Ask Poly – Gently Does It
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.
I recently came out as poly to a couple of friends and family members, including my mother, who took it pretty badly.
I took a while for me to come to terms with the idea of poly as well, through talking with, and observing the relationships of, friends who identified as polyamorous.
Is there any way i can introduce the concept of poly to the people I love in a gentle way, without them having the kneejerk reaction of thinking I’m morally bankrupt?
Dear Cautious Cat,
I’m really glad you’ve already mentioned doing things gently – I very much recommend approaching this with gentleness and kindness.
I’m sorry to hear your mother took it badly. This can be pretty tough stuff – you may well have to put in quite a bit of hard work. Have a read of my previous column on coming out, and read on.
First of all, find a good time to talk; make sure that your family members actually want to talk about poly and to try to understand your choices. Explain the idea of polyamory, tell them that practising poly is what feels best for you right now, and acknowledge that this may change in the future. Explain why you’ve chosen to be poly – is it because you found monogamy did not work for you? Explain that, emphasising it to be based only on your own experiences (don’t criticise all monogamy, as chances are your loved ones may take that personally.) Talk clearly, calmly and above all gently about your reasons.
Being poly, you’ll have had a lot of practice at being open and honest. Be so again now – offer expositions and explanations, if and when they would like to listen. Be available for them to ask questions of you. Explain your perceptions, experiences and logistics; tell them about how you came to the decision to be polyamorous; tell them why you’ve decided monogamy doesn’t suit you; be honest about poly being hard work sometimes. Treat your loved ones as you would good friends – put in the work needed to help them understand your position and maintain your good relationship, and expect they will do the same.
With family in particular, it can sometimes be useful to spin the truth a little – not to lie, but you may want to present poly in as normative a fashion as possible. Even if you’re a raging queer, it’s useful to emphasise the normal aspects of poly: if any of your lovers have especially mainstream or respectable jobs, mention those. If you know of poly people who have maintained long and happy relationships, mention those. Think about the sorts of measures of success and happiness your loved ones have in mind (Dazzling careers? Marriage and children?) and mention the poly people you know who fulfil those, or remind them that some of these apply to you if that’s the case. Of course, time is not the only measure of a relationship’s success, and of course career isn’t everything, but this isn’t the time to have that discussion: keep things easy for them.
This may well be the very first they’re ever hearing about poly as an option, or they may confuse poly with rumours they’ve heard about polygamy or free love. Talking about your stable polyamorous friends is one solution – you could also mention other folks they’ll have heard of. Tilda Swinton is purported to be living in a stable triad with her two partners; Will Smith talks about his non-monogamy having a positive effect on the stability of his marriage; and your family may well have read the Millennium Trilogy, following the characters in a long-term, very ordinary polyamorous setup.
Explain that polyamory isn’t particularly unusual among your generation or in your peer group, and that many poly people are extremely normative. You could even invite your family to Polyday so they can see hundreds of perfectly ordinary poly and poly-curious people for themselves. They may well decline, but you’ll have shown that you feel as though you have nothing to hide, and that none of this is shameful: they will follow your example.
Regardless of all your efforts, sometimes there really isn’t any way to introduce the concept without their thinking you are morally bankrupt. Particularly when it comes to family, sometimes you just can’t win: if your family have ever criticised a monogamous partner, a choice of career or a new house, this may happen here as well. Don’t take it too personally if that’s the case – give them time, and space. Stay kind: the moral high ground is a wonderful place to be, so long as you don’t let it make you arrogant. They’ll come around eventually.
Liked this piece? Why not check out the previous Ask Polly column?