Jolly Poly Holidays. . . or not
Non-traditional people often face challenges around traditional family stuff, no more so than in the holiday season.
A classic blunder: using the big turkey-carve as the moment to come out to your whole birth family including Nervous Hilda and Problem Uncle Fred.
Then there's the classic polyfamily crisis: a couple leaves a secondary partner behind to finally grasp, all alone in a cold apartment on Christmas Day, that he or she really is secondary. Although for that, Kimchi Cuddles has a solution. I'm not sure whether she's snarking here:
● As is often the case, MoreThanTwo.com is a go-to place for clarity. Eve Rickert put up a guest post from Noël Figart, the Polyamorous Misanthrope: Polyamorous holidays: When you’re the secondary.
A friend of mine sent me a question last week about surviving the holidays as a polyamorous secondary partner, and Franklin and I chewed on it for awhile before finally throwing in the towel. ... So we turned to someone else we trusted. I’ve followed Noël’s blog almost since the inception of my own non-monogamy journey, and she gives great poly advice that is grounded in respect, love and being a grown-up.
I’m looking for advice on surviving the holidays as a Secondary. My only current partner is married, and also lives very close to his biological family, whom he is also very close to emotionally. He’s told at least his mother... but she has essentially bent over backwards to ignore our relationship... and holidays really seem to heighten that glitch in the matrix.
...We’re doing some personal celebration things on days around the holidays, but they’re very solitary activities. It’s very much getting to me.... I’d like to know how other people have dealt with similar feelings of being the Invisible Partner during a very rough part of the year to be alone.
That hurts and it’s tough. And guess what? There is some social erasure going on in this.
Is it avoidable?
...Let’s break this down in terms of relationship skill sets. I’m sure you’ve run across the idea before that it’s important to ask for what you want. It is crucial, so get it out there. Don’t worry about whether what you want is too much to ask: once you know what you want, ask for it. This can be scary, but I think all good relationships require a bit of courage....
"To not be publicly acknowledged as a partner or to
be erased from public celebrations can be painful."
Photo © Michal Moravcik/Depositphotos.com
So try it out. “Honey, I feel really alone during the holidays. Since we are partners, I feel like we’re family, too, and I want to be able to be included in some big holiday gatherings. Is there any way this can happen at all?”
Notice that this is open-ended. You’re asking for what you want, but you’re not telling anyone how to give it to you. That’s good, because chances are better that you’ll get some suggested solutions that you might not even have thought of.
Yes, I’m presuming good will here. After all, you’re partners and you love each other, right?
You mentioned that you’re doing a small, private celebration with your partner. Maybe it shouldn’t be (just) a small, private celebration. Maybe at some point a big holiday party that you and your partner and metamour host might be a good idea.... I used to throw a big tree decorating party the first of December ever year.
...I used to be a member of a group marriage. While we got enough wrong that it did eventually dissolve, one of the things we got right was that we hosted holidays at our house. That kept us from having to choose among families of origin. People who wanted to visit on a holiday were welcomed.... It was a good solution for us, as it did keep us on more equal ground with each other....
● From Dedeker Winston of the Multiamory Podcast, writing on Bustle a few days ago: Common Judgments Non-Monogamous People Hear — And How To Respond (Dec. 12, 2016):
...As the holidays are fast approaching, you may be gearing up to come out to your family about your non-monogamy. Or, the word may have already gotten out, and now you’re bracing yourself for the inevitable questions and un-asked-for opinions....
Here’s a play-by-play to handling the most common questions and criticisms of ethical non-monogamy with smarts and grace.
“Is this a sex thing?”
Variations include: “I don’t want to know about what goes on in your bedroom.” “Aren’t you scared of STDs?”...
...How to respond: “My relationships are based on intimacy and emotional connection, not just hooking up. I am aware that all forms of sex are risky, but I am taking precautions to make sure that both my partners and myself stay safe and healthy.”
“So ... you’re single.”
Variations include: “Are you playing the field for now?” “Good for you for not letting yourself get tied down.” “When you find the right person, you’ll be ready to commit.”
...The best method is time. ... However, when the people asking are sitting looking at you expectantly, it may not be feasible to ask them to get back to you in a year or so.
How to respond: “I’m actually quite committed to my relationships, but my definition of ‘commitment’ may be a little different from yours. I am seriously committed to being the best partner I can be, and I’m committed to making sure that my partners and myself are happy, regardless of whether or not there is sexual exclusivity.”
“Like what Mormons do?”
Variations include: “Do you have sister-wives?” “Did you join a cult?” “Is this like Big Love?”
