Among more progressive types, much is made of the smug polyamorists who declare themselves to be more skilled at communicating, better at relationships, and overall more evolved than their monogamous counterparts. As I’ve said before, I’m not on board with that. Poly is my relationship style, not an indicator that I am somehow better at anything than a monogamous person, let alone everything. Being poly is no guarantee against any kind of hurt or pain and can even introduce novel forms of pain into one’s emotional life. Poly is not a shield against any and all harms; given my journey to my current relationship style, I have never have believed it to be so.
Reading through the comments on others’ Facebook walls in response to my last piece on polyamory has reminded me of all this. Many of the comments invoked poly smugness, claiming that (1) responding with “it’s not for me” is a preemptive strike against poly evangelizing, (2) defensiveness is only natural when someone makes an unnecessary mention that they are poly, or (3) both.
I honestly feel a bit at a loss. I don’t think mentioning more than one partner is a call to action to the listener to become poly or that talking about my multiple partners the way people talk about their single ones is unnecessary or odd in context. Furthermore, considering some of the things that have been said to me by monogamous people, I feel like there is no good response other than things that imply a whole lot of smugness.
Take, for instance, the implications of the statement “One relationship is hard enough; I couldn’t imagine more than one.” What exactly am I, a person who is living a life so difficult-sounding to the speaker that they cannot conceive of it as working for someone else, supposed to say to that? “Sorry your relationships are so hard for you”? That makes me sound “smug” to say, as if my relationships were all easy. I usually just nod awkwardly and steer the conversation elsewhere.
An even more awkward version of this response is “Ugh, it’s hard enough dealing with one [asshole / person’s crap / man’s bullshit / woman’s whining]; who can deal with more than that?” All I can do is wonder why so many monogamous heterosexuals are paired with people about whom they seemingly have nothing good to say.
Another example of a monogamous response that practically screams for smugness is “I had so much trouble finding one person to put up with me and find me attractive, I don’t know how you find so many.” What can I say other than “I’m sorry that people are attracted to me” or “I’m sorry you’re so unattractive”? Again, all I can do is just blandly acknowledge and carefully deflect.
Aside from the potential smugness, declaring my own attractiveness is a hard thing for me given my life experiences. I’m no HB10 by most sets of standards, superficial or not. I have a history and current reality of self-esteem issues based on looks-based hatred and harassment coming my way. Even joining so-called “sausage-fest” groups and clubs when I was in college didn’t help me to easily or readily find people willing to date me or have sex with me. Due to a variety of factors, I don’t struggle as much anymore. Yet I somehow doubt that people are asking for me to explain all that to them when they talk about how they don’t think it would be possible for them to find more than one partner.
So I will keep on tersely smiling, nodding, and leading the conversation elsewhere. What else can I do when mentioning my relationship style, or even just the realities of my life, is apparently so upsetting for so many?