Ask Polly – Wired for Non-Monogamy?
Welcome to Ask Polly, the UK’s first poly advice column! We invite readers to send poly-related questions to our resident columnist, Polly, and she’ll do her very best to offer advice. You’re also very much encouraged to join the conversation in the comments. Polly can be contacted by email, on polly at polytical dot org, or via Polytical’s Facebook or twitter. Ask Polly is published twice a month, and you can read more here.
Okay, so my question is this. How do I know if I am poly? I am a single, bisexual man, who has mainly been in relationships with women. I really can see nothing wrong or weird with going out with more than one person, and think I’d be happy (is that even the right word?) if someone I was going out with found someone else they liked. I know this question is a bit vague, but how do you know?
Confused in Cambridge
From what you’ve said, you sound fairly poly to me! And the word you want is probably compersion. You’ve brought up some really interesting questions about identity, labels, and “poly hard-wiring” that I’d love to explore more.
I feel like poly folks worry quite a lot about labels – conversations abound as to exactly what sorts of labels to use; whether we can call ourselves poly when single or with one partner; when we can start using the term when transitioning from monogamy; whether poly is an orientation (like being queer) and what that means.
I’m inclined towards suggesting taking a bit of a step back from finding exact labels, and just getting on with doing what works. Don’t worry about whether poly is something you are, inherently – let it be something you do, when it makes sense, and call yourself poly (if you like) from that basis. And when things change, remember that sexuality is fluid, that that is okay, and roll with it.
The converse is also true – don’t feel pressure to date around loads just because you identify as poly. Don’t feel like you need to practice it for your label to be valid. It’s totally normal to be single and poly, or partnered with one person and poly. I’m sure this is all familiar to you from bisexual politics!
It is much easier to think of poly as something that we do, rather than something that we are. That said, it’s really common to worry about not feeling poly ‘enough’, or having more of a monogamous brain than a poly one. Particularly when starting out as poly, transitioning from monogamy towards polyamory, or opening up an existing relationship, it can feel as though you can’t measure up to people who are ‘wired’ for non-monogamy – who feel naturally inclined this way, and who never suffer jealousy, insecurity, or Google Calender bugs as a result.
We’ve got a fair few people in our communities who feel hard-wired for poly – like Franklin, who says, “I know that I did not make this decision; it’s simply part of who I am”.
However, having met a fair few people practising non-monogamy, I’d say that those people who feel hard-wired for poly are in the minority. Most people are just muddling through, most experience difficulties like jealousy despite also feeling wholly committed to practising non-monogamy, and I bet that loads worry about not actually “being” poly because they don’t feel wired that way.
I’m not sure that anyone, except the very few people who seem to have totally poly hard-wiring, can really say for sure that they “are” poly and mean that they’re made that way. There’s too much hard work, self-doubt and second-guessing going on for that to really be an option. That’s why I prefer to think of poly as something we do, rather than something we are – with an acknowledgement of the hard work and active engagement that can take.
So I’d say, don’t worry too much about labels and what they prescribe. Do what seems good and makes sense, keep talking with your partners, and if you do find yourself worrying that you’re the only one around with a monogamous brain, or who isn’t *really* poly, try mentioning that to your local poly network and see how many people feel the same!
Liked this piece? Why not check out the previous Ask Polly column?