Generally I try and stay out of polyamory discussions, especially when those discussions involve the word “community” or some sort of derivation of that term. The idea of polyamory needing a “community” should be as ridiculous as the idea of monogamy needing one, or being gay, or liking hentai porn, or whatever else you can come up with. I mean come on, I’m an atheist and we are the most hated and distrusted group of people on the planet (even more than Muslims!) but that doesn’t mean I need to band together with other atheists and talk about atheism and how we can advance our atheist cause and exclude people who don’t follow our atheistic principles. I’m an atheist…boom, that’s all there is to it. We’re either friends or we’re not. If you’re not an atheist, whatever. If you want to talk with me about atheism, cool, let’s chat. Maybe I’ll change your mind about some things, maybe you’ll change my mind about some things, then we can go eat some fucking crumpets. I’ll exclude you from my life if and when you prove to me that you deserve to be excluded, not just because you don’t think the way I do about one particular thing.
I’ve written before about how polyamorous people tend to be elitists and think that their particular “brand” of poly is superior to other brands of poly, or, even worse, think that if you don’t ascribe to their version of poly then you’re not even poly at all. Read that article here. Recently an article has been spreading around the ‘net that is, at its core, a prime representation of this elitism and it pisses me off. It’s called “The Problem With Polynormativity” and you can read it in full here (warning: it’s fucking long).
Not everything in the article pisses me off. In fact a lot of the article is cool. Well, the tone of the whole article pisses me off for the elitist reasons I’ve already stated, but the writer does make some great points about the perception of polyamory and how mass media is trying to “normalize” it for the “normals” out there who won’t be able to grip what’s going on in a sound byte. So yeah, there’s some good stuff there. But there’s a lot of bad stuff too.
Whether you read the whole article or not, let me pick two choice statements and give you my take on them:
“Primary” implies top-level importance. “Secondary” implies less importance. Within this model, it’s completely normal to put one person’s feelings ahead of another’s as a matter of course. Let me say this again. It’s completely normal, even expected, that one person’s feelings, desires and opinions will matter more than another’s. It is normal for one person to be flown in first class and the other in economy as a matter of course, based on their respective status alone. And we think this is progressive?
The author is trying to say that in order to be the true poly person, the true forward-thinking progressive “let’s change the concept of relationships for the better” person, you cannot create a hierarchy within your relationships. Using the terms “primary” and “secondary” denotes a sense that certain people are more important than others and that’s bad. Well, fuck me, I guess I’m the worst person in the world because I think there are a lot of people out there who are more important to me than others. That’s just how life works. My dad is way more important to me than my boss, Eloise is way more important to me than my other girlfriends, my non-existent children would be way more important to me than someone else’s children. And on and on. If you don’t like hierarchies in your life then stop living, because you are being ranked and you are doing the ranking all day, every day. To ignore that is to be ignorant of your own self.
I appreciate that everyone needs to be respected in the relationships. I understand that and do my best every day to give everyone of my girlfriends as much respect as I possibly can and work with them to make sure that we’re all as happy as we can be with what we have. But when it comes right down to it treating everyone as complete equals is not the way it’s usually going to pan out. Yes, there are plenty of people out there in triads or quads or even bigger numbers that all treat eachother as primaries, but that’s just one way of being poly. You can’t, repeat CAN’T, demand that people live their poly lives a certain way because it’s “right” and what they’re doing is “wrong”. It’s all right if it works for them and if everyone is in on what’s going on and consents to it. How does one achieve that? Well that brings me to the next point:
The more rules you put into place, the more you are indicating that you don’t trust the person subject to those rules to operate in a considerate fashion with your shared values at heart. Or, on the reverse, you are indicating that you need to be under strict supervision, failing which you will shit all over your partner’s well-being. If you have to legislate something, it’s because you don’t expect it to happen sans legislation. This is a sad state of affairs in what are ostensibly supposed to be loving, possibly long-term relationships.
A term that floats around a bit is “anarchist polyamory”, which is what this author no doubt ascribes to. The idea is that there literally are no rules: all people in the relationship(s) do whatever they want and everyone needs to support everyone in what they do. This is a wonderful thought, just as wonderful as day-to-day anarchy in real life, but the problem is that it is patently ridiculous to think that it could ever work. There is just no possible way that I could live my life the way I want to live it and think that my living does not at all affect my partners, nor could I expect that my partners’ lives wouldn’t affect mine. The author later goes on to say that telling your partners what you want/don’t want is one thing, but making it a rule is another, and that she’s not just talking semantics. But the thing is that that’s what she is doing. I could tell my partner “I don’t want to date people who do drugs” or tell them “The rule is that you can’t do drugs while we’re together” and it means the goddamn same thing: the rule is, no drugs. You can dress it up however you like but every relationship, poly or not, needs rules and structure that are committed to by all people involved. Yes, if there are too many rules that’s stupid but rules need to be there to some degree, and if the rules get broken then relationships begin to deteriorate. And that’s another thing: isn’t it way easier to lay out rules up front for people to avoid problems coming up later on? Isn’t it easier to say “I don’t date people who do drugs” at the beginning instead of dating for a few months and then catching them doing drugs and then getting into a big fight about it? How were they to know that doing drugs was against the rules if you don’t lay it down?!
Relationships are like children: they don’t raise themselves. You have to have rules, structure, limits, assistance, support, etc., if you want your child to grow up well-adjusted and able to handle the world around them. You have to make them feel important and you inevitably will let them know that you care more about them than you do about any other person in the world, most likely including yourself. To try and raise your children, or run your relationships, without these ideals is just asking for failure.