“You will know that you have rattled the right cage when the snakes hiss…” – Charles M. Blow
You know that person that is always saying things like, “Oh yeah, I liked ________ before it was cool.”? That person tends to be annoying, right? I mean, there’s no inherent problem with trying to seem “elite” by talking about how you saw Nirvana at a tiny bar before they were big, or saw Donnie Darko in the theatre unlike everyone else who saw it on video, but it is kind of lame to try and base your coolness factor off what you’ve viewed/experienced rather than what you’ve actually done. But what is completely intolerable is when people say “I liked ___________ before it was cool but then it went mainstream and it sucks now.” That person needs to be punched in the eyeballs and then castrated to prevent them from spawning little hipster douches. Nirvana’s Nevermind is still fucking amazing. Just because millions of people own it besides you doesn’t make it any less fucking stellar nor should it make it any less personally significant in your life. Why is that so hard to grasp?
Unfortunately I sometimes feel like the polyamorous community is overflowing with these kinds of people. These types seem to think that polyamory is this rigid thing with all sorts of rules that they themselves have instituted in their own relationships (and thus you HAVE to institute in yours) and that outsiders are not welcome. They don’t want polyamory to go mainstream, they want it to stay pure in their community and not be “tainted” by people who, they feel, may just be jumping on the open relationship bandwagon. This attitude is stupid and counterproductive. You can’t search for acceptance from the public at large for your alternative relationships and simultaneously attempt to prevent them from experiencing those alternatives for themselves and discover what works for them. That’d be like telling someone how great Nevermind is but then refusing to let them listen to it for fear that they will like it for reasons that are different from yours.
Let me be perfectly clear about something: non-monogamous relationships have only one rule for them to be accepted as non-monogamous, and that is that they are not monogamous. It says it right there in the title! Non-monogamous. That’s the only rule, anything you want to do within the guidelines of being non-monogamous is fine and should be accepted by everyone as definitively non-monogamous. And as long as everyone involved in these relationships is aware and consensual of what is going on within them then every non-monogamous person should be 100% supportive of those relationships (cheating is non-monogamy and should be acknowledged as such, just not supported). You are in the same boat together, searching for the same acceptance, navigating the same tricky waters of an alternative lifestyle.
But non-monogamy is an umbrella term. Polyamory is considered to be a particular form of non-monogamy, just like polygamy is a particular form of non-monogamy (read about my examination of these terms here). This is where the real issues arise because polyamory is nearly as vague a term as non-monogamy but people feel that you have to meet certain criteria to be able to say “I’m polyamorous,” and if you don’t meet them you are scoffed at. So what are the criteria? Well it depends on who you ask which is the problem.
Look at it this way: polyamory is like pornography. There’s a basic definition of what pornography is (“writings, pictures, films, etc, designed to stimulate sexual excitement” [Source]) but there’s so much wiggle room within the definition that the only way to point out what is porn and what is not is by saying the oft-repeated “I know it when I see it.” It’s completely subjective which just creates tons of problems; one person sees a woman running topless on a beach as pornography while another sees it as simply nudity with little to no sexual connotation at all. When one discusses “What is polyamory?” they run into the same subjective problem. One person may say that in order to be polyamorous you need to be “in love” with each of your partners. Does it get more subjective than that? What does “in love” even mean? Others will say more objective things like “In order to be polyamorous you need to be living with all your partners.” That’s much more defined, but come on…that’s totally ridiculous. That’d be like saying in order to be in a monogamous relationship you have to live together which is so fucking stupid. And besides, even if they do believe that who’s to say that I also then have to believe that too? No one.
My whole life I’ve dealt with this issue. “This whole polyamory thing is just about sex, right? You’re just having sex with lots of people in addition to your primary partner.” Or, “Polyamory is just being single and playing the field but being honest about it.” No, no, no, and no.
Here’s what polyamory is: non-monogamous relationships that are consensual, ethical, and involve a degree of non-sexual intimacy between two or more of the active partners. That, I feel, is a definition of polyamory that every poly person can agree with. Under this definition I am polyamorous because I have a primary partner as well as several secondary partners, all of whom I see regularly and have sexual and non-sexual relationships with. A couple who have one threesome with a girl are not polyamorous. They are non-monogamous, but not poly. A single man who picks up girls at bars, has sex with them, and then never sees them again is not polyamorous. He is non-monogamous, but not poly. A man cheating on his wife is non-monogamous, but not poly. A pornstar is not necessarily polyamorous. Do you see the trend? There has to be multiple people all on the same page and there has to be more than just sex involved. End of discussion.
If you want to get more specific with your personal desires for your polyamorous relationships and say something like, “I want two primaries and no secondaries” then that’s FINE. More power to you. But don’t you EVER come along and say that if I don’t do the same thing you do then I’m not polyamorous. That’s asinine.
I want to accept everyone for who they are and what they want to do. That’s one of the reasons I love polyamory, because it let’s you break free of the shackles of what society says you should want from your relationships. I do my best to love and accept everyone’s consensual relationships and I’m flabbergasted some members of the poly community don’t do the same. Shape up, poly folk.
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