Hey there, my poly friends. I was going to call you my ‘poly pals’, but that makes you sound too much like collectable toys. This is a love letter, kind of. Plus, a thank you and a tribute and a ‘hey, remember me from back, when you only slept with each other?’ and many of the other thoughts that I’ve wanted to pour out since you became polyamorous, but have always been too awkward to say.
It’s great when someone else tries out these things first – like the latest concept restaurant, or whether you can actually wear a short suit to a church wedding without upsetting anybody’s aunt – so for this trailblazing on your part, I’m oddly grateful. History has always needed brave people to break with convention and find new ways of doing things. If they hadn’t, I’d be writing this on a slate, for God’s sake.
And despite pitching my tent in the ‘not for me, thanks’ camp, I’ve begun to think you really might have a point. Monogamy is not the only fruit. In a culture of overwhelming choice and ever-changing options, increasingly the idea of finding ONE person to love – just ONE person, FOREVER, and probably snag them in your twenties too because QUICK! have a wedding and QUICK! have a baby, before all your bits drop off and you die – well, it’s starting to feel a little antiquated. Perhaps it’s felt antiquated for a while, but most of us have been too immersed in social conventions and Pinterest boards to notice.
When you look at things from this angle, defining a whole new system of sex, love and relationships seem a logical step. Remove the pressure to find ONE and you open yourself up to a life of plenty. Take away binary gender codes too, and you’ve got a vast landscape of possibility, endless different ways you can experience love. It makes sense.
I’ve also learned lots. I can talk about dyads and triads and relationship anarchy with the confidence of a master Googler (that’s two-person couples, three-way relationships and relationships with no formal rules or definitions respectively). I understand that for most people, polyamory is far more about the philosophy of sharing and openness than it is about sleeping around. ‘Compersion’, the empathetic happiness of seeing somebody you love feeling happy, is a state many more of us could do with embracing, extra partners or not.
So while the rest of us plough our narrow furrows, you’re sowing wild oats, making hay and a few other agricultural metaphors I can’t think of currently – and that’s great. Really great. Please don’t let what I’m about to say undermine the fundamental fact that I totally applaud your lifestyle choices. I really do. I applaud them loud and hard (not a euphemism).
But the trouble is, everything now IS a euphemism. You talk about sex all the time, had you noticed? All the time. Which is not to say I don’t love hearing about your erotic escapades – I really do – but the shine comes off the sex chat when you’ve reeled off the tale of The Brave Little Dildo That Could three times before the starters have arrived. I remember you had other interests in the not too-distant past and I’d love to hear about those too from time to time.
If you’re wondering why I’ve never just stopped you mid-flow (so to speak), it’s largely through worry that ‘great, but shhh now’ will be immediately interpreted as ‘I CONDEMN YOUR LIFESTYLE’. We always had a friendship based on brutal, hilarious honesty – but now it doesn’t seem worth the risk of accidentally appearing prejudiced. So we let you carry on.
It’s introduced a whole new dynamic to parties, too – a fun element of mystery whereby we don’t always know if the other people in the room are sex friends or not-sex friends (the non-awkward person would just ask, of course) until sufficient gins have been consumed and things start to get a little… Strokey. I’m still to work out which are worse manners, lurching for the door trilling ‘It’s been lovely! Must dash!’ like Margo Leadbetter as soon as the sexual portion of the evening commences (sorry), or failing to make your other friends aware in advance when boning is on the menu. But then, I’m the sort of person who can fully imagine having a go at an orgy because I think it would be impolite to refuse.
Speaking of politeness, I know my life in hetero-monogamous dullsville can’t really compete in the anecdote stakes, but it would still be nice if you asked about it once in a while. Just throw out a ‘how’s your job?’ or ‘did you get that mole checked?’ in between filling us in on your latest hegemony-shaking hump. Clearly becoming self-absorbed isn’t part of the deal any more than group sex is, to think that would be as insulting to everyone in the poly community as it is to assume I’m closed-minded because I only shag one guy at a time.
I really want to like your new poly friends and partners. I want to because they’re important to you, and because I like to like people, and because I get the sense that our own friendship would probably skip along more smoothly if I did. I even assumed I would like them – I like you, after all, and I like all the other friends we have in common. But so far, they’ve all been… How can I put this delicately? Boring as fuck. Preachy. And smug.
Which is a shame, although I get that while the numbers of poly people are growing, probably much quicker than the conservative mainstream realise, it’s still a much smaller pool to be fishing in than most. And you’ve sat through enough of my terrible boyfriends to deserve a little compassion in return. Compersion, even. See? Learning!
Truth is, having my eyes opened to the poly community has challenged the way I think about monogamy – including my own. Being around people who are making such an effort to vocalise their needs and feelings is a pretty good prompt to check you’re being honest about yours too. ‘Is this actually satisfying me?’ I ask myself. ‘Would I be happier with a Kellogg’s Variety Pack than with the same bowl of Crunchy Nut, day after day? Do I want to switch to porridge?’ The answer so far is always no, I love the Crunchy Nut, but I reckon it’s good to keep checking.
Honesty being a crucial part of polyamorous life, I hope you’ll take it from a non-sex friend too. Ultimately, I just want for you what I want for all my friends: Go find whatever or whoever makes you happy. And if they’re all funny and interesting and ask about my moles, too… Well, that would be nice.