“There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.”
So Monogamous That We Have Lots of Threesomes
“It’s funny. I can’t believe how monogamous we are,” she says.
“Oh?” I ask. After all, she just got finished telling stories about all the threesomes they’ve had lately.
“Yeah, it’s different with him. I’ve been poly for years, but with him? I don’t want to share. I wonder what that means.”
She tells me they’re considering keeping a submissive in their condo basement. Someone who can be part of their family. Someone they can have sex with.
“I want to get over my worry about his sleeping with other woman and not just men, but I don’t know if I’m quite there yet,” she adds. “Soon, I hope.”
The Comparison Shopper
“What’s up with you?”
“He broke up with me,” she says.
“He did?” I ask.
She’s talking about The Other Man. She’s still married to her husband, but it’s complicated. There have been many moments when I wish I didn’t even know about it. Keeping her secret hasn’t been easy. I always wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Does her husband have a right to know? Do I tell? Do I not tell? What’s the right move here? I don’t like her husband. And I worry about his propensity to violence. Her taste in men is definitely questionable.
“Yeah,” she says. “I really thought he was the one.”
Over the next couple of days, she gets back together with her husband.
Until… “Page, I met the most AMAZING guy!”
And her marriage is back on the rocks. Her emotional life back in the hands of this next iteration of The Other Man.
“Have you ever thought that you might be poly?” I ask her.
She laughs. “Oh no way, I’m extremely monogamous. I could never be poly. Or non-monogamous. Any of that.”
She makes out with 2 girls and 3 guys that night.
People Who Don’t Think They’re Poly
“The map is not the territory.”
I’ve run into an awful lot of people who assert that they’re in monogamous relationships while sleeping with multiple partners (ethically or not).
Much like a map of land represents what is there but does not completely describe it, the perception of a relationship and the relationship itself are two different things.
There are many reasons why people might use one label or another to describe themselves or how they do things.
They Might Be Confused
Confusion can definitely be an an issue — especially with things that we don’t have a lot of good cultural scripts for. If we don’t even know of a concept, it’s difficult to understand how it applies to us.
Back in the day, I changed my sexual identity from gay to straight from one week to the next depending on the gender of the person I was currently jonesing for the hardest. And I can certainly see this happening with folks and poly since monogamy vs. non-monogamy very well might be more of a spectrum and less of a binary.
Although in my case, when I was informed of bisexuality’s existence by a friend (freshman year of college, I had a very sexually uneducated upbringing in rural Maine), I took it on as a label.
And this process of sheer confusion met with more knowledge? Well, it has continued throughout my life. I’m wrong and don’t know. Then I learn something new and tweak my understanding of myself and others. I try to get less and less wrong as I encounter new information that contradicts what I used to believe.
Not that I always do it perfectly, but I try to run it past my filters in a way that allows for change.
I’ve eaten an awful lot of crow.
They Might Be Uncomfortable
And when I see disconnects like these in people who have heard of poly and other forms of ethical (and unethical) non-monogamy, it gives me pause. Because they’ve heard of it. They just don’t see how it applies to their current situation. Or they don’t want to.
What’s going on in these cases? An avoidance of something uncomfortable. When people can’t control a reality, they often will attempt to gain a sense of control by controlling the label they use to describe it. Even if a different label fits better.
What to Do About Them
What should you do when people who seem polyamorous call themselves monogamous? Take it as an opportunity to look at your own relationships and consider if you’re being honest with yourself and your partners about your needs.
Oh… What do you do to them? The folks that are identifying in a way that makes no sense to you? Even in the face of overwhelming evidence and the gentle (and not gentle) observations of others?
You do nothing.
For starters, there’s no way to know 100 percent that you’re right. You don’t really know what it’s like in their head.
And even if you are right? They have reasons for telling themselves that story. It’s likely some form of emotional coping that won’t take well to your pushing them too far. In fact, when you try too hard to convince people of things they don’t want to hear, it often has the opposite effect (reactance /”boomerang effect,” etc)– it makes them less likely to listen.
Be patient. Be open. Live your life. And if and when they come to the realization that they are polyamorous, be there for them.
No “I told you so.” Authenticity. Acceptance.
Think of what a great world we could live in if we all rewarded each other for being a little less wrong.