Poly during the holidays — tales, warnings, recommendations
Every year the holiday season brings stories and advice for polyfolks navigating birth-family gatherings, juggling different partners' wishes, or just being alternatively festive. Here are a bunch, new and old, that you may find interesting and useful.
Polyamory Weekly episode #585, Poly for the Holidays (up December 3, 2019).
This week, we have advice from SIX different therapists, relationship coaches, and body workers on navigating holiday family events as a poly person!
The six are Ruby Bouie Johnson, Libby Sinback, Karen McDowell, Spyce, Anne More, and Nolan Lawless. Minx's podcast always beats morning-guy radio on your drive to work.
More? Minx offers her five previous favorite podcasts about this everlasting topic, going back to 2006:
Episode 411 at 10:15, which includes advice learned from FBI hostage negotiators
Episode 345 at 3:00, in which LustyGuy and Minx share their tips for negotiating family time around the holidays while accommodating as many needs as possible
Episode 297 at 1:30, in which Joreth and Puck share their holiday advice about how to introduce partners and deal with being closeted
Episode 184 at 11:20, in which Minx gives gift and self-care advice
Episode 86 at 4:50, in which Minx advises NOT to come out during the holidays
● Relationship coach Marcia Baczynski (of the dictum "If you're afraid to say it, that means you need to say it") writes in her newsletter (Nov. 25):
My holiday happiness is directly related to how clear I am about what I do and don’t want to do, how well I set my boundaries, and how much I orient the holidays around things that bring me joy.
Rushing around madly trying to find cheap plastic stuff just to give to someone out of obligation? No.
Traveling across the country while crushed among stressed, sweaty, cranky people at twice the usual ticket price? No.
Potluck Friendsgivings, winter walks in the woods and homemade gifts? Yes please!
...What matters is noticing, valuing and listening to the things that make you happy around the holidays, and making plans (and compromises) accordingly.
There are 2 questions I ask when faced with holiday invitations, offers, requests and requirements.
...Question 1: Am I feeling positively motivated or negatively motivated to do this?
...Question 2: Does this give me more energy or less energy?
● "Every year I get a big spike in clients who are having holiday poly drama," says Kathy Labriola, who's been a group-relationship counselor in Berkeley for decades, "and I wanted to put out some general advice that may be useful to the community. The holidays seem to cause a lot of poly debacles, and some may be possible to avert."
These come from patterns in the real-life experiences of her clients. Excerpts:
Poly Holiday Tips
...We are trying to manage all of the usual holiday dilemmas, but with the added stress of trying to include more than one partner in our holiday plans, and to make sure no one feels neglected or disrespected. ...And ... there is the fear of being alone on a major holiday and feeling less important or demoted.
Tip One: Think through what would be ideal for you!
Many poly people say that are so worried about keeping everyone else happy that they don't even think about what they want or what would work best for them during the holiday season. Often they discover after the fact that they have busted their butts to do everything to please others, only to find that they have spent a lot of time, energy, and money doing things no one actually wanted. ...
Tip Two: Make time for conversations with each partner (and family member) about their needs, desires, plans, hopes and fears around the upcoming holidays.
Set up a time with each of your partners when you can have a relaxed conversation about their needs and expectations, what is most important to them about the holidays, and how they would like to be included in your plans. It is also wise to communicate with any family members or friends who may expect to see you. ... Be clear with each person that you are not able to commit right now, and that you will have another conversation very soon to make solid plans with them; right now, you are gathering information.
Tip Three: Make a list of everything everyone is asking of you during the holidays, identify any conflicts, and think over carefully what compromises may be possible. …
Tip Four: Clarify expectations about any holiday gift traditions. …
Many poly people want to exchange gifts; many others hate the commercialism, don’t have the time or money, or just hate shopping. This can create a lot of stress, resentment, and disappointment if you make the wrong assumptions. …
Tip Five: Whatever amount of holiday events and activities you THINK you can do, decide to do LESS than that!
Most poly people have horror stories about holiday plans that looked fine on paper but turned into a nightmare. …
Tip Six: Don’t make the holidays into a test. Because if you do, your partners will fail that test. ...
Tip Seven: If you are thinking of including more than one partner in a holiday event, proceed with caution and talk through any potential problems.
The idea of spending holidays all together as “one big happy metamour poly family” looks great on paper, but often doesn’t work in real life. … One or more of them may not agree. …
Tip Eight: When poly holiday plans go awry, be willing to apologize for any mistakes or problems, and do aftercare as needed. ...
Read her whole article, with lots of examples of these principles (December 2017).
● On "The Conversation," a big Creative Commons site for academics writing popular articles, Carrie Jenkins (philosophy professor and author of What Love Is and What It Could Be) offers this: When you have two lovers, the holidays can be tricky (Dec. 18, 2018). She is speaking mostly to the people sitting around your Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa table to whom you may not have come out.
