Here’s a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for several months now: it’s about some of the varied and different ways that people reacted to the news that Ruth and I were together, and that Claire and JTA were also a couple (and, of course, Ruth and JTA are still the fabulous pair they always were, and Claire and I are still ticking along nicely with the wonderful relationship that we have). There probably aren’t many people who’ll read this to whom that news will be a shock (after all, Ruth made a friends-only post some time ago, and Claire dropped a one-liner into a recent blog post), so I’ll gloss over it and get on to what I actually wanted to write about.
I don’t want to write about how brilliantly it’s going so far – although it is – because you’ve probably heard that enough. I don’t want to spout liberal nonsense about personal freedoms and choices and what’s right for us, because I don’t feel the need to prove that what we’re all "up to" feels right. Hell, I don’t even want to try to argue that polyamoury is as valid as a lifestyle choice as the infinitely more popular serial monogamy (but if you want to buy me a pint, we can debate that particular idea until the sun goes down).
All I’d like to do right now is share with you some of the fascinating reactions that I’ve heard (or overheard) since breaking the news of our new relationship structure to friends and family. Because, in the end, that’ll make more amusing reading material, and if I’m to be remembered for anything, I’d like it to be that I made people laugh.
Oh; there’s a few references to sex (but almost none to particular sexual activities), so please insert the usual disclaimer here and cover the eyes of the child that’s sat on your lap while you’re reading this. Ta. Seriously, it’s all pretty tame; enough to make a 14-year-old blush but nothing that’ll put you off your dinner or stop you from making eye contact with any of us, but I just felt like I ought to warn you before you started e-mailing me your complaints.
So, skim read it, or skip it, or drill down to the funny bits. But if I put this all down here, now, it’ll save me revisiting it all in quite such ludicrous detail in future, and I can spare the abnib front page the excesses of my ramblings.
Here are some of the things that loads of people said:
Okay, so perhaps it shouldn’t be right up here at the top of the list of the most common reactions we’ve gotten when one of us has "come out" about our somewhat unorthodox relationship structure. That top spot should perhaps belong to "Umm… what?""You’re joking, right?" But it has been a popular response – more popular than I expected – and it’s been great to have this kind of support from so many people. To the handful of friends and family members who were so open-minded that their first reaction was "So you’ve gotten into a new relationship and you’re happy? Well; congratulations are in order!", I salute you: you’ve shown an unprecedented level of acceptance and understanding.
That’s not to say that anybody who said anything else is somehow less thoughtful: just, in many cases, more shocked or surprised. And, in the end, almost everybody who knows has said "Well that’s great, then!" or something similar after they’d been given a while to think about it. It’s not easy to know the correct social etiquette procedure to follow when given news like this, so we were braced for a lot of confused faces, and we saw far fewer than we anticipated. Good for you.
Or, to put it another way: congratulations yourself!
"I couldn’t do it!"
This is a really, really common response. There are two things that I can really say to it:
- You might be surprised. Relationships aren’t just something you’re good at or bad at; there are skills that can be learned – and that goes for all kinds of relationships, even creepy weird ones like mine. It’s possible to learn to be able to organise yourself (and your time!) in multiple relationships, and it’s possible to learn the communication skills and trust it takes to talk about things like jealousy and shit like that.
- But that doesn’t matter anyway. You couldn’t do it? Okay.
We know that this kind of silliness isn’t for everybody. And don’t worry, polyamoury isn’t contagious like smallpox or homosexuality: we’re not going to try to infect you and make you in to evil sex-crazed swingers like us. Even though that’s not what we are. Probably.
"Don’t you get jealous, though?"
Yes. Almost everybody in the world gets jealous at some point or other; it’s perfectly natural and – like any other negative emotion – it can be worked through.
