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"Confused Mono. Don't Hate Me"

Source background and questions taken from this Reddit thread. I would encourage anyone interested to read the thread itself: there's a goldmine of information on "how it works" in there.

I like being people's first contact with polyamory. I feel like I'm relatable for most of them: physically monogamous for the entirety of my marriage (even though I've been emotionally poly for roughly ever), able to gently reframe people's thoughts and assumptions, and of course I try very hard not to judge the feelings behind people's words. More than a few have come away from talking with me with new things to think about.

This, below, really captivated me because it's so raw. You can feel the pain here, and yet the writer is trying to honestly engage with people she doesn't understand. I respect that immensely. And so I'm going to give her questions (which are all very good ones) a go. You're going to get a deeper insight into my poly life than I've given so far with my responses.

There is adult content here. Grow up fast.


I (30/F) have recently split from my (31/M) poly boyfriend. We agreed when we started going out that we would both be monogamous, and he said he was okay with that. Two years in, he changed his mind, I couldn't handle it, and we broke up.

 Poly people, please help me. I really hope my questions do not come off as offensive, as I genuinely do not understand how poly people truly think. As much as I've tried, I cannot wrap my head around it. Some random questions are below; please feel free to pick-and-choose, as I don't expect anyone to answer all of them. This is more of a "stream of consciousness" thing... 

1) I love ice cream. LOVE it. I would eat it every meal, every day, every year for the rest of my life if I could. Well, actually, I can...but I don't. I choose not to because it would make me fat. It would make me lose a part of life that I value (being fit). Why is poly not like this? I understand that people have the desire for it, but if someone breaks up with you because they are poly, it feels like that equates to, "I don't like you enough to make this sacrifice for you." I'm sure the gut response to that is, "The same could be said for you. Why don't you sacrifice by allowing your partner to be poly?" I think the difference is that poly people aren't always in a relationship with 2+ people. A fully single poly person who starts dating Person 1 isn't guaranteed to ever find Person 2 or Person 2B, yet I can't imagine they would say they're unhappy while searching. A monogamous person, on the other hand, is "fully happy" once they find their one person. Please tear this argument down and tell me why it's wrong, as I'm trying to understand. 

KEN: Oh, the pain and confusion here is palpable. And there's confusion on my side, too, because there's a couple of fundamental disconnects in the question.

The notion that "true" love must involve sacrifice is right up there with true love involving exactly one other human being as far as accepted wisdom goes. No doubt there is some truth to it: as Dan Savage notes in "The Price of Admission", "there is no settling down without some settling for".


Sacrificing a huge part of who you are for a relationship rarely ends well. Actually, I'd argue it NEVER does. It's bad enough that people feel they need others to 'complete' them...even worse if they're willing to discard who they are in the process.
And for poly people, it truly is a huge part of who we are. There is a never-ending debate in poly circles as to whether mono and poly are akin to orientations or not, but be advised many of us feel that way. You wouldn't try to turn your gay friend straight for you.

This question is ripe with scarcity thinking: you even allude to it as much with your (interesting!) insight about happiness. A mono person is "fully" happy once they've found their one person, you say, and suggest that you can't imagine a poly person with a single partner is unhappy. But there's an implicit assumption that he's not happy ENOUGH, else he wouldn't be searching.

I am happily married. Have been for coming up on sixteen years. I never once thought to myself, you know what? Eva isn't good enough for me, I need more. Not once. I'm open to new connections, and I don't choose to place limits on how those connections evolve ahead of time. Because the world needs love. Because I have a lot of love to give. It's not that Eva isn't good enough. It's that -- well, look, you've got an ice cream analogy in there, I'll give you a food analogy of my own (actually it's Franklin Veaux's, from the excellent polyamory FAQ on his website). Suppose you've got a favourite restaurant. You go there...once a week, let's say. Does the fact you eat there -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- somehow impugn your partner's cooking? Should she be jealous? That seems silly, doesn't it?

Or--I love love love the response from "ejp1082":

Imagine you've got a favorite band. You've got no control over when that band comes to town to play a concert. For all you know, they might stop touring and never play again. 
You're probably going to be happy enough with your life even if you never get that chance to see them play. But you know, if they did come to town to play a concert, and you could get tickets, but your partner is saying "No, I forbid you from seeing that band" - that would be pretty upsetting wouldn't it? 
And even if you have no idea when or if the band will even tour, maybe realistically you don't think you'll ever see them play - just knowing your partner is outright prohibiting it would make you kind of resentful, no? 
Some poly people don't even actively search for additional relationships. They just want to know their relationships won't be artificially restricted should the opportunity arise.