...How to respond: “Unlike the historical instances of Mormon polygamy, my relationships are equal opportunity — everyone involved is free to have multiple partners, regardless of their gender. My choice of relationship isn’t related to any spiritual or religious practice.”
“Isn't that cheating?”
Variations include: “Does your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband know?” “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
...If it’s appropriate, it helps to have one of your partners there with you. Your partner can help answer questions, provide a slightly different perspective, and demonstrate without a doubt that you aren’t doing this behind their back.
How to respond: “Cheating usually involves doing something behind your partner’s back and then lying about it to cover it up. Every person involved with me has full knowledge and has given their full consent. I build my relationships on a foundation of open, honest communication and trust.”
“That isn’t real love.”
Variations include: “I’m sad that your relationship is falling apart." “Your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband must not really love you.” “You can’t be happy this way.”
This one is the heavy hitter. Does anyone know what “real” love is?...
How to respond: “My relationships may seem strange, but they are just one example of hundreds of different valid ways to create relationships. I chose this because it brings me happiness, love, and allows me to share that with others in my life.”
“You’re being taken advantage of.”
Variations include: “I just don’t want you getting hurt.” “This was your boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s/wife’s/husband’s idea, wasn’t it?” “You should break up with him/her.”
...How to respond: “I appreciate your concerns for me. This is a decision that I made for myself, after a lot of research, soul-searching, and discussion with my partner. It isn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t have chosen to do this if I didn’t think it would make me happy.”
...Your family may still think of your partners as shady characters. However, I’ve seen this attitude go full 180 after family members meet one or more of your partners....
When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous: Understanding Poly People and Relationships. Even if they don't dare open it, you've established that at least you're not a lone nut. It's also available as an ebook.
● On the Multiamory podcast itself, which Dedeker runs with Jase and Emily, they put this up just yesterday: Happy Polydays 2 (Dec. 20, 2016). It follows last year's Happy Polydays (Dec. 9, 2015).
● A wrapup from Eli Sheff (author of The Polyamorists Next Door, Stories from the Polycule, and that little When Someone You Love is Polyamorous): Poly for the Holidays: Tips on managing the holidays for poly folks and their non-poly families (Dec. 15, 2016).
...Keeping the ideas below in mind can help to make holidays more comfortable for everyone.
For Poly Folks
Save Coming Out for Some Other Time
If you are not yet out to your family about being in a poly relationship, it can most likely wait for a few more weeks or months. Earlier in this blog I wrote a series on coming out polyamorous and advised readers to avoid overloading what can be an already stressful season with potentially distracting or inflammatory announcements about sexuality. That is not an absolute rule – if you end up on an after dinner walk with your favorite cousin in can be a great time to have a private chat about the loves in your life. In general, however, avoid dropping relationship bombshells at the holiday family feast.
Give your Relatives the Benefit of the Doubt
If your dad has to ask you yet again who this new person is – even though you have been dating them for the past three years and your dad just met for the fourth time at your birthday party a couple of months ago -- try to stifle the dramatic sigh and muster up your patience to explain kindly that you are dating this person, and yes, your/their spouse knows about it. Polyamory can be a foreign and confusing concept for many people....
Have an Escape Plan
[If] relatives’ thoughtlessness or blatant malice becomes too much, be sure you can get away. Weather it is taking a walk, making a grocery run for those last few items, or returning to the sanctuary of a hotel room, be sure that you have some way to take a break from the festivities before things go badly wrong. Leaving a little too early is preferable to staying until alcohol-fueled tempers flare and people say things they will regret.
Moderate Mood Alteration
...Not only does alcohol fog your mind so that you might not notice your partner’s desperate look of a silent plea for help when Uncle Tony comes around again, it loosens your tongue....
For Families with Poly Loved Ones
Invite the People Important to Them
Even if you do not understand why your loved one is in a polyamorous relationship, please consider inviting the people they see as family members to the family event. It can be tremendously painful and difficult for poly family members to be forced to choose between spending the holidays with their chosen family members and their families of origin. Inviting everyone who is family – legal, biological, or chosen – to the party can mean more love for the whole clan.
Include all Partners in the Gift Exchange
Respect Loved Ones’ Choices, even when they Differ from Yours
Polyamory and other forms of consensual non-monogamy are not for everyone. ...You can decide to accept the fact that your loved one(s) have different relationship styles and needs from you and allow them their differences....
Find something to do that everyone can enjoy....
● In past years I've collected heaps more poly holidays stuff. Start here.
● On her Polyamory Weekly podcast, Cunning Minx has done many episodes on this perennial topic. For her choice of the five best she provides a handy one-page link: Poly for the holidays primer, with brief summaries for each. The most recent "includes advice learned from FBI hostage negotiators."