18 February, 2017

Coming Out, Part I: To Yourself

So you think you might be polyamorous.

It's a scary thought, isn't it? At first, it can feel like you're going insane, literally splitting in half. How can you have such deep, committed feelings for two people at once?  Society has told you since you were tiny that this is impossible. One of the loves is obviously not real. Hard to tell which one it is. Maybe it's the new one: "it's just a crush", you rationalize, even as you find yourself thinking thoughts not just carnal but alarmingly domestic about him or her. Not just sleeping with, but actually sleeping with, and waking up next to, and sharing household tasks, and you already have someone you do that with, happily, and so...

Or maybe it's the established partnership. There must be something profoundly wrong with it if you're thinking such thoughts about another, right? You thought you had found The One. Damn those other numbers coming along to invalidate The One.

Either, or. Either, or. Must think in binary terms: that's how we're conditioned. There is hot and there is cold, there is light and there is dark. There is romantic love, and then there is...something that can't be romantic love. (No offence meant to asexuals and aromantics: they have enough problems feeling "normal" as it is without throwing 'extra' people into the mix.)

But maybe binary doesn't serve you. Maybe you find yourself thinking there is more than either/or. Maybe, just maybe, there's both/and.  Maybe BOTH loves are equally valid.

That's hard to even articulate for people who have grown up inside the box. That box has everything "normal" people need for a happy, successful life. Deviants think outside the box. That's the next line of attack: if you insist that two loves are real and valid, then there's something wrong with you. To wit: you're selfish and greedy and you can't commit.

This attack will come at you in a whole bunch of different ways, from outright accusations expressed with maximum venom to claimed "acceptance" (i.e. "I think it's great that you're sowing your wild oats while you're young") designed to convince you this is a phase you are going through, and ultimately, you will, of course, straighten up and fly right. Romantic comedies are chock-full of this.

For some odd reason, Mother Culture seems to have a vested interest in making sure you comply to the amatonormative ideal: one partner, "forsaking all others", "'til death do us part". Never mind how few people actually live that ideal (and I hasten to say, more power to you if you're doing so); never mind that what this is really saying is that the only SUCCESSFUL relationship involves somebody DYING. No, if there are two people in your heart instead of one, you're wrong. And many people can't live with that.

It's when you decide you can that your journey really begins. Getting out of that box is challenging and risky and scary...or alternatively, stimulating, rewarding, and exciting. (I'm finding myself constantly reframing negative words like that. I'm not sure if it's a byproduct of loving more or simply what comes of looking for, and finding, the good in everything and everybody. Or maybe loving more comes from looking for, and finding, the good in everything and everybody?)

People come to realize they are poly in many different ways. For some, like me, the realization comes at a very young age. I knew in grade three that one love didn't cancel another out. Granted, my idea of romantic love in grade three involved kissing tag at recess, but the principle has held true my whole life long.
If you're young and say you're poly, it will, of course, be seen as proof of immaturity: mature people simply Don't Do That Kind Of Thing. (There are, of course, many, many immature polyamorous people....just as there are many, many immature monogamous people.
For others, it comes as a result of many failed attempts at monogamy. Maybe you're a repeat cheater (a "recheater"?) and, well, shit, you don't feel the way cheaters feel. You don't feel selfish at all. It's just that, as Elvis put it, you can't help falling in love. (NOTE: I DO NOT CONDONE CHEATING).  You seem not to want, but to actually need, more than one partner.

Oh, how fraught this is. Because there are so many selfish assholes of any gender out there using EXACTLY this line of reasoning to try to validate cheating to themselves and their partners, I'm extremely hesitant to suggest that sometimes, sometimes, it's actually true. Incidentally: the path to successful poly from a cheating start is PERILOUS and almost always involves starting over with a new partner on an honest footing...but it can be done with a LOT of work and honest communication. I will deliberately repeat that word "honest" over and over: polyamory is, by definition, honest. If you can't be honest with yourself and with others, don't even think of trying to live the poly life. I *beg* you. Liars and cheats spoil it for the rest of us: it's not for me alone that I refuse to consider a partner if she's married and monogamous. I have a community's reputation to consider, not just mine.

For still others, cheating is not involved, but the dilemma comes rather later in life. Perhaps your partner has come out as poly and you're initially scared you'll lose him, but also you find you're intrigued by possibilities, which are endless. Or maybe you're the one wrestling with that "extra" more-than-just-attraction and wondering if it's possible to integrate it into your life.

