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Home for the Polydays

Let's talk about polyamory and the holiday season. (Sorry, Canadian friends - I know you already did Thanksgiving, and I hope it was lovely, but American Thanksgiving is yet to come.) There's a frenzy of family, friend, and work holiday events over December for many of us - between Thanksgiving (this year on November 23) and New Year's Eve, with Hannukah from Dec 7 to 15 and the official Christmas holiday on the 24&25, plus a miasma of themed social events over the month preceding - and how our relationships play into these events is a little different than it is for the monogamous folks in our lives.

For the monogamous, the big question tends to be "do we go to this together, or do I go alone?" Sometimes that latter is because they're invited by someone their partner doesn't know (and doesn't have a reason to get to know); sometimes it's because they have two invitations so they're dividing and conquering (parents may be very familiar with one parent taking the kids to an event while the other meets adult obligations for the family); and sometimes it's because it's a work thing and the work environment is unfriendly, boring, or something you want to escape rapidly, and bringing a +1 doesn't make it easier ("you don't want to have to sit through two hours of engineers, I promise"). Some of these still apply to the polyamorous! If that last situation is, instead of boring, an unfriendly or conservative workplace where you're trying not to stand out by bringing a partner at all, a polyamorous person might not be out at work and might bring no partners, or might bring one, first on the scene, mono-hetero-passing partner to the work holiday party. Is this fair? That depends on your definition of fair, but I'd say living in a world where workplaces are biased against people for their intimate relationships is less fair, and we all have to live in them. Only you and your polycule can decide what you're going to do about it.

Let's look at some questions for you to consider when planning your polyamorous holiday season.

  • What events do you have to attend during the holiday season?

    • Which of these are mandatory for one person? For a family? Which have flexibility about who attends?

    • Which of these events are traditions that are emotionally very important?

  • How many of your events for the holidays are events that are in your logistical control? Are many of them ones that can become under your control (eg, can you become the one who hosts this year instead of going to Aunt Carol's two state's away)?

  • How comfortable are the members of your polycule spending time together?

  • Look closely at your traditions - which of them are linked to times and dates?

    • Of the time linked ones, which ones run at the same time? Can they be combined?

    • Of the ones that aren't day specific, can they be run over the season and you include your loved ones throughout the holidays?

    • Do you want to build separate traditions with partners who can't attend some of yours?

  • What do you actually want out of your holidays?

  • Do some polycule members have extenuating circumstances this year?

  • What forms of typical polyamorous problem solving do you feel comfortable applying to the holidays? (do you like spreading events out over a week like for birthdays and valentines in parallel networks? Do you like planning for introvert time and including space to recharge in the calendar?)

Considering all of these, think about your wants and needs and sit down with your stakeholders. Recognize that depending on what your network looks like, your idea of who a stakeholder is might differ from your partner's, or your metamour's - and so your first attempt to plan the holidays might get met with "okay I'll think about that, but let me talk to <these four people that include my inlaws and MY meta> and get back to you" - so maybe start the conversation a couple weeks earlier than you did when you were monogamous. If you're in new relationships, you might not know how your partners' traditions work yet or what parts of the holidays are important to them, and having some conversations about that might help you understand the landscape you're working in.

Some folks really find holidays to be an exceptionally important thing - the actual days, that is. Either because they're building traditions for children and they find that to be significant, because they've lived alone for portions of their life and spending the day with chosen family feels very important, or because their family of origin is not nearby and they use these holidays as the time that they reconnect and check in - holidays can hold a lot of weight. Mononormative culture and the prevailing messaging that we're supposed to merge identities and traditions would say that we're supposed to include our partner in all our traditions - or get as close to it as possible - combining what we can and trading years when we can't. In polyamory this is not always possible, but being sensitive to the reality of what is most important to whom is.

Here's an example: If one person in your polycule has really essential emotional bonds to their family of origin that are celebrated via a Christmas trip to Aunt Carol and Uncle Bob's with all the cousins, then the question isn't whether they'll go - it's whether they can bring one partner, or two; or if the family is really embracing this and the extended polycule including three kiddos is renting a house up the road and showing up with armfuls of presents and side dishes to that Christmas dinner. If Margie, whose Aunt Carol and Uncle Bob host, isn't out, then maybe she just brings nobody, or only brings her spouse if she's married to one partner; and Margie and her spouse spend the time around the trip with their other partners, like choosing to prioritize someone they didn't see on Christmas on New Years' Eve, and doing a day to exchange gifts and be cozy either before they leave for their trip or after they return.

I mentioned evaluating how much time folks like to spend together. If you never spend time with your metamours; if you've never met your telemours (their partners who are not the hinge between you); if you're okay with seeing them in a very large group setting but not in a smaller space - the holidays are not the time to assume that you will be enormously better regulated than average. As someone who has absolutely knit through multiple holiday parties because I'm too behind on gift-making to stop until December 24 after 11 pm, and then moved on to helping assemble a toy for a toddler that needs to go unboxed and whole under a tree, I hope you're better at time and energy management than I am BUT I know I'm not the only one who believes that I Make The Magic Happen For Others, so my mood is irrelevant. My bad mood? makes me a horror for people who don't know me well. If you meet me after December 15 and before New Year, I'm sorry. Even if you're not as deep in it as I am, trying new things (greater kitchen table entanglement; your first holiday with a new partner) can feel nerve wracking, and assuming it will be 110% great and you'll be your best self might not be the premise to plan from. Hope for the best but plan such that even if the worst, everyone is OK. Have the backup plan so that if thanksgiving all together feels icky you can do Christmas without leaving someone alone for a week.

Please, consider how privilege and existing structures of couple-dom, assumptions of who a family is, and who has family nearby play into the structure of your whole holiday. Despite needing backup plans and keeping people's comfort in mind to do things separately, keep in mind that our culture really does privilege couples and families with kids always (but around this time of year especially) and make sure if you're leaving solo partners out of plans (because you aren't out, because you aren't hosting and aren't in charge of the guest list, or because partners don't want to spend extended time together) that you're building in times for phone calls, for seeing each other on days that aren't the holiday, and not leaving anyone high and dry. As an example, me and my longest-term partner have made December 23 into our unofficial Christmas because we both have kids and tend to celebrate with them and some portion of our families on the 24 and 25; while we often manage to stop by each others' celebrations and give a quick kiss and say hello depending on the timing and how it overlaps or doesn't, the 23 is when we do our gifts for each other and spend the day or evening together.

Every polycule is going to have extremely personalized ways of handling this! how many people you want to celebrate with, whether you want to throw a big party at some point in the season, whether that party feels like "enough" for your urge to celebrate with your closest loved ones, and more will vary person to person and network to network. You can find links below with previous posts I've made considering this issue, that take slightly different angles on it. You can also find tickets here to join me for my Home for the Polydays class on November 6, 2023 to dive deeper into specific strategies for organizing the holiday season, as well as a live q&a about it.

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