By Poly Philia
If you’ve been on dating apps, you’ve probably come across a polyamorous person or two. Polyamory is the practice or desire to be in multiple simultaneous loving relationships with everyone’s knowledge and consent. This unconventional relationship style is a concept that many struggle to understand and this means that many people who practise it are often met with ignorant or even offensive statements and questions. With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to some things you should avoid saying to a polyamorous person, as well as some suggestions for what you could say instead.
1. ‘Great, I wasn’t looking for anything serious anyway!’
A common assumption about polyamorous people is that they are averse to commitment. In mainstream society, commitment is often synonymous with monogamy and the idea that a couple should forsake all others to be with ‘the one’. In reality, many polyamorous people form serious, long-term relationships; in fact, they are arguably so committed that they are able to do it with more than one person. People in polyamorous relationships tend to define their commitment by the consistent love and care they show to their partners, rather than by the attractions they repress and sacrifice for others. Of course, some polyamorous people may be looking for casual romance outside of their existing partnerships, but not all of them are.
Instead, try something like this: ‘What kind of relationship are you looking for? At the moment, I am looking for something casual. Would you potentially be open to a friends with benefits dynamic?’
2. ‘So where’s my orgy invite?’
People often think that polyamory is all about sex. While sex is an integral part of how many people express love, polyamory is more about forming deeply loving, emotional connections than having wild sex parties and threesomes. Some polyamorous people are even asexual or otherwise completely disinterested in sex. And even for those who are sexual with multiple partners, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be sexual with all of them in the same room!
Instead, try something like this: ‘Group sex is one of my fantasies and it’s something I would be interested in engaging in. Would you happen to know anything about how I could experience that or is that not your thing?’
3. ‘Who’s your favourite partner?’
A lot of people can’t wrap their heads around polyamory because of the way we are taught to prioritise one person above everyone else in romantic love. Because of this, when someone has multiple partners, it is often assumed that there is one ‘real’ or ‘main’ relationship when that isn’t necessarily the case. There are many different styles of polyamory and not all of them are centred on a couple. Just like a parent does not necessarily have a favourite child, a polyamorous person can love multiple people in completely different ways. Moreover, by asking this question, you are implying that the other partners are less important, which is insulting to the person that loves them.
Instead, try something like this: ‘What style of polyamory do you practise? Do you have a primary partner or is your relationship structure more non-hierarchical?
4. ‘I’m polyamorous too…just don’t tell my partner!’
By far the most offensive thing you can say to a polyamorous person is to tell them that they are effectively cheating. Polyamorous people pride themselves on their ethical conduct and honest communication, and infidelity is the complete opposite of that. Most polyamorous people would not want to actively enable someone who is looking to have an affair, as this would involve violating the trust of their partner who is not aware of the situation.
Instead, try something like this: ‘Don’t cheat on your partner.’
5. ‘Is one partner not enough for you?’
Suggesting that polyamorous people are asking for too much by engaging in multiple relationships is judgemental and mononormative. Polyamorous people do not practise polyamory because there is something wrong or lacking in their existing relationship. There are many couples who open up a relationship to enhance it or to embrace a new emotional connection and experience novelty and variety in their love lives. Just like you may get different things out of multiple friendships without the implication that any of them are insufficient in some way, polyamorous people get different things out of engaging with multiple partners.
Instead, try something like this: ‘I would love to hear more about what the benefits of polyamory are for you and what unique things you get from each of your partners.’
6. ‘So when are you going to settle down?’
Polyamory is not a phase for most people and it is not the same as casually dating with the eventual goal of lifelong monogamy. By asking someone when they are going to settle down, you are implying that they will eventually pick a favourite partner and be monogamous. This belittles the meaningful relationships they have in their life and also assumes that you cannot settle down with multiple people at once. There are many polyamorous people who cohabit and raise children with multiple partners. Longitudinal research suggests that having more parents around not only helps ease the burden of childcare, but also offers more sources of love and support which can be very beneficial for a child’s development.
Instead, try something like this: ‘I’m interested to know how your relationships could potentially progress. Are you looking to get married or potentially live with and have kids with one or multiple partners, or is that not something you are interested in long-term?’
Polyamory is a highly stigmatised relationship style and while there’s nothing wrong with asking questions, consider the impact and implications of what you are asking people. Be careful not to be too invasive or judgemental and temper your curiosity with respect and tact.