I struggle with depression, and I grew up hiding my feelings and thoughts because voicing them usually didn’t turn out so well. It was/is hard for me to speak up about myself because a) I often think I’m being ridiculous and b) the people around me often thought I was being ridiculous too. But to hold your tongue when you are hurt is like watching a flame turn into a fire and not doing anything about it: you threaten your own happiness, and your relationships, the longer you let the secret burn. This is how I learned to just say the things, even when it felt difficult.
It feels wasteful to write about writing. If I’m going to sit here and type, shouldn’t I type the things themselves instead of typing about the things? Yet, up there it does say that this is in part a writing blog. So I’ll bite. Or rather, you bite. I’ll tug.
I had an epiphany this week. It was as I was reading a less-than-nice comment about the wedding, which has gotten a lot of attention through Offbeat Bride. The epiphany was this: the people who are angry about polyamory are, often, really just defensive of monogamy. And more, I completely, totally get it. In fact, I’m on their side. Hear me out.
The three of us have all been in a relationship for about two years. We’re out on Facebook — not that we’re lewd or showy about it, but we certainly don’t hide the fact that we are all together. We all say I love yous. We all compliment one another’s pretty. Yet it still happens that people in our lives, usually casual friends, suddenly discover that we are in a throuple. I think it may be that we as humans refuse to an extent to see what doesn’t fit our schema for The Way Things Are.
My legal husband and I are not party people. In fact, we are complete teetotalers. We’re quiet folk who prefer to act perpetually like children instead of having grown-up fun. We have also been fiercely devoted to each other for almost six years now. The Way Things Are to others, then, is that we two are sweet but boring, straight-laced traditionalists.
And then, usually because we want to be honest and let some person in — to trust them as friends instead of just acquaintances — one of us will say: “We all love each other.”
And The Way Things Are goes out the window for those people.
Except, I’ll have you know that when I said my husband and I have been fiercely devoted to each other for almost six years, I included the time since we’ve met and loved our other husband. We love each other no less than we ever have, and our current relationship status was brought about neither by lying nor cheating. There were no ultimatums. It’s not as scandalous as you might think, and each of us in our turn — depending on who was doing the confiding to an acquaintance — would have loved nothing more than to explain the particulars. In their shock, however, the majority of others we’ve told have said hurtful things, effectively shutting down what might’ve been a constructive conversation. Some of the rudeness is just ignorant, and some of it is actually well-meaning.
That said, I hold strongly that these reactions are mostly made in panic, shock, or confusion. I would like to go over them, and in answering them here provide two things: 1) the flaw in the message, and 2) the truth in the face of a hyped-up, knee-jerk assumption. I hope that people who have been here can find some solace in this, and that — if any of you are ever on the receiving end of a coming-out — this entry prepares you to hear as openly as you can.
The Reaction: “If I didn’t know you, I’d judge you for it.”
Strain of Rude: Well-meaning
The Response: Judgment is the speaker’s Constitutional right. It’s really the first clause of the sentence that’s a problem. “If I didn’t know you…” is offered out like a gift — special treatment because to the speaker we are human beings instead of a statistic. All of the statistics are people, too, though. Every polyamorist is a human being. But the speaker is holding out this gift of friendship, as if to say “I forgive you because we’re friends,” and all we can think is: I don’t need to be forgiven.
That is, the speaker has misjudged why it was we decided to tell him or her what was really going on between the three of us. It’s not like when your friend confides that s/he’s cheating on a partner, looking for advice or just someone to listen. Ours is not an adulterous situation; we all know about each other, and not one of us is sore about the way things are. We’re quite happy, actually. If one of us confides the true situation, it is because we want to let someone else into our real lives. We are not saying, “Goodness, what have I done, help me, help me,” but: “Hey, if you really want to know who I am, this is how my family works. This is me. This is us.”
