Polyamory Mythbusting Part 2:
Last time, we addressed some ‘myths’ or common misunderstandings about polyamory - and today we’re going to look at a few more. As a quick reminder, and in case anyone stumbled upon the blog via this post, polyamory is the term widely adopted beginning in the 1990s to describe ethically non monogamous relationships that include the willingness to enter into multiple romantic relationships. As we said Friday, that means everyone is aware and openly consenting so it’s not cheating- the rules are different, so they aren’t being broken; it isn’t religiously based or based on plural marriage; it may or may not involve sex in any given portion of a polyamorous network and it’s no one’s business but the people having the sex whether it does; and it’s individual relationships, not someone magically “fixing” formerly existing relationships. To learn more, Start Here.
Now, some more of these ‘polyamory myths.’
These relationships always start with at least one couple looking to ‘spice up’ their existing relationship. There are a few things wrong with this premise. First, you don’t have to discover the idea of ethical non monogamy, or of polyamory more specifically, when you’re currently coupled up, or because of a couple “inviting” you to “spice up” their relationship by dating them both (in fact, see the blog’s description of Unicorn Hunting for why that’s a pretty problematic introduction). Second, while you might be in a couple when you hear of polyamory, approaching it for yourselves as individuals rather than for any impact on “the couple” or “the relationship” generally improves communication skills around boundaries and teaches more, more quickly, about what kinds of polyamory work for each of you best. Third, any assumption that includes always or never is probably wrong.
Polyamory is going to ruin your existing relationship. This one is complicated, because the person saying it probably has anecdata to back it up. Just like monogamous relationships, not all polyamorous relationships last forever, or even exceptionally long term, and if a relationship has a major paradigm shift, like from monogamy to nonmonogamy or vice-versa, it’s really easy to blame that for the end of the relationship. Usually, if you look a little closer, you can find a major incompatibility that’s at the heart of the breakup. Sometimes, that incompatibility is based on polyamory or nonmonogamy, but more often it’s something else: one person realizes they actually really want kids after all, after spending a lot of time with another partner’s children, and the other continues to feel strongly against being involved with anyone with children; one decides they want to live communally with partners and the other wants their dyad to be a private household; it turns out that they’ve always had different communication styles or been bad at speaking each others’ love languages but they didn’t know that it could be different until they had a partner where communicating wasn’t such a struggle; in identifying their boundaries, they realize that they bump up against each other in places they hadn’t thought to talk about before but that would have come up eventually. All of that to say, polyamory is sometimes the light that showed off the dirt, not what got the relationship grungy; and it’s people’s choice whether they can “clean it up” through working together and therapy or they want to start fresh elsewhere, but there’s no foregone conclusion that polyamory will shorten your relationship, it’ll last as long as it will. How many of your monogamous friends break up or divorce or “grow apart”? I know plenty and can offer just as much anecdata back if the person offering this one gets insistent. The difference tends to be that once someone accepts alternative relationship structures, they tend to accept changes in the shapes of their relationships, including “maybe we give ourselves some time to take a step back and do some work on ourselves and decide to try again in x months” in a way that most monogamous folks don’t.
Polyamorous people just can’t commit. Au contraire, many polyamorous people are commitment experts. My partner Ken, for example, is in three very committed relationships, the shortest of which is with me at four and a half years long. We become experts at calendar management, at keeping track of important events in people’s lives, of their goals, of who’s going through rough patches at work, with family, with other partners, of who’s accomplishing major tasks, or at least some subset of these things, and set expectations around the ones we don’t do and communicate to make up for them. (To keep using Ken as an example, he hates calendar management, so in non-pandemic times, he sets days of the week that he holds sacrosanct as the Time of his non-nesting partner so it can just be a recurring event in the calendar and only very occasional changes have to be negotiated; he’s really open with me that if listening and talking about an issue I’m having with someone else doesn’t help me resolve it right then, he probably isn’t going to hold the information in detail, just in broad strokes; but his memory when I set out loud goals for the blog or the podcast or share medical details is better than I could ever expect. Managing this while staying happily married to not one but two other people is a pretty good feat of commitment, in my opinion.) Defining commitment really becomes the concern in the conversation about this one, just like defining cheating in last Friday’s post was. But I don’t think there’s much need to redefine it for polyamory. The Oxford dictionary gives us “The state of being dedicated to a cause or activity” as the definition of commitment. Applying it to a relationship just makes the relationship the cause or activity - and that’s the same regardless of whether monogamy is an agreement in that relationship.
So, that’s a few more myths about polyamory debunked. Remember our giveaway from last Friday is open until the fourth to win two months free Patreon content; if you’re not caught up on Season 1 of the podcast it’s available wherever you listen to podcasts and we’d love a review, especially on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts; a tip in the jar at Ko-fi is always appreciated; and you can find my ramblings on twitter if you’d like them.