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Garden Party Polyamory

In a couple forums I’m in online, my preferred middle ground between carefully defined kitchen table polyamory and strictly bounded parallel polyamory got called “garden party polyamory” the other day. I don’t love the term for a couple reasons, but I live in the idea, so let’s talk about why. I dislike the term because garden parties imply a class structure that most of us don’t live in and that’s exclusionary to people coming into polyamory in a way that kitchen tables generally aren’t; and because we’re already defining enough fuzzy terms about how we relationship - figuring out what sizes of parties/interactions count for us as “garden party” given that it’s an obviously non-standard measure is going to be even more complicating, not less. A spectrum from kitchen table to parallel really does serve our needs well, and saying “I don’t do either of those ideas strictly, I take each relationship as it comes and I’m good with landing in the middle based on our boundaries” answers the question better than “I like garden party polyamory” to someone who hasn’t heard of it.

I live in that “in the middle” space in my relating to my larger polycules, most of the time. By chance, sometimes, I’ve had a ton in common with metas, done hobbies together and gone out for drinks and hangouts independent of our shared partner regularly. But sometimes, we just don’t have much to talk about or focus on outside of the shared partner and being polyamorous and it doesn’t really make for a deep friendship. So we end up being the kind of narrow parallel folks meant by that term I didn’t like so much - we’re happy to share each other’s social media posts for visibility or see each other at big events the hinge partner throws, but we only text if something big happens that is need to know. I’ve had that kind of relationship as often as the other - it’s just about personal compatibility, not a judgement on any of us. (Nor is it a judgement if you prefer to be more strictly parallel, though I suggest you exchange numbers or equivalent contact information on some platform with your metas for emergencies involving the hinge - it’s best not to be truly don’t-ask-don’t-tell shocked by who this person is messaging you in the case of an accident.)

The real key, as always, is respecting the boundaries of everyone involved - including your own. Don’t be a doormat because “the thing to do” is to be what other people expect of you, but respect the boundaries of others as you expect them to respect yours as well. So, it’s necessary to do some degree of self-reflection and think about what you want and need out of relationships with people - both your partners and your extended polycule (metamours and telemours). Do you want your time with partners to be mostly solo? Or does that make you feel ‘boxed out’ of their life and you want to feel integrated into it? Do your wants about metamours and telemours change depending on your relationships to individuals or do your desires revolve around those ideals about your partnership and relationship structure? If it’s the latter, keep in mind that other people’s boundaries are likely going to come into effect if you don’t get along super well.

I was interested to see a mixed reaction to this “garden party” term in a large online forum when someone brought it up. I don’t much like it, and about half the group agreed with me - because polyamory already has a lot of fuzzy terms that we don’t need to make more of, and because new fuzzy terms don’t need to be based in classist structures that imply only privileged people can be in polyamorous relationships. The other half of the group thought it was great, because they don’t like being told they are in parallel relationships or find parallel to be a “dirty word” in their local polyamorous communities, but aren’t close enough to their metamours to consider themselves to be practicing kitchen table polyamory. I’ll stick with the words I have. What about you?


I’ll be teaching my Beyond the Kitchen Table: Modes and Models of Parallel Polyamory class at Tethered to Wifi 2.0, the digital version of Tethered Together, on Saturday March 20 from 11:30am -1pm. The con as a whole runs from the 19-21 and you can get tickets at Tickets are $30 until sales close the day before the event. There are a lot of great presenters on topics ranging from relationships to movement to rope and a couple cool shows; come play with us!

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