Jealousy is one of the first things that comes to many people’s minds as being a potential problem with this kind of relationship. And perhaps it is. But it’s important not to forget that jealousy isn’t limited to non-monogamy. I’ve felt jealous during perfectly healthy, happy, committed, monogamous relationships before: because I’ve not gotten to spent as long with my lover as I’d like (and, perhaps, when somebody else – their friend, perhaps – has), or not been emotionally as close to them as somebody else, or when they’ve talked about their past sexual conquests or the size, stamina, or general studliness of their last lover. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
Something I’ve learnt of late, though, is how important it is to talk about feelings of jealousy, so that your partner(s) know exactly what it is that bothers you and so that, between you, you can come to compromises and agreements that make these feelings bearable, or make them go away entirely. And even if it doesn’t all work out (and let’s face it: statistically speaking, our age and the novelty of our new relationships alone counts against it), I’ll have learnt a couple of important lessons about communication in relationships.
Did you know that many biologists consider parrots to be one of the most jealous species on the planet? I don’t remember where I learnt that, but it sounds like it could be true. Hmm; they’re monogamous breeders. Perhaps I’m undermining my point with my knowledge of stupid fun facts. Damn.
"What happens if one of the four relationships breaks up? How will that affect the rest of them?"
For all the planning and all the talking we’ve done, we can’t answer questions like this one. They’re just too tough, with too many unknown factors. I’d like to think that if one of our partnerships split, the other three might be able to continue, but the ripple effects of that kind of break-up might be too much, and other splits may occur as a result.
It’s a risk we’re willing to take. Just like the risk of a heart-breaking separation doesn’t stop you from throwing yourself headlong into a relationship with somebody you adore, we’re risking our relationships and our friendships by establishing these new, less-common relationships. I think it’s worth it. You’re welcome to disagree, but you can’t feel what I feel.
On the other hand, we have all fitted ourselves with stylish tamper-proof detonator collars like the one shown below, wired so that if one of us does leave the presence of the other three for more than a week, their collar will self destruct. It’s the single best way to keep us together.
Less Common Reactions
This section contains a selection of the less-common responses to our news.
"So you’re all getting lots of sex, then?"
Not as much as you’d expect, I’d bet. I’d estimate that the average frequency at which any given one of us gets a bit of nookie has barely increased at all (or maybe that’s just what they want me to think). The increase in the amount of sex I was getting when, for example, I went from being single to being in a relationship: that was a hell of a leap, for sure. The increase when I went from being in one committed relationship to being in two? Far less significant.
Sex is great, but – in my mind at least – it’s not among the biggest things I look at in a relationship.
Breasts are the biggest things I look at in a relationship.
Those last two lines were a joke, by the way, in case it wasn’t obvious.
"So have you have a threesome yet?"
A few people have asked this, and it’s honestly surprised me how often it’s come up. Moreover, I was really surprised when one person in particular was quite shocked at the answer: no, we haven’t.
I’ve have a couple of threesomes over the years, but none of them have ever involved Ruth or JTA.
I’m not sure why people think of this first. Perhaps it’s because threesomes are some great romantic mystery in so many people’s minds: to be fair, there aren’t many men who’d turn down the opportunity for a bedroom experience with two Hot Bi Babes. Perhaps it’s because it seems like an obvious "next step." I don’t know.
In any case: the answer’s no. Perhaps it’ll happen someday, but it’s not the most important thing to sort out. Far more important questions that you don’t think of until you end up in a relationship like this are far more mundane things like:
- Who gets the front seat in the car?
- Who pays for dinner?
- Which side of the bed do I sleep on? Your other lover sleeps on that side, but I prefer to sleep on this side.
- This invitation says "Plus partner." Who do I take?
- What are we doing for Christmas?
- If I cook, who washes up? (turns out the answer is often "nobody")
- Who have I just woken up next to? I’m not sober yet and it’s still dark and I can’t remember who I got into bed with. I could prod them and listen to them grunt in their sleep, see if I can identify them that way… or perhaps I could turn the reading light on for just a second…
The big questions are so often the ones you don’t anticipate.
"Have you ever thought about… umm… crossing the square?"
Another reasonably popular but not really common question: is there any potential of a relationship between JTA and I? Or between Claire and Ruth?
Between JTA and I? No. JTA’s very definately straight, and even with gender cast aside, I’m not sure we’d be "compatible" in the way that I wildly speculate he’d want (note: wild speculation).
Ruth and Claire? Well, it’s not my place to say what they think or feel. Whether or not that interests them is up to them, of course, but it’s my impression that neither of them have any intention of drawing any kind of "relationship line" through our "square," at least not a line comparable to the lines that form it’s edges.
