A problem I’ve noticed in my own life, as well as lives of many other poly people is a lack of social support.
I don’t mean that your mother doesn’t like and understand that you’re poly, though that is something of a symptom.
What I mean is that the social context where people often expect sympathy and support if often lacking in the wider community.
Let’s go with the most common one — divorce. It is not unusual for someone who is poly, especially one living in a multi-adult situation, not to get a lot of support or understanding if one of the partners moves out. Hey, you’ve got other partners, still, right?
Even if it’s not as extreme as a divorce, but is “merely” a breakup, you may not get the understanding that a monogamous person might.
There are a dozen little things you start running in to. If you find you are getting depressed and need help, you have to gather your thoughts together well enough to educate mental health workers about polyamory before you can get appropriate treatment1. It’s very hard to listen to a counselor’s input, because sometimes a counselor might be confronting you with things you don’t want to face, and it’s really easy to blow that off as “poly prejudice”, especially if you have the slightest pig-headedness to your nature.
What kind of things help?
- “Being out” — You can’t be supportive of what you don’t know about. My co-workers knew I lived in a group marriage. When I was saving boxes to help an ex move, my co-workers treated it with the same sympathy as they would any co-worker going through a more “standard” divorce. If they hadn’t known, they would have been confronted with this nut who would tear up when she picked up a box without having the slightest idea why. And in the throes of a divorce is hardly the time to whip a little “poly education” on anyone! More importantly, because we were out, we were able to have open lines of comunication with the children’s teachers, asking them to please keep us informed of behavioral issues, etc. It was a big help! Because the people knew us and had a context on which to hang the whole idea, they got what was going on pretty well.
- Having a social circle that is not connected only with your partners — Avoid the “group hug” thing too much if you’re in a poly group situation. Yes, your family and that closeness is important, but you want to have a context in which you’re just you, not part of the Petting Zoo, or OLQ, or Our Little Tribe, or Kerista, or the Oneida Community. Your family context is important, but have an identity outside of that. If you knit and no-one else in the family does, for goodness sake, make it to your stitch-n-bitch regularly! Have an outside project, interest or activity where you hang out with people that aren’t necessarily poly.
I’m not necessarily saying to do this in case someone dies or divorces you, though. People need a wide range of contacts, family, friends and wider social networks2. A social support network is as important for our needs to give as our needs to get.
I recall encountering someone commenting on being polyamorous on Usenet many years ago, saying, “I don’t have a lifestyle, I have a life!” I liked that, because I think it is all too easy for we poly to get tied up in our polyness, and especially our families if we live in multi-adult households, and lose touch with the outside world.
So, yes, have a life! It’s good for you, good for reality checks, and actually ain’t so bad to show that we polys are “real people” too!
1Try that in the throes of a mental health crisis sometime. It’s even less fun than it sounds like!
2 Yes, even we introverts need that. You’re still a monkey, even if you’re a weirdly-wired one.