I updated the suggested resources here. And let me say it’s amazing and wonderful how many more resources for explaining and exploring polyamory there are in the just the five years since I wrote this post. Not much edits otherwise. Neither human nature nor culture have changed enough in the past five years to make much difference here. Updated Aug 2, 2017.
This is the fourth post in the Explaining Polyamory blog series. If you missed the earlier posts, start here.
However you handle the conversation, you will get one of the same basic set of reactions from loved ones you open up to about your lifestyle. They range from amazingly supportive to complete rejection. Most of the time, you’ll get something in the middle. Here a few of the positive (or at least neutral) reactions you might run into. Next week I’ll tackle the negative reactions you hopefully won’t need to deal with.
I need time to think about this: this is a relatively common reaction from parents and other close family members who feel (rightly or wrongly) that your life and theirs will have a major impact on each other. This reaction generally means that they can’t accept your relationship choices right away – maybe they have religious or moral reservations, maybe they’re on the other side of the culture gap and are trying to understand, maybe they just don’t know enough about polyamory to know how to react. Give them their time to think and ask if it might be okay to talk some more in a week or two.
You may also get this reaction from people who want to ignore the whole thing. If they can pretend to themselves that you aren’t polyam, then they can act as if nothing has changed, they don’t need to have a difficult and possibly painful conversation, don’t need to face the reaction of the rest of the family, etc. If someone who has asked for time to think just shuts down and refuses to talk further about it, even months later, then this is what they are doing.
Unfortunately I’ve never found a good way to deal with this approach. One option is to let them ignore it and just keep them out of the parts of your life that involve polyam. This may mean that they become a much smaller part of your life, which can hurt, but it is often better than losing them from your life entirely.
I don’t know what to think, I need more information: not a bad response overall, though unfortunately one of the less common ones. Humans do tend to rush to snap judgments. Get them a copy of When Someone You Love is Polyamorous. Direct them to a good intro-to-polyam blog, invite them to join a (not secret!) polyam forum or FB group. And of course, answer their questions as best you can.
Are you sure you want to do this? Your father and I tried and it really didn’t work, it nearly ruined our marriage/I used to do that/Really? me to!: Yes, non-monogamy has existed prior to this generation. In fact, chances are that if you tell all your friends and family about your relationship choices you will find at least one person who has ‘been there, done that’. Maybe it worked for them, maybe it didn’t. But you can be reasonably sure that they aren’t going to denounce your choice out of moral indignation. In fact, you can probably learn a lot from their experience if they are willing to talk about it.
Okay, it’s your life after all: acceptance without support. Best you can do here is thank them for recognizing that it is your choice and ask if they would like to meet any of your SOs. This person is not going to be wildly enthusiastic and might not think polyamory can work in the long run. But they aren’t going to try and tell you how to live your life. There is a strong chance that if they see you are happy they will become supportive in time.
OMG! Like that show/book/movie/thing I saw the other day! That’s so neat! This reaction is a lot more common than it was when I first wrote this post, thanks to the increase in polyam relationships in the media. In my experience you mostly get this reaction from friends or acquaintances. Family tends to take our life choices seriously. Relax, have a laugh, share some good stories and find out what media thing they are talking about – it might be worth watching yourself!
This post is part of the Explaining Polyamory blog series
(originally published May 2012)