All of this is not to say that we cannot understand someone disagreeing with our choices. By all means, if the speaker felt strongly enough about our relationship to lose respect for us (i.e., “judge [us] for it”), he or she is welcome to say so and terminate the burgeoning friendship. We know it’s a junction — that’s why we wait to bring it up, instead of mentioning it to everybody and their brother–and if that’s where we part ways, that’s okay. What’s not okay is telling us that you’ll go easy on us, against your leanings, as a sort of favor. We don’t want that sort of acceptance. No one would. The speaker is not being the better person. The better person would just say something like, “I can’t accept those choices,” and move on.
The Reaction: “Who’s the home-wrecker? Are you the home-wrecker?“
Strain of Rude: Ignorant
The Response: None of us were home-wreckers, actually. Sure, there are probably throuples or other polyamorous situations that arose out of such shenanigans, but ours most definitely didn’t. I knew when I met him that my legal husband was bisexual, and encouraged him from the beginning to pursue a boyfriend of his choosing. It took him years to find a man he was interested in, and it was actually me who brought the two of them together.
As their feelings for one another deepened, I developed an emotional closeness with my husband’s boyfriend. They loved each other, and one Christmas morning I discovered that I loved them both the same as well. My legal husband was relieved to share, to let everyone be open equally. That Spring, our other husband kissed me, and so began a love-triangle that is romantic and loving in every direction.
Every step in that direction was a choice we made: not home-wrecking, but home-making.
The Reaction: “That wouldn’t be my choice. I need to think about this.“
Strain of Rude: Ignorant
The Response: Let me be clear: that the speaker needs time to process is fine — totally. It’s a shock, maybe, if the speaker feels strongly about this sort of thing. The thing we’d rather they not say is the first part, because it assumes that our aim in telling them has, again, anything at all to do with getting their favor on the matter.
Maybe it’s not clear how rude this is to say. What if I confided to the same person that I didn’t want to have any kids?
Sure, s/he could say, “That wouldn’t be my choice,” but what would be the point? It’s not that person’s decision. They can have as many children as they want; my choices have no bearing on their choices. Further, if I tell some other person that I don’t want any children, I think they would understand that I was simply confiding a fact–not looking to be shamed for it.
We’re not trying to intimidate anybody or make a statement. We’re just being ourselves and, when someone takes our honesty as an opportunity to police our lives, we regret trusting that person enough to speak up at all. That’s a lonely place to be.
The Reaction: [relentless flirting, propositioning, or otherwise disrespecting/ignoring our significant others]
Strain of Rude: Well-meaning AND ignorant
The Response: Just because we are in a relationship with more than one person doesn’t mean that we are sex-fiends, or that we have no regard for commitment, or that we have no standards. In our case, we are a closed throuple. It is still possible for us to cheat, were we to seek sex or companionship outside of the triangle, and it would be just as devastating to us all. In fact, it might be more devastating. Now there are two people to hurt with infidelity instead of one.
And what will those two do in the wake of a third’s indiscretion? Can they stay together without the third? You might think so. I’m here to tell you, though, that we are not so much a cluster of couples as one, strong family unit. Maybe it was otherwise in the beginning, but with time we have learned to lean on one another for different things. It is the whole throuple that makes a beautiful, functioning relationship. Without one-third of us, at best we hobble along with a LOT of changes. At worst, everybody falls apart, and all are alone.
Now maybe it’s clearer: we’re not flippant about love or sex. In fact, we have PLENTY to lose if we’re not careful. Maybe people think that it’s impossible for us as significant others to feel jealous, because we are polyamorous, but that’s not true. We can and do get jealous, and hurt, like anybody else — just not about the relations within our triangle. It’s not funny when others treat us like we’re fair game because our commitment is not like theirs. It should be enough that we are committed, and others should do their best to respect it.
Those are the basics. None of this is meant to raise anybody’s hackles about their freedom to opinion, just to give a perspective that many people understandably don’t have. Maybe it will help someone to walk in our shoes before they talk about the path we’ve taken.