I’ll set the webcam up, though, just in case. Don’t click here if you want to see it.
"But how can you love two people at once?"
That’s a far bigger, more philosophical point than I’d like to go in to detail on here. A better question is: why is it that you think you can’t love more than one person at once?
My belief is that love is, fundamentally, chemicals in the brain: and I find it hard to believe that the chemicals in my brain have the concept of "counting to two" (in fact, I’ve discovered on long evenings in the pub, if I put enough chemicals in to my brain, I can’t even count to two): they’re a lot simpler than that. "Oh no," says the brain-chemistry, "I can’t possibly make more of this chemical in the presence of that person, because I already make that chemical when I’m in the presence of that other person!" Please.
Love’s a remarkable thing, y’see, because there’s no "starvation economy" of it: when a mother has a second child, she doesn’t love the first one any less because of it. I don’t believe for a minute that we’re born with a certain quantity of "love juice" (ahem) in us and we use it up by loving people (damn, I really should have thought of a better term than "love juice," which is just icky-sounding). Unlike time, money, and energy, love is virtually limitless, and you don’t run out of it just because there are more people who you care about.
"So how do you find the time, money, and energy for two relationships?"
Now that’s a better question. With great difficulty.
It genuinely is quite a challenge to find enough hours in a day, sometimes, and it takes a reasonable amount of planning to ensure that you even get enough time to yourself. In particular, I’ve found it very difficult to spend as much time with my other friends as I would like, and that’s something I’m working on improving.
Google Calendar is my friend. With it’s text-message alerts (*beep* *beep* *beep* "Oh shit, I’m supposed to be in bed with somebody!"), it’s a lifesaver.
"What does this mean for QParty? What does this mean for Ruth & JTA’s plans to marry?"
That’s two questions, but two that often get lumped together, despite the fact that they’re two very different questions. Let’s look at them one at a time:
Firstly, QParty. The (in some ways) unfortunate timing of my new partnership – getting a new girlfriend just weeks before a party to celebrate my relationship with my established girlfriend – and a similar situation for Claire… may have, we understand, confused the message of QParty for some people. And for that, I apologise.
The meaning of QParty doesn’t change, of course. It was always a celebration of Claire and I’s love for and commitment to one another, and that love and that commitment hasn’t changed one bit for the addition of an extra lover each. QParty itself was, of course, a special day for the pair of us, and those of you present may have observed that Ruth and JTA kept a respectable distance away (not least to reduce the risk of confusing some of our relatives); a favour we’ll be returning at their wedding in… what?… just under three years time.
I can’t speak for Ruth and JTA and their plans, but it’s my understanding that there’s no change in them. They still plan to marry, and marriage still seems to mean the same thing to them as it already did. And while marriage isn’t for Claire and I, I think I speak for us both when I say that we respect their choice to tie the knot in that way and we agree that it’s the right thing for them, and we’re really happy that they’re doing it.
I suppose that one obvious up-shot is that Claire could be the stripper for JTA’s stag party. Or is that just a little bit too weird?
"But, I mean: why are you having a party with Claire and not with Ruth?"
Because I’ve been with Claire for five and a bit years, and (at the time of QParty) I’d been with Ruth for less than a month. Is that a good enough reason? Part of QParty was celebrating that, after five years, Claire and I are still together. Many relationships don’t make it that far, and, in many ways, it’s a pleasant surprise that Claire and I did, especially considering how we started our relationships.
Perhaps, if everything goes smoothly, we’ll have another party in 2012 to celebrate both Ruth and I and Claire and JTA’s relationships. You’ll just have to wait and see.
And if we do, you can almost guarantee it’ll be fancy dress. Sorry, Jimmy. In any case, start thinking of suggested foursome-themed costume ideas suitable for two men and two women now (no, we’re not going as ABBA).
Pretty Unique Reactions
Finally, here’s a list of things that people have said that’s just a little bit more "off the wall."
[silence; nods of approval]
One particular couple – who discovered our "quad" by accident because we forgot that we hadn’t told them and they "noticed" – took the approach of being so cool with it that they didn’t even feel the need to pass comment on it. "Oh, so they’re together now. Should I be shocked?" That’s pretty damn unique.
