I recently got an email from a fellow blogger (sleepykitten – check out her stuff here!) who is not currently poly, but had a lot of questions about poly. She asked some great questions (enough to fill up three months worth of blog posts – so I’ll definitely be going back to that well a few times.) For now, I wanted to address one passage that she sent me:
Previously I thought being poly would mean your heart will feel less pain. If one person left you, you’ve got your other partners to count on.But then I realise being poly can mean you’re open to being used. One person may think they are poly but they are in fact just promiscuous and in the end they are just playing with your heart.
Wow, what a great conversation starter! I think that this very insightful woman brings up a great topic of concern to everybody – polyamorous and monogamous alike. I love this type of email, because it really prompts me to look deeper into my own belief system, as well as the way that I live my life, to see if I’m truly doing the “right thing” – because ultimately, I think that polyamory is largely about doing the right thing. If we’re constantly focused on that, I think we will have a much smoother path.
So, let’s break down what sleepykitten (shortened to SK from here on out) has suggested here.
SK’s Observation #1: Polyamory will decrease pain, due to “backup” partners. When any relationship ends, it’s a kind of death. Even bad relationships probably had one or two good things going for them, so on some level, the end of a relationship is going to bring pain. Having a strong network of support is what helps you overcome that pain. This is the same whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous. Emotionally healthy people have a strong network of relationships that will help them through those hard times. Those family members and friends that will help them figure out the grieving process, hold them when they need to cry, or just listen to them vent frustrations. That network is so important, and I think building these systems is so vital to our emotional health.The only difference between poly and mono I can see here is that poly-folk potentially have other partners who they can find some physical comfort with. I know that when I’m feeling down, physical intimacy (from cuddling to sex and all points in between) can offer a nice temporary relief from the pain. I’m not suggesting, mind you, that you bury your grief in sex, but that perhaps you use it as one tool to help you get through those tough times. So, that’s one extra piece where poly is nice, but it’s a very small piece.
SK’s Observation #2: Poly opens you up to being used. Again, I see very little distinction between monogamous and poly people here. Almost all of my monogamous friends have been “used” at some point by somebody who didn’t have their best interests at heart. Sometimes for sex, sometimes for affection – even sometimes on a monetary level. Using another person in these ways is unethical, and should be avoided no matter what. I would hope that within polyamory, which is supposed to be centered around the notion of ethics, we would actually have less of this happening. But yes, it still happens. I’ve seen it, and will continue to see it. SK is right, some people might think they’re poly, when really they’re not. But then, some people might think they’re monogamous, when they’re not. I know I thought I was monogamous for nearly my entire adult life. I’m sure that KA thinks that I “used her,” that I deceived her into thinking I was somebody that I wasn’t. But the sad fact is, we don’t always know who we are – it takes time to figure that out. In my case, it took nearly 40 years.
I also want to touch briefly on SK’s use of the term promiscuity in her email. Personally, I have no problem with promiscuity. I am extremely sex positive, and often embrace my own inner slut (read The Ethical Slut if you haven’t already!). I think that expressing promiscuity in a responsible and ethical way is perfectly acceptable. But those that do it unethically, as SK suggests above, are indeed using sexual partners in an unethical way. And those that are doing it under the guise of poly are the people that give poly a “bad name.”
Unfortunately, I have seen this effect up close. While I was visiting California recently, I had a conversation with a devoutly monogamous woman. She spent some time trying to convince me how wrong polyamory was. After about 45 minutes of listening to her go on about the error of my ways, I finally got to the bottom of why she was so against polyamory. She had gone out on three lovely dates with a man she had met online. This guy was awesome, apparently, and she was smitten. On the third date, this guy revealed to her that he was married, but that his wife was OK with him dating, because they were polyamorous. I tried to explain to this woman, who was very progressive and super intelligent, that this man was not, in fact, polyamorous. I explained that polyamorous people, when dating, don’t lie to their relational partners. The fact that he started an entire relationship with her on false pretenses pointed to the fact that he was, in fact, not an ethical non-monogamist. Perhaps his wife did know of his activities. But even if she did, the fact that he lied to this woman, leading her to believe he was single -well that’s the epitome of unethical and dishonest behavior! This one man single-handedly destroyed the notion of poly for this woman. Upon leaving the conversation, she still insisted that I was wrong, and that all poly people are dishonest.
I will be, at some point, discussing this topic further – Cunning Minx, the awesomest poly podcaster out there (check her out) recently did an entire post/podcast about poly-infighting. You see, there are a lot of poly people out there trying to tell others that they’re doing poly “wrong.” The thing with poly is that there are a lot of variations on what we do. But I also think there are some wrong ways of going about it. Lying to our relationsal partners is wrong – no matter what kind of relationship, mono, poly or otherwise! Honesty must come before all else! Spread the word my friends! Be honest – with yourself, with your partners, with everybody! Do so, and the world will be such a better place!