Originally published at
I want to thank a recent reader of the PolyFamilies site for the idea for this column. I’ve been a bit blocked for a month or so, trying to come up with something good to write, and this was an excellent topic!
Every now and then I get letters from people who are not poly, but are close to someone who is — family member, close friend, something like that. Most of the time when I get a letter, it is from someone who has done some research on the topic and clearly wants to be as supportive as they can be. This can be hard, especially because it is often such a new idea, or it seems to them that their friend/family member is behaving oddly .
Chances are good that you found out about your loved on being poly because they were involved with someone besides who you thought was their “one and only” love. Wham! There you are being blindsided, going, “Now what the hell is this nutcase up to?”
And you think I’m gonna scoldja for thinking something so unsupportive, right?
It’s a totally valid question and it’s okay to ask yourself. Not sayin’ you should start calling your loved one a nutcase or anything, but when someone close to you that you love does something strange, asking yourself questions to try to explore what’s up is a good thing.
The real problem is that most poly people, because they know polyamory to be a somewhat touchy subject, will often wind up waiting to “come out” until it’s so blasted obvious no-one could miss it. They’re often in the throes of a new relationship and are totally ga-ga over this new person (in the poly community, we call this New Relationship Energy or NRE), and often want everyone else around them to be so happy for them and the new love they’ve found. Not that wanting one’s loved ones to share on one’s happiness is exactly a negative thing, but there you are, confused. Hesitant.
Here’s some things to keep in mind:
- Polyamory is not about cheating.
You’ll find some of the harshest critics you’ve ever seen of having affairs in the polyamorous community. (I’m usually first in line with this one. <grin> If someone says they’re poly, but to keep it under your hat about the other relationship because the spouse doesn’t know, you’re dealing with a cheating situation, not a poly one.
- If offered an opportunity to get to know a new love, take it!
I’m not saying you have to become bestest friends with this new love. I am saying that because your friend or loved one is heavily involved with more than one person, it’s a good idea, if invited, to get to know all the loves. They’re a big parts of your loved one’s life. You cannot form opinions in a vacuum, and the more facts the better!
- It’s okay to call bullshit
I am not saying that it’s okay to close your mind, say polyamory is all wrong and your friend is being an idiot. ‘Kay? What I am saying is that it’s okay to say, “Well, Mary, I’ve met your love. He claims to be a wealthy day-trader, but he’s said some things that indicate to me that he doesn’t even know what a ticker symbol is, and he drives a 1993 Pontiac Sunbird. I think he’s not being truthful here.” Love is love, honesty is honesty and being poly doesn’t change all standards of behavior.
- It’s okay to ask questions.
You may tread on ground that your friend thinks is none of your business, mind. It’s an intimate subject. (For instance, I am unlikely to answer if someone asks me specifics about what I do in bed with a specific person!) But it’s still okay to ask . “How does your wife feel about this?” is a totally valid question, and so is, “How are you going to handle things with the kids?” Now, a caveat: Don’t confuse asking a legitimate question because you want information with trying to use questions to beat someone over the head because you don’t like what they’re doing. There’s a difference and it’s important to be conscious of it.
- Your friend/loved one may feel a little defensive.
The simple fact of the matter is that we are often treated a little harshly. I’ve been called names on occasion and don’t always get much respect for my non-legal relationships. It’s such new territory for many people! Not only is there going to be a lot of communication, restructuring and negotiation going on within the romantic relationships, he’s also going to be dealing with the changes that this information is going to bring in his relationship with you ! It’s a lot to handle and is sometimes a little overwhelming.
- Love is always a good place to start.
Love ain’t just about sex and romance. I’m presuming that you love your friend/family member here. In your interaction and communication, keep that in mind.
I’ve been asked what the ettiquite is for interacting with a poly person and dealing with their relationships. Well, there isn’t any. Miss Manners just hasn’t written anything about it. However, showing good manners (as opposed to a strict aherence to ettiquite) and being gracious is always a good place to start.
For you poly people who are coming out? Be understanding, okay? This is new to your friends/family. They’re just not going to grok everything right away. You know how you feel, but you do look like some kinky freak on the surface. Be gentle and understanding and let people beneath the surface.
And learn from my mistake. Don’t try to shove your otherloves down your friends’ and family’s throat! Sure, if you have otherloves living with you, you can expect your guests to be polite. That’s reasonable. But give it time when it comes to acceptance. We know how we feel about our otherloves, but you’re jumping completely out of a societal paradigm, and you can’t just say, “Look, I have two wives and I expect you to internalize that.” Let your actions prove your statements and let things flow from there.