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The Focus Group Effect, an Unexpected Upside of Polyamory

·614 words·3 mins

“I’m sure you’ve written about this before,” she says, “but have you ever noticed how something feels completely differently when multiple people close to you say it?”

“Ah,” I say. “You’re talking about the focus group effect.”

“So you have written about it before,” she says.

I shake my head. “Nah, that’s just what I call it in my personal life.”

“Well, I like it,” she says. “Polyamory was really interesting for me because I suddenly had multiple people all up in my business at the same time, getting to see the real me. And that meant I had multiple people complimenting me on a lot of the same things and the opposite, too.”

“Pointing out stuff you needed to work on?” I prompt her.

She nods. “Exactly. Although sometimes it didn’t work out that way either. Sometimes there would only be one partner or metamour [a word for partners’ other partners] who would feel that way. And if I’d ask the others about it, they’d say nahh… that isn’t you. That doesn’t make sense.”

I grin. “I know what you mean about that, too. And that’s valuable as well.”

“Like what happened with you and Seth,” she says.

Seth is my ex-husband. We were together for about a decade, all told. We’ve been divorced for over a decade now. The first eight years we were together, we were monogamous — and I’d been far less social than I had been the rest of my life because most of my friends had moved out of state for school.

Seth and I had a lot of good times. But he also would tell me troubling things that I knew on some level weren’t true when he said them but hurt deeply. The worst one of all was that yes, I was well liked, but people only liked me because they didn’t know the real me and if they got close to me, they wouldn’t like me at all.

This was bizarre to me because he wasn’t my first relationship and certainly not my first dear friend. But he’d say it like it was fact. So I did find myself worrying that it was true.

When we did open our marriage, after friends of ours revealed they were polyamorous, I fully expected that I’d have a hard time dating and forming connections. And that the ones I did make would be shallow.

But that wasn’t what happened at all. I formed deep connections well. And the more authentic I was with the people I dated and befriended, the more they liked me.

“In your case,” my friend says, “the focus group proved that something was just one guy’s opinion.”

I nod. It wasn’t the only reason we split up, but having those outside points of view made it easier for me to distinguish between what Seth said about me that had some merit (there was a lot he was right about to be fair to him, which is part of why I really did worry he was right about some of the hurtful stuff he was wrong about) and what was way off the mark.

To be fair, I had a sort of psuedo-focus group effect from my past, even when I was monogamous and not terribly social in my early relationship with Seth. But I kept wondering if I misremembered the past or if I’d changed since then.

There was something extremely powerful in having real-time simultaneous deep connections.

And yes… on a lighter note, because of focus group effects, I learned a lot of positive things about myself as well that I might never have realized. (And yes, stuff I had to work on.)


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