How to be Mono-Friendly

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.

10 replies to How to be Mono-Friendly

  1. Thanks for posting this! It’s a great take. Certainly poly people tend to be guilty of these things, and I’ve done some of these.

    It’s easy to overstate the significance of “mono privilege”

    Well, I think that mono privilege can show up in a lot of subtle ways. I covered some of these in the “assumptions about relationships” section, but there’s lots more. We tend to trip over these, often by surprise.

    That said, clearly it is possible for us to get past not having mono privilege, or there wouldn’t be any poly people. So while this stuff is annoying, it is not always debilitating.

    Also, there’s other complexities to the situation. Monogamy, while still the definite norm, has taken a conceptual beating over the last forty years. (Which is probably why polyamory is doing well.) We see this all over the place: “the old ball and chain”, assumptions that monogamy must be boring or sexless, and so on. So while the culture does make polyamory difficult, it’s simultaneously creating problems for monogamous people, just different sorts of problems.

  2. An excellent posting, especially the point about not ‘selling’. Examples beat lectures every time – and make more friends.

  3. You talk of polyamourous people not allowing others to think that they’ve been cured of polyamory whilst in a monogamous relationship.

    Whilst I can see that the term polyamourous is valuable in assigning a group name and identity doesn’t it actually refer to a state of affairs, in the same way as married, engaged or single? It doesn’t really matter if I’m polyamourous or monogamous since I am single in the same way whilst a person may be willing to be polyamourous whilst in a monogamous relationship they are, at that time, monogamous.

    I realise that there are certain similarities with bisexuality (i.e. whilst a bisexual person is dating a member of one gender it does not mean that they are no longer attracted to members of another gender) but the term polyamory strikes me as being a description of current relationships, not of potential relationships.

    *****
    I have to dash to work now, so I apologise if the above is badly phrased or comes across as insulting. I’m only intending to debate the use of a word.

  4. Thanks for your comments, all.

    Matt In The Hat: You raise a valid point. In my post, I’ve exclusively used the word “polyamourous” to refer to individuals – defined, perhaps, as “being capable and willing to engage in multiple romantic relationships simultaneously with the knowledge and consent of all involved.” In this way it’s defined as a philosophy, almost, and the similarity to bisexuality isn’t lost on me.

    I’ve also heard the term used to refer to relationships: “I’m in a polyamourous relationship,” etc. Confusingly, these two definitions are not mutually incompatible – for example, it’s quite possible to identify as monogamous and be in a polyamourous relationship (for example, you may allow your partner to have other partners without wanting to do so yourself), or you may consider yourself polyamourous but be in a monogamous relationship, which can in turn be defined as being a definition of the state of affairs (“I have only one partner right now, but I’m potentially available,”) or a definition of the relationship in general (“I’m happy to have multiple partners, but I’m compromising for this relationship”). A similarity could be drawn to bisexuals in a monogamous relationships who may well – and are likely to – still consider themselves bisexual.

    With so many terms and so many meanings – and meanings that may have different definitions to different people – I generally find it’s best to avoid them as far as possible. Personally, I tend to describe what I have with Claire and what I have with Ruth as “an open relationship,” and I’ll happily go into detail about what that actually entails (“No, I don’t consider it primary/secondary”, “No, I don’t consider it swinging,” “Yes, it’s exactly as complicated as it sounds,” “Yes, they each have other partners,” “Yes, the relationships are different: X, Y and Z, for example,” and all that jazz) if people actually want to know. Similarly, I try not to take offence at people coming up with their own definitions of what I have – I’ve heard it called polyamoury, nonmonogamy, swinging, partner-swapping, an open relationship, free love, and far more, and the only times I’ve felt the need to correct anybody has been when the definition is unambiguously not-what-we-have (e.g. polygamy – I’m not marrying either of them!).

    Nonetheless; I think the short answer to your point is that a lot of people actually consider themselves to by “poly.” I think that the reason for this is that so many people definitively state that a poly relationship “wouldn’t work for them,” and so these are the people for whom one would work. The question’s kind-of academic to me, anyway, because I don’t personally identify as “polyamourous”, just as being in the kinds of relationships I’m in. Just one of the reasons I’m probably not an ideal candidate to have written a post like the one above, perhaps.

    Thanks for your feedback, anyway.

  5. Very interesting, thanks.

    “[F]olks 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….”

    That is so difficult, actually, because all words carry connotations. Me, I am happy with “partner” because it suggests a joint venture of some sort and with “lover” because it’s based in love, but a lot of people see these words quite differently.

    ” ”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 then there is the fact that I have friends who are just very close friends whom I sometimes snuggle up with on a couch, in a cafe…

    Matt in the Hat: for me, I don’t agree with the restriction on the term to relationships. I was in a lengthy monogamous relationship because I was committed to the relationship, but I was still poly: I couldn’t help falling for other people, I just didn’t act upon it.

  6. I do sometimes wonder if we should coin the term “erum”, as in, “This is A., my Er… Um…”

    (Not original, I know.)

  7. DC & scatman dan: a lover of mine about 10 years ago used the term “umfriend” to describe her lovers. it isn’t my favorite term either. (says the nonmonogamous-for-25-years-girl who’s now monogamous.)

  8. My brain is moving in strange ways at the moment, and I read “umfriend” but thought “yumfriend”, which is slightly different…

    *grins*

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