Why Insist That Polyamory Is Not for You?

Once upon a time, I was that person who thought that all straight people were secretly non-monosexual; after all, hadn’t I mistakenly identified as straight for years? Later, after wholeheartedly adopting the poly label, I also believed that all monogamous people were probably non-monogamous, and that they, like me, needed just a little awareness to realize their true selves.

I was wrong, of course.

I now fully acknowledge how annoying it is to deal with evangelicals of any kind and apologize for how obnoxious I must have been. That is why, when I speak of polyamory or pansexuality or queerness and so on, I do my darndest to keep it personal. That is exactly what I tried to do when I wrote about my own feelings surrounding poly breakups. As always when I mention my relationship style, however, I received responses to the effect of “Well, I couldn’t do poly, but I support those of my friends who do so.”

Why does this happen?

What purpose does it serve, exactly, to insist that you are not a thing but that thing is okay? I don’t post on friends’ pregnancy announcements that I support the choice to bear children but personally would have an abortion if I found myself pregnant today. I don’t seek out selfies featuring flat-ironed hair so that I might declare that I refuse to straighten my hair. I don’t tell my friends who order large quantities of noodles when we eat out that I am okay with them eating such foods but that they make me feel bloated and sluggish.

But apparently, monogamous people cannot abide voicing their unasked-for approval of my relationship style without reiterating their normativity. Well, okay, then?

It’s all very “no homo” a la Macklemore: “I may support same-sex marriage, but don’t worry, I’m not actually gay, ladies” (content warning for ableism after the 3-minute mark).

Congratulations, monogamous people. You’re not poly, just like most of the other millions if not billions of other monogamous people on the planet. It is not astonishing and it is not noteworthy. Most people, be they poly or mono, will not assume that you are poly unless you give them some sort of concrete cue that you might be.

What makes it all the more ridiculous is that even if you tell people that you’re poly, that might not matter. I, as a very openly out poly person, still get people asking me “what happened” to Danny when they see me being romantic with someone else or cooing about how awesome it is that I “finally found someone” when they hear about me dating someone new (this summer will mark the fifth year that Danny and I have been together). I’ve never made much of a secret of my relationship style yet I still get monogamous assumptions welded onto my decidedly non-monogamous life.

Why not just voice the unsolicited support without the vehement denial? And why assume you’re in a position to approve of people or not in the first place? I’m going to continue being poly whether or not I have the approval of some person.

Why Insist That Polyamory Is Not for You?

22 thoughts on “Why Insist That Polyamory Is Not for You?

  1. 1

    I wonder if this is at all related to the phenomenon that when people hear I am vegetarian (usually in a situation where there is no other choice), they will then tell me about all the meat they eat, how great it is, how they want to eat meat right now, any particularly gross/cruel things they’ve eaten or would eat if available, etc.

    I don’t know why people do it and it seems similar in 1) sharing something that is unlikely to be interesting or surprising to the person being addressed 2) reaffirming how normal one is when faced with a minority identity.

  2. 2

    Mike’s ideas are good – but I think this is one of those things that has many possible causes, and any number of them could apply to a given situation.

    There’s a couple of different readings I’d take on it:

    1) They want to make the conversation about themselves (most people do).
    2) They carry unconscious bias against polyamory, so on some level assume that you might carry unconscious bias against it too (people’s opinions of other people’s opinions tend to be egotistical). They could read your open discussion of your lifestyle as, in part, a call for support. So the attempt to reassure you would – from that perspective – be intended as helpful despite stemming from an underlying biased place.
    3) Despite 2, they still carry unconscious bias against polyamory, so it’s important to them to not have their support misconstrued as participation.
    4) When a poly person talks about being poly, it can make monogamous people who have never actually thought about relationship styles actually look at their own monogamy for the first time. It makes sense that someone may be moved to remark on their own relationship style given that it may be the first time they’ve actually noticed it.

    We can speculate all we like, of course. Causes and people are complicated. 🙂

  3. 3

    I’ll add another pair to the list Daniel posits. At least some of them are either:
    A> Having a mild freakout that you might be interested in them participating in your relationship (similar to the reaction that frequently occurs when a longtime same-sex associate comes out of the closet).
    B> Secretly hoping you DO want to invite them into your relationship, and are attempting to goad you into making an offer under a ‘you should try it’ pretext.
    I should add that none of these are ‘good’ reasons, IMNSHO, but it’s the kind of not-quite-conscious thought-process that occurs when people get caught off-guard (and even when they shouldn’t be caught off-guard, as you mention in the column).

    I’ve managed to avoid this particular foible, at least. I have to put more effort into reining in my tendency to treat other people with lifestyles, hobbies and tastes different from my own as lab subjects put there for my curiosity’s satisfaction.

  4. 4

    How about “I never really thought about my non-polygamy as a conscious choice before. But I suppose it has been, so allow me to articulate it as such for the first time.”

    1. xyz

      LOL. I had a “search within you, you know it to be true” moment reading your post. That’s precisely where this impulse comes from for me, it’s a sign of a slight worldview recalibration and also of not being able to shut my mouth.

  5. 5

    “Well, I couldn’t do poly, but I support those of my friends who do so.”

    I guess since this a mostly negatively viewed thing, people feel the need to voice their support. I mean quite a lot of conversation is about people’s likes and dislikes, I don’t think it’s that problematic that we can have these preferences while making a point to aknowledge that we’re ok with people who are different.

