This is the first in a series of interviews of everyday people who are living a poly lifestyle (either polyamorous or polysexual), from their individual perspectives. They were each given a series of questions, and asked to pick several questions that they would like to answer from their personal experience.
This first interview is of a 51-year old male friend of mine who lives in Canada with his partner, her husband, and their four children – two from his previous marriage, and two the couple’s. Below are his questions and answers. I hope you enjoy it!
Question: What lead you to ethical non-monogamy?
Answer: You’ll often hear people in the poly community refer to the works of Robert Heinlein as a source of inspiration and I’d have to count myself in that group. His science fiction writing stands on its own merits but his ideas of ethical non-monogamy are woven throughout his writing. I remember quite vividly reading some of his work in my late teens and having one of those light bulb moments. It really made a lot of sense to allow for considerable fluidity in relationships; to recognize that people are not single dimensioned and that the likelihood of meeting more than one person who interests you emotionally or sexually is pretty high.
Our culture seems to put a lot of wasted effort into trying to keep everyone on the straight-and-narrow path of fidelity when, for many people, it just isn’t in our genes. Wouldn’t it be easier to accept that our partners might form relationships of their own and that we can enjoy their happiness and not have to go down the path of assuming that one relationship trumps another?
All this doesn’t mean it was easy. I tried to fit in to a monogamous lifestyle because it seems to be what you have to do. I was generally getting along with that okay. After my partner had an affair though, it opened things up a bit in our relationship. It wasn’t the “right” way to do it because it happened out of stress rather than openness and planning. It revealed the cracks in our relationship, so we ended up divorcing but it led me to the polyamorous relationship I’m in now. That whole situation just reaffirmed my thoughts on poly: if we were more open and more accepting, all the angst and shame and pain we develop over trying to hold on too tightly to our partners might just be unnecessary. Or at least, we’d have other options available to us to deal with these issues in a less destructive and painful manner.
Question: Have you “come out” to your family and friends and if so, how did that go? Do you recommend it?
Answer: It isn’t really a binary question. There’s a considerable amount of selection involved in deciding who to come out to and when. It means a lot of work; understanding whether someone is really ready to hear it or not, assessing your own ability to handle possible rejection in that relationship, assessing whether you can really have a relationship with someone who doesn’t know the whole story.
Another factor to be considered, at least in my case, was the impact on the other partners in our triad. We tended to actually analyze individuals together to decide whether to out ourselves to them and how to go about it. The closer the person was to us, the more care we took with the process.
Close family was the biggest concern and was among the first that we outed to. It is difficult to live a lie to your closest family members or closest friends. Particularly because they don’t even have the opportunity to truly honour the relationship. Then people get excluded from invitations to family events or gatherings and resentments can grow. Or you isolate yourself to protect the relationship. None of that is healthy.
We took a lot of baby steps at first and, in many cases, only really outted ourselves when it was clear that the person already had an inkling. In some cases, we’ve made the choice to not out ourselves. In some cases, people couldn’t handle it and, though we miss them, we’re probably better off not having that drama hanging over our head. In most cases, however, we’ve found support and understanding.
Question: If polyamorous, do you find it is more like a relationship choice, or more a statement about who you are inside? (like being gay, for example)
Answer: I think this is a really interesting question, particularly because of the debate of choice vs. nature that surrounded the gay community for years. I’d like to say I had an easy answer for it but I don’t.
Looking back to my teen years, I definitely understood that there was something different than strict monogamy that was possible, and I really had a gut feel that there was an answer there to a lot of problems that plague relationships. So is that about who I am inside?
As we’ve lived the reality of the relationship, however, I’m more and more sure of the sense it makes as a choice. Although we don’t consider ourselves “open,” I think we’re prepared for the idea that one of us could, at any time, fall in to another relationship. The flexibility to handle that well, without destroying what already exists, is a real gift and it feels like the only thing that makes sense to me. So, is that a choice? I think so.
I really think the discussion is moot. The whole nature vs. nurture issue in discussing homosexuality, I think, is overblown. It was, in may ways, just another attempt at putting gay folk into boxes. People are extremely complicated and the more we can let people out of their boxes to just follow their own paths, the better off everyone will be.
Question: What’s the most challenging thing in your relationship(s)?
Answer: Getting the kids out of bed, fed, and to school on time. Figuring out how many activities they can be in at once. Deciding between fixing the foundation and that ski trip to the mountains. Getting the groceries done.
I mean, yeah, okay, there are sometimes challenges that are specifically to do with the polyamorous relationship model but for the most part, we manage pretty well and have to deal with the same issues and pressures that monogamous people have to deal with.
There is no doubt that our communications are more complex. Each additional person you add in to any relationship – be that personal, social, or business – generates an extra bundle of lines of communication. Keeping everyone informed of important things and on schedule is a complicated job which gets more complicated when you add more bodies. We depend on Google calendar to share our schedule with one another.
Some of the worst pressure comes from the outside – people who want to judge or people who may be holding a grudge and want to use the relationship against you. You become an easy target. Interestingly enough, the very point I’m making above regularly comes in to those discussions. The question “What about the children” becomes tiresome after awhile. The assertion that there must be some wild sex going on in front of the kids is beyond tiresome.
That’s why my point above is so important: there really are very few differences between our relationship and any “standard” relationship. We have bad days, we have good days. Our kids are busy. They turn into rebellious teenagers. We’re running in a hundred different directions at once. We volunteer in the community and get overwhelmed with commitments. We donate money to charity. We have a hard time deciding what to do with our precious time and money. It is all the same stuff.
Question: How has being in a poly relationship improved your communication skills?
Answer: I found early on in my poly journey that there was no room for hiding or avoiding issues. This is the biggest and most valuable lesson. In my previous marriage, things got swept under the carpet. Things got stuffed away. Not talked about. Resentment grew and the elephant in the living room got bigger and bigger. That kind of dysfunction can hit any relationship but I think it is more obvious in a poly relationship that you just can’t hide from the issues.
Once you have that concept down, you open up a whole world of understanding. How to communicate better. How to take ownership of your own behaviour and ask your partners to take ownership of theirs. How to let go of things and learn to examine your assumptions and your habits and see what’s working and what isn’t.
One of the biggest things that I’ve learned – or more precisely am learning – is that my partner isn’t me. I think we assume that people see the world in the same way we do, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, her emotional responses and behaviour are dictated by a set of personality traits that are often the exact opposite of mine. I don’t think I ever would have figured that out without having done a lot of work on figuring out who we each are personality-wise. That work is available to anybody but I think we felt we had to work harder because of our polyamorous relationship.
Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)