A Captive Performer

Scene: I am in a car with a guy to whom I have not yet out myself.  I was discussing my recent wage debacle with him and he suggested that I simply quit since I don’t have any kids and Wes makes good money.

There were a lot of things sort of silly about this suggestion, mainly because of the massive assumptions that he was making about what I spend my money on.  In his (and many people’s worlds, I think) kids are the only reason not to be reckless. Otherwise, screw it.  Throw caution to the wind and backpack in Europe for a year surviving on baguettes and river water, just like you’ve always wanted.  One year I had the opportunity to work in Germany as an ink chemist for a very, very low wage.  When I was considering how I would do this and not be miserable, I thought I would just go be a street musician, specializing in singing Vietnam War era anti-war/government songs, since this was just around the time of Shock and Awe.

But instead, I chose to take a job at the time that would pay me in a week what the job in Germany would pay me in a month, and would set me up better for the career I currently have.  Yes, I am an odd bird in many ways, but I am also pretty practical in things like this.

So this guy tells me that I should just quit since I have nothing to stop me.  I took this opportunity to tell him that Wes and I have a mortgage, two cars to pay off, credit card debt, student loan debt, bills…and, well, I am polyamorous and live with 3 additional people.

The guy’s reaction was large, boisterous and embarrassing.

“WHAAAAAAAT?!? And what, you’re all having sex together or something??? WHAT ARE YOU DOOOOING?!? JESUS!”

I have been told a few times to be patient with people because my life style is weird and it takes people some getting used to.  I get that and I try to be patient, but honestly, I’m relatively over that now.  I can take people thinking it’s odd and having questions, but I do not have to put up with shaming behavior.  This initial reaction and things he subsequently said made me feel shame, like a slut (in the bad way), and stupid.

Of course, these feelings didn’t last long, since I know better.  I told him that his reaction wasn’t helpful and he told me that it was controlling to say that he shouldn’t react a certain way.  I laughed at him and said simply that his reaction makes me not want to talk to him about it because I didn’t feel respected. He said,

“What, do you want me to say ‘Oh Gina, that’s so beautiful!’ Fuck that, I’m not going to say that.”

“No,” I said, “But if you want to ask me extremely personal questions, you could be less of an asshole about it.”

We continued to talk and he told me sordid tales of his past, where he had affairs all the time in NYC while his ex-wife was home and unaware.  People like to tell me these stories of infidelity when I come out as poly.  I’m never sure why since all I have to say about it is, “Yep, that’s unethical and not what I’m doing.”  He told me story after story and my response to each was, “Well, yeah, that should have destroyed your marriage because you were lying and not respecting your relationship.”  He agreed and then said something about how he wants one person to be his and only his, but knows that he also wants other people.  I looked at him and said something to the effect of “Cool story, bro”.

When I come out to people about my relationship style, I’m actually not doing it to judge or convert you.  A common topic of discussion in the family is how I personally don’t thrive on being an ambassador of polyamory.  I’m generally approachable, I realize, but if I’m at a meetup or something, I will answer questions about my personal life and how I deal with it, but I don’t get off on it.  Wes and Jessie have told me that I should just send people to them, which I will definitely do when I can.  Generally though, I don’t really care about what relationship style you have or think you are somehow a jackass for being monogamous UNLESS you try to shame me or claim superiority over me for (a) having ovaries enough to be honest about the way I live and (b) for being capable of happiness and joy in a non-traditional (and fucking awesome) life.  I say this really for the sake of people who might try to shame me or act better than me because while I am not in the business of converting, I can certainly point out to these people the flaws in their assumptions…and can do it somewhat relentlessly if I am so inclined.

In March, the family went to Atlanta for Atlanta Poly Weekend and it was absolutely wonderful.  It was wonderful for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was that it was a whole bunch of poly people talking about navigating life and, while poly was an underlying theme…it wasn’t really about that.  Everyone’s life was pretty standard and “normal”, with the exception of the structure of their relationships.  All of the panels I went to discussed things that would be important regardless of one or four partners.  Relationship skills extend beyond our romantic partnerships out into our friendships, our extended families, and our lives at work.  What I’m saying is, it’s really not weird to not only be OK with this but to prefer it.  It is not strange for it to work. I accept that it is not the traditional thing and I accept that because it is nontraditional, I might get reactions that I don’t like…but I don’t have to respect and coddle those reactions.