    Isn’t what’s annoying… when it’s preachy? And invasive (you didn’t ask to have a conversation about this, you want to discuss something else, you weren’t even talking to that person).

    Another thing would just be curiosity: major diversions from white-cis-het-mono just seem so interesting (while in reality being kind of banaal).

    1. 5.1

      Monogamous people will say that in contexts where the declaration of support comes across as trying to claim authority, though. If I talk about my partners, I don’t want to have to stop for Random Mono Person to assure me that they don’t mind my being poly; I want to talk about the nuisance of time zone differences, or the ways in which one or another of them are cool, or silly things like the way it has become My Job to carve the turkey, or any other roast bird, at home with my husband and/or girlfriend. “I could never do that, but it’s fine that your husband and girlfriend get along well enough to have Thanksgiving together” is not actually supportive.

  6. 6

    Humans are tribal creatures (some of us more than others, but all of us to some degree), so when faced with a member of another tribe, we tend to try to reinforce our tribal identities. Unlike eras in which humans tended to live in isolated, homogenous groups, we now tend to encounter people who are unlike us in some way daily – this requires us to adopt some form of multiculturalism to combat our tribalism (be it a genetic predisposition, centuries of cultural norms, or some combination thereof) in order to not be in constant conflict with the people around us (else we would all be xenophobic ultra-nationalist supremacists, as some of us are). While a Right-wing authoritarian is most likely to simply condemn you to reinforce zir tribal identity by way of differentiation and simultaneously reassert the supremacy of zir internalized/preferred norms, your less-authoritarian interlocutor will still likely have an impulse to reinforce tribal identity by differentiation, but ze won’t consider condemning the other a necessary part of that. Ze is happy to live and let live, and ze wishes to communicate that despite being members of different tribes, neither one of you is a threat to the other.

    Or it could be any number of other things. Other commenters have done a good job of detailing some of the particular ways in which this dynamic can play out. Perhaps the person wishes to make zir positionality explicit in order to allow an audience to account for how that biases zir perspective; perhaps the person does indeed fear being labeled and treated as part of a marginalized group (we see this one all the time with people proclaiming that they are not feminists but that they support feminist ideas); perhaps the person is being disingenuous to avoid conflict in the moment but really doesn’t approve of or support the thing in question at all; perhaps the person is only interested in conversations that related directly to zirself, so ze feels a need to inject zir own identity; perhaps is something else entirely. It may well be a combination of factors in any given case, and I don’t have anywhere enough information to make even a guess about which is more common, though I do think that tribalism underlies or at least impacts a lot of these, which is why I started with it and delved a bit deeper.

  7. 7

    As a monogamous person who has done this before, it really boiled down a few things:
    A) a declaration of superiority, being a a monogamous person in a group that had more than a few poly people and watching those relationships not work out*, declaring my monogamy without condemning poly people came with an unspoken implication (in my mind) of my superiority .
    B) jealousy, it seemed unfair that poly folks could have more than one person, I only got one, they’re so greedy! and
    C) insecurity, both my own and my significant other’s, to a me poly relationships were practically “cheating” and as such I–being a superior monogamous person–would have never considered such a thing.
    Thankfully time has ground away some measure of my immaturity, and I don’t do this or feel this way anymore.
    *In retrospect the failures had nothing to do with being poly and everything to do with the individuals in question dealing with other problems in their lives.

  8. 8

    How about this for a reason – ‘I usually comment on what you have to say but in this case I can’t because it doesn’t concern me directly. But then I did anyway, out of habit.’

  9. 9

    Congratulations, monogamous people. You’re not poly, just like most of the other millions if not billions of other monogamous people on the planet. It is not astonishing and it is not noteworthy.

    Sigh! I think many monogamous people will be disappointed in not getting that attaboy they’re hoping for!

  10. 10

    Ran into another version of (maybe) this. Dustin from Smarter Every Day posted “He is risen” on Easter. Immediately a bunch of people had to respond with their own opinion on the validity of Easter, Christianity and the religious in general.

    Even the top-liked comment took a lot of time to discuss how they personally didn’t believe in religion and thought it was odd that Dustin does, but…etc.
    Immediately thought of this post.

  11. 12

    “Why not just voice the unsolicited support without the vehement denial?”
    Why not? And how “vehement” is this denial? They deny, I doubt they put unusual emphasis on it. But stating that one doesn’t have personal interest in something and still support it is important. Lots of people say “I have never used drugs, but I support drug legalistation.”. It’s important for people to be able to support the right to do something unpopular without being smeared as doing that unpopular thing. As a libertarian I’d like to be able to be a libertarian without people telling me that I want to employ people for low wages, discriminate against gays, take drugs and have sex with close relatives.

    1. 12.1

      The vehemence is pretty intense. They really want me to know that I am sure that they are not poly. Which is hilarious because monogamy is the majority relationship style and I assume people are mono until told otherwise.

  12. 14

    Was this post an actual attempt to understand why people do what you’re describing, or just a rhetorical way of admonishing them?

    Because I can think of reasons people might do this, but I’m sure you could think of them on your own if you tried. Why make a post pretending not to understand something when you really just want to tell people to stop doing what you don’t like?

  13. 15

    Michael Price walked into the trap and will shortly be accused of implicitly being anti-poly by comparing it to those other activities, even though his relevant point was their unpopularity and not their moral faults.

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