Rob Grimes thinks honesty in relationships is the best policy.
I wanted to spend a few weeks talking about Polyamory. People tend to react when you mention polyamory as though you are speaking of some strange, religious cult that you are trying to proselytize people into. It’s funny how people tend to react once you give something a formal label. The reality is that statistics seem to verify that MANY people are participating in multiple person relationships ALL the time and ALL around us. The difference being that some are treated more ethically than others… and most are not actually ladled for what they are.
As a bi man that is fully out and fervently trying to live my life not only in a measure of honesty but also respectful of the ones I love, polyamory has of course always been an area of interest. For me personally, I feel so much more comfortable actually identifying what it is that I am intending rather than just pretending to let things happen.
So what is polyamory? Well it would seem that the word itself is not that simply defined. In the least polyamory is the idea that individuals can be relationally and lovingly involved with more than one person at the same time. Ethical polyamory is the idea that multiple relationships can be approached with the full knowledge of all involved and therefore be a choice rather than a happen stance.
I had a single gay friend once that used to challenge me all the time about the idea of polyamory. That it was somehow really strange and blatantly inappropriate. The irony of course was that he had been in a 5 year “thing” with a married man whose wife did not know about it. I was offended that he chose to call my stances inappropriate in the light of his own practices.
I finally had enough and challenged back that he was doing no different than I except that I at least had the balls to call such what it was (a real relationship) and to actually be man enough to care enough about the other people inadvertently involved. He was somehow dumbfounded at this revealing look into his own mirror. He sheepishly went away and finally came back and admitted that yes… he too was participating in a polyamorous relationship.
I think some people hedge at the “label” of polyamory because they assume that one is speaking of all kinds of unique living arrangements like communes, triads, and homes with extra large beds. Though such can definitely be an expression of polyamory, I tend to make polyamory a whole lot simpler. For me it is the blatant recognition that humans do have relationships with more than one person at a time and that in the recognition and understanding of this, the people that matter in one’s life can be recognized, respected and valued.
For me the damage is done in the secrets and in the betrayal of trust. Some people have “affairs” but refuse to acknowledge such. Such was the friend mentioned above. In his mind, he wasn’t having an affair but it was more of a “clandestine accident that somehow just kept happening??” He refused to acknowledge any feelings and somehow concluded that if you didn’t acknowledge anything “then somehow it didn’t exist??” Strangely when his married guy’s wife found out and demanded a divorce, the two of these guys ended up as fulltime partners. Personally I have to question the lack of love, respect and concern for the wife and children involved in the fall out of their “accidents.”
Polyamory is NOT a license to free love. Nothing is free in this life. Instead it is to take responsibility for one’s own feelings, emotions and actions, and to be accountable to the commitments, feelings and interests of the ones, one chooses to be in relationship and or in love with. Polyamory is to truly and blatantly acknowledge that people in my life do truly exist and that their needs, wants, emotions and expectations do matter. It is not about being free to love (sexually) more people, but rather it is blatantly assuming the responsibilities of loving more people.
In reality polyamory is the removal of excuses rather than the creation of justifications. It is the blunt recognition that at whatever level all human connections are in fact relationships and it is the affording dignity and respect to both the original AND the new partner(s), that such relationships actually do exist.
It is the recognition that there is no such thing as an “affair,” “hook up,” “mistress,” “Fuck Buddy” or a “Friends with Benefits” but rather that such really IS a true relationship and that such labels are only the boundaries (positive or negative) that one chooses to practice it in.
Claiming and owning Polyamory is hard honesty… and honesty is hard work. It’s hard to tell someone that I want to end a sexual relationship when I haven’t got, “Well, we just shouldn’t be doing this, because it’s not right” to fall back on. I have to actually take responsibility for myself and the other person and recognize that at whatever level they have invested in this relationship with me and I owe them the respect of acknowledging their emotional investment.
Having said this, I conclude that once such realities are sincerely recognized and faithfully acknowledged, that the human existence actually opens up all kinds of fulfilling relational possibilities to us. Some may choose partners to fill only a small part of one’s life while others may choose partners to fill major roles. The difference of course is choice, dignity and respect by all involved. Calling it what it is, demands treating people as more than just an accident.
I think the negative reaction to the term “polyamorous” probably is rooted in a measure of fear. Acknowledging what is “going on anyways” is actually part and parcel in normalizing it and many would prefer to not do such.
I think it’s a little bit like the legalization of marijuana, alcohol, prostitution etc. If we legalize it, then this will only mean more abuse of it right? The reality is that abuse already exists rampantly now because of secrecy and that in criminalizing the behaviour, we only succeed in keeping reality on the back burner. I personally conclude that bringing such human behaviour to light actually goes much further in minimizing abuse and formulating ethical responsibility.
And the reality is that such relationships exist all around us right now. If you are one of the married or partnered men that is reading this article and living a life on the down low… you ARE participating in other relationships. You can call it whatever you want, but on the day it hits divorce court it will still be called what it is. And by keeping it clandestine you are only placing a negative value on the new person you are with and demeaning the person that you are already in relationship with. Things that we consider bad we keep as secrets, things that we value we proudly acknowledge to the world.
But isn’t acknowledging multiple relationships just choosing to live the complicated and messy? Um I guess that question begs the further question… “Which is more complicated and messy… that which is able to be addressed or that which is hidden and based on secrets??” Yes polyamory can be messy and even painful sometimes. Yes, relationships can end and yes, people can get hurt.
But people get hurt regardless by relationships. People make messes of their relationships, people fall in love with new people, and relationships start and end every day. But ultimately relationships are a reflection of the people involved NOT a reflection of the nature or makeup of the relationship. There are people that can faithfully maintain healthy multiple relationships and there are people that cannot maintain any relationships. That’s humanity, not polyamory. It’s monogamy, it’s heterosexuality, it’s homosexuality; it’s religious and secular bonds, it’s legal and non-binding binding contracts; it’s life.
For me, acknowledging my bisexuality and polyamory is giving myself permission to be fully human. I have permission to mess up, to be complicated, to be human, and above all to love and be loved, even though I feel all those “imperfect” things. It is to thoroughly confront me, with a responsibility to be honest with myself and with everyone else involved with my passions, resentments, needs, desires and my dreams.