Explaining alternatives to monogamy

If you ever have to explain polyamory to family or friends who have never come across the idea that there’s an alternative to monogamy, how do you do it? More importantly, how do you explain things if it’s your own relationship(s) you’re talking about? Personally, I have no idea! I can tell you how not to do it. Making your ‘open relationship’ status visible to family on Facebook, thinking “they’ll ask if it needs explaining”, and then promptly forgetting you’ve done so is not a good way to begin that discussion. But, after years of pondering and missing golden opportunities in conversations with my parents due to simply being too scared to “come out”, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Sadly, in the weeks that followed, I didn’t get a chance to explain much about how ethical non-monogamy works, but I did manage to reassure my mother that a) my relationship isn’t on the rocks, b) we are still very much in love, c) I wasn’t forced into anything, and d) it makes us both very happy indeed to live our lives this way.

So, how should I have done it? Non-monogamy in general, and polyamory more specifically, is a very tricky concept to explain to people who have been happily monogamous their entire lives and have no concept of there even being another way of life. Although I did manage to get the most important point across to my parents – that it’s consensual! – there was an awful lot that I missed out because they weren’t yet ready to learn more. Perhaps the time will come when I can point them towards an article I wrote on polyamory for BitchBuzz last year?

“It’s about being intimate with more than one person. Sex, love… the works. It’s about the understanding that, for some, one person alone simply cannot be their ‘everything’. It’s also about the radical notion that love is not finite. You can love more than one child, right? Try applying the same concept to romantic love. For some people that’s not just possible, it’s also desirable.”

When I first discovered ethical non-monogamy, the additional connections I made were physical only and so there was very little need to tell anyone else. After all, why would I come out to friends, family and co-workers about being a swinger? That just amounts to telling people too much about your sex life, and who wants to be thought of as an over-sharer? People I saw more often were referred to simply as ‘friends’ in wider conversation, which wasn’t exactly a lie, so my conscience was clean. There was just more to those friendships than most people would think. After a while though, things became more serious and so the need to share what had become a very important aspect of my life became far more pressing.

In recent years, I have had three additional relationships which haven’t really been discussed with family or co-workers. Not because I’m embarrassed by them, or because I’m trying to hide the truth. My silence is simply because I just don’t know how to begin the conversation. Once people start asking questions, I can tell them that everyone involved knows what’s going on and there’s no lies or cheating. I can tell them that it’s about consenting adults who trust and respect each other. I can tell them we negotiate boundaries, stick to agreements, communicate honestly, and remain loyal and committed to those we are in a relationship with.

We all have friends and family members who satisfy little parts of us that our partners don’t. The friend who loves cocktail bars like you do, while your partner prefers a real ale pub. The sister who loves action movies more than your other half who will never go to see one with you. The mother who chats for hours about the random crap you like, or the friend who loves the political discussions that your partner would rather avoid. Even people who have never contemplated the existence of something other than monogamy are familiar with the concept that we all need a few people around us in order to be happy. Poly people do more things with these people than non-poly folk do, but it’s essentially the same idea. I reckon that, if you can understand that, the rest will come in time.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers – ALBJAn Open BookMore Than NuclearOne Sub’s MissionPost Modern Sleazeand Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.