to stay in each other’s lives.  There are several things used to support this theory, and all of them are true in some aspect, but they all miss one key point.  We’re human before we are poly.  None of our knowledge or practice is exclusive to poly, we just seem to feel a greater need to prove ourselves.

“Poly is such a small community that we need to stay in each other’s lives.”  I have never agreed with this statement.  Poly is not such a small community that I need to keep someone in my life who caused nothing but drama and did nothing but drain my energy and patience.  we have had partners who turned friends against us, who lied to our faces, and who spread our family’s business all over our social circles and the internet.  The truth in this statement lies in the fact that, yes, we can be a small community in many parts of the country.  This means we will most likely run into people we no longer care to run into.  This doesn’t mean we need to be friends, it just means we need to be adults.

“We’re better at communicating, so we can all stay friends.”   I agree that communication is key, and has the possibility to cut a breakup off at the pass, but sometimes people don’t break up due to lack of communication.  There are some things communication cannot fix, and there are some instances in which I need to separate myself from someone’s negativity.  Mind your buzzwords and party slogans, friends.

“We’re all poly, so we need to get along and stick together!”  This seems to be a trend in the poly community, and one that I think alienates us as a whole.  People who practice polyamory are just as diverse as people who are not.  People are people, no matter how we love, and this means we have real lives and real issues.  We have real relationships, and we have real breakups.  If we want to be accepted and included in society we need to stop putting it on TV that we are so evolved and enlightened.  Honestly, people, we’re human.

Go now.  or Just go.

Aloha.

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