An alternative theory is that the people in question were shocked into silence. Or perhaps had taken a vow of silence as part of some religious cult. But I like my theory.
"It expect it’ll be a fucking disaster."
We’re sorry to hear that a handful of our friends – thankfully very few – don’t think that it can possibly work out.
It may well not work out. There are loads of things that can go wrong in any new relationship (and, in fact, there are plenty that can go wrong in old relationships, too). We don’t think for a moment that it’ll be an easy thing to make work, but we’re glad that we’re able to work towards making it the success we hope it will be. We’ve laid a lot of important groundwork to help us support one another and to make it work, and we think we’ve got as good a chance as any relationship does.
Worst case, we’ve always got the exploding collars.
"Wow. So four of my friends are now each in a threesome? That’s ace!"
And that’s thinking like a mathematician. It’s not accurate, of course: I mentioned above that "threesomes" haven’t happened, and in poly-parlance, a "vee" (two people joined by one in the middle, in a ‘V’ shape) is a more accurate way of looking at any individual one of us, rather than a "threesome" or "triad" (which implies a relationship between the two people at the tips of the ‘V’). But honestly, mate, you call us whatever the fuck you want, because you had one of the single coolest-sounding responses to the news of anybody, and a ludicrous grin to go with it.
"So, what about children?"
Honestly, I’m surprised more people didn’t ask this question; especially among those who hope themselves to be grandparents in the making. But I was very impressed when somebody did ask, especially as the answer is so simple and unfinalised.
We’re not sure. Children may be on the agenda some way down the line, but we’ve still got a lot of discussion to do on that subject (and, to be fair, there are more immediate things on the agenda right now, like – who gets the front seat in the car? who pays for dinner? – and so on).
Me? I think the four of us would make great parents, and no, I don’t think the fact that theoretical far-future potential children would, in general, give a fig that for some reason they’ve got between two and four times as many parents as their peers. Hmm… I’ve just thought about that: surely I meant to say *exactly* two or four times: it’s not like we can comprise three times as many people as any other set of people: apologies if I’m wrong to any single-and-a-third parent families out there.
Really, though, that’s a fucking huge question to ask pretty much anybody who’s been in a relationship for three months or so. You might as well ask if we have a mortgage together yet or if we’ve reached that level of intimacy in which it’s okay to fart in bed: one step at a time, now, folks!
"What do you call each other? What do I call you?"
Well, I’m Dan, and that’s Claire, and over there is Ruth, and… oh, but that wasn’t what you were asking, was it? What you mean is, if Claire is my "partner," then who is Ruth?
It must be so much easier to be Ruth or JTA, in this regard. Ruth, for example, can call me her boyfriend and JTA her fiance. I don’t have that luxury, so I tend to call them both my partners, or, better yet, refer to them by name (particularly when talking to somebody who’s only just discovered that "partner" doesn’t have to imply that there is exactly one of them).
What do you call us? Call us anything you like, for all I care! But I know what you’re asking: you’re saying, "I was telling my friend about this couple I know, then I realised that ‘couple’ might not be the right word, then it all got complicated…" Yeah, sorry about that: we didn’t mean to make things complicated for you. I quite like the word "quad." It may make us sound a bit like small motor vehicle, but it’s an easy-to-remember, short, and understandable word: people tend to just work out what you mean when you say it, and so you don’t get yourself into any excessive complexity.
But honestly; if it makes your life easier to pretend to other people that you don’t know that we’re four couples at all, that’s fine by me too. Conversely, if you want to tell everybody you meet, that’s probably okay as well (albeit just a little bit creepy). There are more important things in life than the words you use. Like who gets the front seat in the car, who washes up, who takes soup up to the ill person in bed, what the correct protocol is for talking to people’s parents…
Well, as you’ve managed to read this far, thanks! It means it might have been worth it to type all of this. Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list of everything anybody has ever asked us, it’s just a selection. I hope it’s been interesting, but I hope even more that you’ve been able to chuckle at it.
Love and hugs to all those who deserve it. Now get back to surfing the web like you’re supposed to.