2) How do you feel as passionately about your partner when you know they are coming home covered in someone else's juices? Maybe this is just a primal thing, but if my partner came home with pussy juice on his cock, I would be disgusted. To be clear, it's not the actual fluids that would wash off in the shower; it's that feeling of "someone else was here." How does that not bother you? 

KEN: it...just...doesn't.

Some people are turned on by it. I'm not, exactly, just doesn't signify for me. Did she have a good time? Great! Do I need to hear a blow-by-blow account of it? Nope!

It almost always seems to come down to sex, doesn't it? With guys, it's all about "does he have a bigger dick" delusions of inadequacy. With women, there is often that disgust you express so eloquently.

Sex is, let's face it, a pretty common recreational activity that has varying levels of meaning, from pure sport to tantric soul-stretching connection and everything in between (a rare few people actually seem to be able to do both extremes at once, which I admit I'm rather envious of).
And those varying levels of meaning trigger various jealous responses in many people. For some, "just sex" is no big deal so long as there are no emotional attachments. For others, the mere thought of somebody else so much as kissing "their" partner is absolutely insupportable. Polyamorous people tend to be sex-positive types who don't see anything wrong with two or more people enjoying themselves and each other.  (There are also many asexual polyamorists who are partnered with someone who is not asexual; that asexual partner may have an attitude towards sex in general that is anywhere from indifference to disgust, but any sex would cause that reaction, not just sex with "their" partner.)
IN GENERAL, THOUGH:  "Someone else was here"? Well, we're not bubble-wrapped. Unless we were both virgins when we met, someone else has been "here". I hope he had a good time of it. I bet he did.

I *will* say, speaking only for myself, that I have a bit of a hangup on proximity. That's my issue: I'd prefer not to be kissed immediately after someone else has kissed her. It's not revulsion, MUCH less fear of any 'gay cooties' or something stupid like that. No, it's just an ironclad conviction of mine that relationships deserve their own space. For the same reason, I will immediately correct anyone who isn't Eva calling me "love", and unless you're Eva you will NEVER get that term of endearment applied to you. You'll have your own. Silly, perhaps, but I'm a bit fastidious that way. 

3) This will seem extremely harsh, but...would you consider poly to be selfish? "I will date whoever I want" seems awfully self-entitled to me.

KEN: This will seem extremely harsh, but...would you consider monogamy to be selfish? "You may not date anyone else, ever" seems awfully self-entitled to me.

In a sense, poly IS selfish: you're choosing to throw away society's norms and rules in favour of norms and rules you (and your partners) have decided work better for you. That is a selfish act.
But I would argue that not sharing someone can just as easily be cast as a selfish act.
Let's be clear here: "I get to date whoever I want" IS incredibly selfish. It's also not how (healthy) poly works. Healthy poly is about carefully negotiated boundaries, and adherence to them. Those boundaries are different for every poly relationship. Some people would place their friends off limits. Some people would actually be more comfortable with their partner dating their friends. Most people would have an issue with dating relatives.  Disregarding your partner's boundaries is selfish as hell. It's also often grounds for dissolution of the relationship--or, in a single word: CHEATING.
4) Relationship hierarchy seems hurtful to me. How do you find happiness as someone's secondary? As a primary, how do you ever feel comfortable that you won't be demoted? Surely, there have to be stories about a secondary who was favored and ultimately promoted, thereby wrecking the primary relationship. I guess this isn't significantly different than people who get divorced or cheat (their hierarchies change), but it still seems hurtful and risky.

KEN: This question merits a book in response. Let's answer it directly, first: there are great rewards in being a "secondary" if that is what you choose to be. It can work particularly well when each partner in a couple has secondary relationships: the secondaries don't have to deal with all the mundane tediousness of finances, childrearing, and all that jazz, and are free to focus on the partnership.
N.B.  There are many, many ways to "do poly" that don't involve hierarchies at all, and many poly people feel just as strongly negative about hierarchy as you do.

I would say that this is the hardest part of poly for me, living and labelling this, both. I dislike "primary/secondary" myself, because it does seem to minimize other relationships. At the same time, I am eternally concerned about ensuring Eva doesn't feel minimized either.
Here's the thing. A "primary" relationship isn't supposed to make decisions unilaterally that involve "secondaries" -- see this phenomenal Relationship Bill of Rights -- but it often does. Primary relationships aren't supposed to invoke couple privilege (shoutout to the solo polys for whom couples may not even enter into the picture at all)...but it often does.

