PMM – Response to the Guardian Piece on Polyamory

Poly Means Many: there are many aspects of Polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found on Poly Means Many. This month we’re looking at the recent Guardian piece by Emer O’Toole about polyamory.

I’m always wary when polyamory is portrayed in the media…too often as a way of life it’s vilified, treated as the ultimate societal faux pas, or termed as glorified cheating. We at PMM of course know that to be untrue, and I have come to accept that for others to see the difference, polyamory needs to come out of hiding – it’s a big part of what prompted me to start blogging about it in the first place.

Emer O’Toole – an academic living in Canada from Ireland – has released a piece to the Guardian about the Poly way of life, and while a lot of what she said rings true for me, there are of course elements I don’t particularly agree with.

O’Toole talks of a discussion she had with a gentleman about her way of life – he felt he was poly by nature, yet his partner wasn’t and this somehow justified his cheating lifestyle. I had an almost identical discussion once – in my OKCupid days, there were a lot of men (and I hate to stereotype, but it was only men) who would tell me tales of woe about how they were poly, but their partner wasn’t. Apparently they felt it meant that they could still date me, as though honesty wasn’t a full-time, all-parties-involved requirement to me. In the early days, I spent hours in long drawn out conversations, in a futile attempt to try to explain the key fundamentals to these guys.

She goes on to explain something I feel is pivotal, not only in poly relationships, but all of our interactions with others. “We’re writing the rules together” – in every relationship we find a way which works for all parties involved. There’s no ‘one true way’ to do monogamy, or polyamory, or anything in-between the two. What I’ve found in my relatively short experience is that it all needs to be tailored individually. It happens naturally, organically through learning what makes your partner(s) tick, how you want to interact with them and what makes you both/all happy. I sometimes feel like I’m stating the obvious when I talk of this, but as I’m asked so often about what the “rules” of poly are as though there is one Master Rule Sheet, I guess it still needs to be said.

O’Toole tries to show this in her piece by giving us a snapshot of 5 of her poly(ish) friends and how their relationships work. Yet this can only ever be a glimpse and still tends to the stereotypical. Every monogamous couple/person is different, just in the way that every polyamorous person – in whatever relationship construct they are in – is. Personally, I’m not sure the snapshots work to explain O’Toole’s thoughts – or to help with the understanding of what polyamory means – splitting poly down into 5 distinct types may still place perceived limits on the way poly relationships “should” work.

Despite my reservations, I’m ultimately pleased the polyamorous way of life is cropping up more often in mainstream media. The more opportunities for people to learn about it and ask meaningful questions is only ever going to be a good thing. I just need to remember where it does pop up, NEVER read the comments.

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