Freaksexual just wrote a fantastic blog post (as usual) instructing monogamous people “How to be Poly-Friendly“. It’s an excellent little post about the kinds of faux pas it’s easy to make without even thinking about it, and while it’s very obviously targetted at monogamous folk who have polyamourous friends or lovers, I couldn’t help but feel that I’ve made a few mistakes on that list myself at one time or another.
However hard it tries not to be, though, it still comes across as a little militant (I know that’s not the intention!) in it’s defensiveness, and I thought it probably deserved an “opposite number”; a counter-post. So here’s my attempt – and I’m certainly not the most-qualified person to write it – to explain how poly-people can be mono-friendly.
How to be Mono-Friendly
Don’t preach polyamoury. It’s okay – sometimes even helpful – to let the monogamous know that the potential exists for negotiated nonmonogamy (and that for those for whom it works, it can be far better than being in a single relationship could have been). It may well be something that they’d never even considered or that they didn’t think could actually work, and letting them know that it does and how it can is an eye-opener for many. But it’s not appropriate to try to “sell” your lifestyle choice by dropping it in at every opportunity: for many – most – people it doesn’t work, and these people have a right not to be harassed. Especially do not make the sweeping claim that your lifestyle is universally better than theirs. That it is better for you is not in dispute, but shouting about how universal adoption of polyamoury will stop infidelity/prevent world hunger/cure cancer is wrong on every single count, and patronising to boot.
It’s easy to overstate the significance of “mono privilege”: that the world discriminates in favour of couples (and, specifically, one-man-one-woman couples). It’s true, of course, and it’d certainly be nice if monogamous people were aware of quite how complicated things even some simple things can be for some poly families, but there’s no excuse for spending the whole time moaning about how easy the mono people have it… and while it’s worth saying once, nobody wants to hear for the hundredth time how unfair it is that you have to organise your life or your finances in a particular way because that’s the way the system works.
Sometimes, monogamous friends can find it awkward or uncomfortable to know how best to refer to your partners, and the polite thing to do is to help them find a word. If you have a variety of different relationships of different types, folks new to poly ideas in general will sometimes trip over their own tongues while trying to decide whether to use the word “partner,” or “girlfriend,” or “friend,” or “fuck-buddy,” or whatever. When you introduce somebody, pick a word (“friend” is okay, but be ready for questions if you’re later seen to be doing what many mono-people would call “more than friends”). And if a friend is struggling to find words to refer to one of your relationships, help them out by dropping in a suitable word for them to use.
Similarly, be ready for questions about your relationships. There’s no point in denying that your lifestyle is unusual, and it will attract a lot of interest. Don’t be afraid to say, “This is how it is… …but if you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask – I know it’s a little unusual!” From time to time, you’ll get the same initial questions – is it all about the sex? are you kinky? are there orgies? are you bisexual? – but if you can help your friend get past that, you’ll find that, in general, poly relationships aren’t really any different from mono relationships, and you’ll help them to see that, too. By showing that you’re happy to answer questions, you’re also helping poly activism in a tiny way, by demonstrating that it’s nothing to be ashamed or afraid of, just a different way that some people choose to live their lives.
If you consider yourself polyamourous and you’re dating somebody who considers themselves monogamous, it’s as important for you as it is for them to be honest about where things are going. Don’t let them believe that it’s possible for them to “convert” you to monogamy if it’s not true, and it’ll be easier for them to admit any discomfort with you having other partners. In some ways, the kinds of negotiation that poly-people have to do on a day-to-day basis gives you an advantage when it comes to laying your cards on the table, and it’s important that you respect that it might be a lot less easy for your partner to talk about their wants and fears. And if you’re in a long-term relationship with a mono without seeing any other partners, don’t let them trick themselves into thinking they’ve “cured” you of your nonmonogamous tendencies.
Remember that for many monogamous people, just like for many polyamourous people, their lifestyle is not something that they consider to be a “choice”. In a group of mostly polyamourous people, it’s perhaps even more difficult for a monogamous person to feel like they fit in than it can be for a lone poly-person in a group of monogamous people, because the lone poly, by omission at least, can at least come off as “one of them.” Some people will experiment with both monogamy and nonmonogany and will settle on one or the other because it just feels right; others are so sure of their identity that they will achieve the same without even needing to experiment. That’s okay, and it’s belittling to play the “how do you know if you don’t try it” card, just as it is with sexuality – so don’t!
Be polite in your objections to the terms people use, and assume good faith first. You’ll receive party invitations to you “and your partner”, you’ll be asked “how your boyfriend is doing”, and the sheer number of terms that refer to things that superficially appear similar means you’ll invariably hear your relationship structure described in ways with which you might not be comfortable (polyamoury, open relationship, open marriage, swinging, playing the field, friends-with-benefits, nonmonogomy, ethical sluttery, free love…). Try not to take offence – would you want a monogamous person to take offence if you accidentally referred to their wife as their girlfriend? – but politely explain what the term means to you and what you’d prefer they said. “If it’s not too much trouble, is it okay if I bring both my partners?” is an acceptable reply, but “How dare you only invite one of my partners!” is not.
I’ve no doubt that I’ve been guilty of any number of these over the last few years, and I apologise to anybody I’ve offended as a result: but if all the poly-people read this, and all the mono-people read that, I think that we’ll all be a lot better off.