Research suggests that family approval has a significant impact on relationship stability.
Imagine you’re going home for the holidays, and this year you’re introducing a new partner to your family. Slightly awkward? Ok. Now imagine your old partner is there as well. Oh, and they’re still your partner too.
We’re now well beyond awkward.
...Going home for the holidays is also about returning to one’s people — one’s “family.” ...Familial expectation can be a powder keg at the best of times, but tends to be especially compressed during the holidays, when family members are all in one space, under pressure to have fun and perhaps fuelled by alcohol.
...Secrecy may be unhealthy for a relationship, but so is disapproval. ... Secrecy may be especially motivated where a “secondary partner” is concerned — that is, a partner who is less central or integral in one’s daily life than a “primary” partner.
...Personally, I don’t like the “primary”/“secondary” terminology — nobody is a secondary person, and calling someone a secondary partner can sound a bit like that’s what you’re saying.
When you think about it, though, we do the same thing with family. The nuclear family has four principal roles — father, mother, son, daughter — while other family roles, such as grandmother or uncle, tend to be marked as secondary by means of phrases like “extended family.”
...In the same vein, people also talk of “chosen family” to signal a difference from the unmarked kind of (unchosen) family.
...However we’re described, poly people are all over the place. Maybe there are some in your family. Maybe even in your home for the holidays.
If you think that’s impossible, ask yourself: Could they tell you, without risk of explosion? And do they know that?
Her full article was run by Canada's big GlobalNews network just in time for Christmas last year (Dec. 23, 2018). Now it's just been reprinted by MenaFn, "world and Middle East economic and financial news" (Dec. 17, 2019).
● Sometimes it can go beautifully. Currently on reddit/r/polyamory,
I opened up to my parents earlier this year about being poly, mostly because it felt awful to exclude important people in my life during conversations with family. They are trying so hard to be understanding and supportive.
This past week my mum gave me an advent calendar. She went out of her way to find one where each day has multiple treats in it. When she gave it to me she said that she wanted to make sure that I had enough to share with my partners -- cue my heart exploding into a million tiny thankful pieces.
● On Andre Shakti's blog "I am Poly (and So Can You)", Guest Columnist Ariel Vegosen tackles being home for the holidays when you're polyamorous! It's advice to a reader who wrote in. (Nov. 21, 2018)
I have created a two-part guide to help in this process – this first part is how to prepare your partners and the second part is how to prepare your family.
Preparing Your Partners
– Sit down with your partners and check in about what their needs are for the holiday and share your needs as well. Find out what they desire, expect, and would like out of their holiday experience and share yours as well. For example....
– Let your partners know how you relate to your family and the style of communication your family uses. For example....
– Decide with your partners how much you want to share with your family about your relationship....
– Tell your partners what you will need if you are triggered by your family. Tell your partners how they can support you if your family is getting on your nerves or pushing your boundaries.
– Tell your partners about your family’s eating habits. Should your partners be bringing a certain dish or wine or are there family members who are in AA....
– Tell your partners about your family’s religion if they have one. Will there be “grace” before the meal?...
– Build in self-care for you and your partners. Create time in the holiday that is fun and nourishing and about you having a great time.
Preparing Your Family
– Remind your family that you are non-hierarchical poly and what that means to you. Since they have never seen you with both your partners they might not actually understand what poly means and what it means specifically to you.
– Ask your family what they expect, desire, and need from you this holiday season and share what you expect, desire, and need from them. For example: you can say that you need them not to make offensive comments.... They might need you to show up on time or listen to stories you have already heard multiple times....
– Tell your family if your partners have food restrictions or a different spirituality/religion.... Ask the family to respect those needs and differences.
– Remind your family that by bringing home your partners you are giving them an opportunity to be closer to you and to connect to the people in your life who are important.
● "If you think you're enlightened," psychedelic guru Ram Dass told the hippies long ago, "go visit your family." KamalaDevi McClure quoted that when putting up this vid with her thoughts about dealing with your monogamist biofam over the hols. You may remember her as a central figure in Showtime's 2012-2013 reality series Polyamory: Married & Dating.
● Eli Sheff reminds you, Save Coming Out for Some Other Time.
● And lastly, it just wouldn't be the season without another reprise of....
Anne Hunter (right) and partners, of PolyVic in Australia, produced this Christmas classic in 2007. The last verse:
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true loves gave to me
Twelve minutes alone (sigh)—
Eleven Christmas dinners
Ten jealousy cures
Nine long discussions
Eight dozen condoms
Seven Google Calendars
Five, Ethical, Sluts!
Foouur sandwich hugs
Too much attention
And a quick course in polyamor-ee.