It's not about Eva, or Ken, or EvaAndKen always coming's about treating each partner as a partner and each situation on a case-by-case basis. There are undoubtedly times Mark comes first, and that's as it should be. Hell, there are times when a friend of mine needs me and I'll drop everything. Those friends know it, too. They've seen it. But it doesn't relegate Eva, either.
Rather than 'primary', I refer to her as my 'anchor' partner. That seems less restrictive: a ship often has more than one anchor, for one thing.

As for secondaries being promoted...

Yeah. This happens. EACH RELATIONSHIP SEEKS AND FINDS ITS OWN LEVEL, and that can displace other relationships.  Sometimes it happens in spite of all the silly safeguards you put into your relationship to keep it from happening.  And it's something you have to be aware of, going in: someday, relationships may need to be re-jigged. It is, indeed, a risk.
But then, so is any relationship. You never know when your monogamous partner is going to suddenly find someone "better" and throw you to the curb. The nice thing in polyamory is that nobody ever need be "thrown" anywhere.

5) Are there "older" poly people? I feel like everyone I see talking about this is 18-40. This makes me think it cannot work in the long-term. If it did, surely people who are 65+ would be coming out of nowhere telling us about their lifetime success story. Am I missing these stories?

Ken: Yes. You are.

Polyamory, the word, has been around since ca. 1990 or so. Non-monogamy actually predates monogamy, so it's not unreasonable to think that people have been loving more than one another for a very long time. I personally know of several polyamorous people in their fifties and sixties. They just may not call it that. They may not have a word for it at all. They may just call it "my family". And they may not be in touch with their local "poly" community and even know that there's now this word for the way they've been living.

And I can't understate the stigma. It's crazy, but true: abundant love seems to breed abundant hate. Easier at an old age to stay in the closet. I'd imagine I would think it was none of anyone's business anyway.

6) I agree that love is potentially infinite...but time is not. You can't possibly tell me that a 5-days-a-week relationship is just as strong as a 7-days-a-week one. Why is it more fulfilling to have 2 good relationships vs. 1 stronger one?

KEN: Actually, I can possibly tell you that a five-days-a-week relationship is just as strong as a seven-days-a-week relationship. Hell...I know married, monogamous  couples who, due to long hours and/or conflicting work schedules only see each other on weekends. Is that a "two-day-a-week" marriage? You know what they do? They make every weekend a mini-honeymoon.
That's something sort of like how poly partners can be.
Poly people do have a term: "polysaturated", to express the idea that there is simply no more time in their lives to devote to a relationship. We tend to be acutely aware of both others' demands on our time, and our own demands on the time of others, especially since there are often so many relationships in play.
Then there are "comets". These are the people you see once in a blue moon for a night or a week.  Are they more important than the partner you live with? Probably not. Are they any less deserving of the whole of you while you are with them? DEFINITELY not.

When families are involved, "responsibility jealousy" seems inevitable. You probably wash the dishes and mop the floors with your primary, but I doubt you do it with your secondary. You probably have more freedom to be "fun" with them because your focus is less on day-to-day living and more on just enjoying each other's company. With lives as busy as they are, isn't it possible that the secondary ends up having much more fun (and much, much less chore/life-related responsibility) than the primary? And if the secondary wasn't around, wouldn't the primary get to enjoy more of this fun time instead of them?

KEN: Again, we're in this primary/secondary model that simply doesn't fit many poly relationships I know of. But that said--

Eva's and my first date involved, partially, a trip to Costco. Shared household chores can be fun, bonding, even romantic experiences.
Each relationship needs to be maintained and not taken for granted. Alone time is absolutely essential, especially in cohabitating trios or quads where it can be hard to come by.  If you're in a relationship that involves romance, you have to supply some, both of you. It's as simple as that.

And you sure as hell don't have to be poly to see this. Just have kids, and see how hard it is to remain a "dating" couple. Do we dare suggest for a second that children detract from a marriage because of how much of a responsibility they are? I'd hope not.

Again, please forgive me, as I do not mean any offense by any of this. I am desperately trying to understand why this desire for multiple partners has ultimately torpedoed what I thought was my "forever relationship."

KEN: Isn't it more than a little odd that, by society's metrics, the only "successful" relationship can be said to have taken place after somebody DIES?

This post first appeared on The Breadbin, please read the originial post: here

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"Confused Mono. Don't Hate Me"


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