It is.

But that too, is scary: lots of applecarts to be upset, lots of lifelong assumptions to reconsider. Mental work. Quite a bit of it.

I want to get this right out there, because you'll hear it if you spend much time around poly people at all: you can't fix a relationship by adding more people to it. Poly doesn't create new problems in an existing relationship, but it does have a way of forcing people to address the holes that are there already. If you are strongly dissatisfied with your relationship in any way, be it emotional, intellectual, or sexual, additional partners may mask those problems for a time by giving you an outlet...but that won't last forever.

It is more than fair to ask yourself what you want out of polyamory. Again, this is usually seen as selfish. It shouldn't be, any more than asking what you want out of a career is. For those hung up on 'selfish', remember: in poly, your partners can have other partners of their own. In monogamy, they can't. Which lovestyle is selfish? Potentially both. Potentially neither.

So what do you want? The "multiple" and "committed" are givens, but the rest is fluid. Sexual relationships? Romantic ones? Both? Can you imagine yourself as part of a polycule, in a sort of "love-web" where some or all of you might live together? Sharing beds or no? Do you see yourself in a triad situation? A quad? Is that triad or quad open or closed?

Or do you think you're more of a "solo poly" person, not desiring financial or child-rearing entanglements, but fully desiring deep, committed loveships? Maybe you simply want the freedom to explore new connections, let each one have its own space to blossom however it will.  (That would be like me).

Poly comes in a myriad of forms, and those forms may or may not change over time. To be poly, you don't need to necessarily embrace change with open arms -- change is scary for ME, and I'm practicing a kind of poly that several self-declared poly people have told me they couldn't manage...living with a partner and metamour.

What you DO need in poly is an open mind and an open heart. You can't pre-design your relationships to fit expectations you have, because (a) that's treating people as things (big no-no) and (b) you can't predict the future. (Did you predict loving two people at once?)

Be open to the possibility that things may turn out BETTER than you imagine they will, too. (That's good advice in any life context, by the way.) If you're open to that notion, it stands a better chance of becoming your reality.

You will want to find other poly people to help in your coming-out process. I don't mean just as potential dating stock, either. The poly community has stitched itself together by sharing thoughts you're thinking yourself. Platonic friends who really get you are treasures.

Read. There are hundreds of books on poly, both fiction and nonfiction. The most seminal non-fiction works are

MORE THAN TWO, Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert (a link to the website is in my sidebar). I wrote the top positive review of this book on Amazon.ca. As I wrote there, this is a detailed atlas of the world of poly. It's  indispensable to anyone beset with doubts, jealousies, or simple questions about How This Works. The top critical review suggests it has a "poly-er than thou" attitude about it, which I really didn't find myself.  What I found especially valuable here is the shared life experiences of the authors and those they've talked to.

THE ETHICAL SLUT: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO POLYAMORY, OPEN RELATIONSHIPS AND OTHER ADVENTURES, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy (link)

Eva loved this one. It's written by your earthy and adventurous aunt, and it covers more than just poly. Like MORE THAN TWO, it really can be read by anyone seeking drama-free relationships of any kind.

OPENING UP: A GUIDE TO CREATING AND SUSTAINING OPEN RELATIONSHIPS, Tristan Taormino (link)

I communicated somewhat regularly with Taormino on USENET'S alt.polyamory forum back in '93. She's gone on to write perhaps the most accessible book to those starting out there is. This is the book you might actually get away with springing on a partner (if you do so respectfully and they're openminded enough not to reject it, and you, out of hand).

You'll know you're starting to accept you're poly when you find yourself questioning society's closely held ideals on love and relationships whenever they pop up, which is ALL THE TIME. Start looking around and you'll find notions of "The One" and "your soulmate" (singular) are absolutely everywhere, trying to shame those who don't feel the way others do. We used to see this with same-sex relationships, but they have normalized (interestingly, they've done so largely by adopting the 'right' ideal: marriage to one, exclusive partner.) Those who don't conform to this, straight, gay, or bi, face pressure to do so or be branded deviant and immoral.

Last thing: it's normal to be scared. It's normal to have doubts. It's normal to wonder if it's worth it. I'm here to tell you it can be. It really, really can be.

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