I agreed to talk to the guy when he wanted to ask more questions, but I felt slimy and uncomfortable the whole time.  Something about the way he was made me feel like more of a specimen than I usually do…more like an exhibit at the Museum of Relationship Oddities and also Slut Bags or something.  But I answered the questions because he asked and I don’t generally refuse to reveal these things about myself.  This gross feeling lingered and I thought about how someone else could have asked those questions from a place of respect and I wouldn’t have felt gross at all.  See, my relationships are my life…they are the most important thing to me.  The fact that some people reduce them to nothing but sex is hurtful and offensive to me.  These are my people.  These are my life partners.  And no, I am not sleeping with all of them.  Weird that more than a spouse can be deeply important to a person.

FYI.

What I learned from that was that I don’t need to talk to everyone about myself just because they have ears and just because they ask.  I understand wanting some things private a little better now.  I still don’t care for the most part, but I think I will assess how safe I feel with someone before giving them the ammunition to hurt me.

When he dropped me off at my house after a long day, I jumped out of the car and walked proudly up the driveway into the house where my family was and, as it has been many times before, my home felt like the sweetest home in the world.

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5 responses to “A Captive Performer

  1. ” People like to tell me these stories of infidelity when I come out as poly. I’m never sure why since all I have to say about it is, “Yep, that’s unethical and not what I’m doing.”

    Yes. This. Why do people do this? It’s like they’re making an effort to bond with you while simultaneously proving they do not understand a single thing you’ve said. This is a highly annoying response to discussions about polyamory that presents itself a lot when you attempt to have a discussion about “Hey, I believe you can have multiple loving and committed relationships at the same time as long as everyone is on the same page.”

    Infidelity= clearly not on the same page, so it’s just a really bad way for people to equate something they understand with something they don’t. I actually find it a little insulting, because I’m a painfully honest and straightforward person. Infidelity does not factor into my world.

  2. I’ve noticed this myself, and find the reactions to my atheism to be similar. Both seem to come across as challenging/threatening to some people, and they launch into defensive explanations why they are not doing/believing those things, or even become concerned for me because I do.

    I think the more secure a monogamous/theist is about their own choices and beliefs, the less threatening they find people who do and think differently. This person you describe in this post, who struggled with infidelity, surely had moments where he wondered about monogamy himself, probably waffling between thinking monogamy may not make sense and wondering if something was seriously wrong with him. The very fact that he was presented with someone who has made peace with a different choice probably brought up all that confusion, which then he basically vomited on you.

    I feel for people like this, but I’ve had to learn that there isn’t anything I can say that will clear it up for them.

  3. “He agreed and then said something about how he wants one person to be his and only his, but knows that he also wants other people.”

    Would that be considered polyfidelity? That’s how it is for one of my friends back in BR (who introduced me to the whole poly scene 9 yrs ago.) Her partner can date whomever he wishes, but she isn’t allowed to date other men, and if she wants to date a woman, he has to “approve” her first. Personally, I think that that’s a terrible setup; I’m more about traditional polyamory (if it can even be considered traditional? LOL).

    I just can’t stand double standards, such as your colleague (if I can call him that). My ex was a bit like that- he was always on the quest for the perfect woman, and even when he claimed to have found her, he would still scour dating sites for someone better. But woe to me or the other exes if we move on.

  4. @Ash – I’ve usually looked at polyfidelity as a group of polyamorous people who date each other in various configurations, but do not allow additional relationships outside of this group (unless universally approved). As with all things poly (and all things relationships), definitions vary depending on who you talk to. I certainly find “harem” type arrangements distasteful to me (as in, I wouldn’t enter into such an agreement), but I have learned that there are kinks associated with that kind of power dynamic (and I respect that if these dynamics make the people involved happy. However, I am often suspicious of it until proven otherwise.

    @Chouli – Yeah, I used to feel like I had to put myself through uncomfortable and sometimes disrespectful interactions as some kind of service to the community, but I feel less noble about it now. Like, this is my life and I don’t owe anyone passing through it an explanation to make them more comfortable. A lot of times it’s worth it to answer questions, but sometimes it’s just not.

    @Alayna – I think they do it because they assume we came to poly due to our inability to be “faithful” to our long term partner, so maybe they assume we will be sympathetic. I generally am not sympathetic.

  5. There are certainly kinks in the group. My friend is ‘collared’, and it took me a long time to be OK with it b/c a) she is VERY submissive in nature, and I felt like her partner was taking advantage of her, and b) he would say things like “It is a good girl”. I had a MAJOR problem with him calling her “It.” But, after nine years together, she’s still pretty happy and is doing well, and he stopped calling her It, so I guess I shouldn’t worry too much.

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