The overall experience I’ve had explaining polyamory to people who have never heard of it is quite interesting from the privileged male point of view.
So far I’ve seen that most people do not dish out moral judgements or shame. On the surface, the vast majority of reactions are accepting. However, there is usually a distinct difference between the reaction I get from men, women and couples. Here’s a typical response (not representative of the entire demographic) and my overall impression (which is totally subjective) :

Single Men

Wow! What a man! How do you get women to accept that?

Isaiah Mustafa, from Old Spice commercials

Awe, often followed by requests for aid and/or encouragement to help pick up someone. Envy at my perceived status as a man attractive enough to get away with women putting up with sharing me. I seem to be put on a pedestal of some kind of ideal that is not me, not what I want to be and also not what I’d like to see idealized.

Single Women

A quiet resignation, aversion of eye contact and thereafter avoidance of social interaction. There is little interest in expressing interest or even opposing opinions.

Creepy Italian guy, from EuroTrip film

I am seen as a sexual predator, who should be generally avoided in order to not encourage. Any conversation beyond this point is strained and definitely absolutely nothing to do with polyamory. This is not too dissimilar to the typical reaction I’ll get if I’m perceived to be a monoamorous and single guy, but stronger and more frequently.

Partnered men or women

Oh! I could never do that! Holding partner close if present.

Third wheel next to embracing couple

Fear that I might try something on with them/their girlfriend and when their partner is present, a degree of exclusion via intensified couple-bonding and a seemingly deliberate highlighting of monoamorous ideals, perhaps with the aim that their partner perceive them as being a good, loyal choice to remain partnered with.

Although these are very anecdotal, personal and subjective experiences, they do seem to strengthen the reactions I get compared to when I simply don’t mention polyamory – in other words when I am seen as simply monoamorously single.
This seems to indicate that I am perceived as being more promiscuous and a greater threat for being polyamorous as this second myth suggests. Since these are gut reactions without data, I wonder where this stems from.
Given the patriarchy and polygyny of our ancestors and our closest ape relatives, there could be an instinctual perception of power and promiscuity towards those with multiple partners.
Since the default cultural stance is that monoamory is the only correct and moral way to have sex, it follows that non-monogamists are seen as being less moral and therefore more likely to break your heart or take your partner away from you.
Despite an intellectual understanding of multiple partners, it takes a few repetitions before it’s clear that my partners (women) also have multiple partners – it’s not a one-way deal. With the underlying assumption that women are somehow naturally monoamorous, it’s simply unfair (and therefore wrong) that I take more than my fair share (i.e. one) of partners since they are now excluded from the dating pool.

Whatever the root causes, my experiences will be different from other men and certainly from women. Also, despite being in a privileged position, the reasons behind this are anything but positive. I think it would be a good idea to break these misconceptions down.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Julie says:

    In any case, you can learn a lot about the people you are telling about your polymourous life – and be surprised sometimes how easy or how hard it is for that special person to understand what you’re trying to tell them. So some friends might become closer and others more detached – you can never tell beforehand.

    All in all, I had a lot more positive than negative reactions, but mostly only after mentioning that not only my male partner, but also I have more than one partner – otherwise, people tend to see women as “victims” of sexually greedy men, never minding the fact that they know me as a very self-confident woman. The idea of living in a love-family is quite far off for most of them, but to my great joy, my friends and relatives open up more and more to it.

    Sometimes, people doubt that “this can work” – well of course any relationship can fail, polyamory isn’t a cure against that, just like monoamory isn’t, and I’m not trying to sell it, but just to make it visible as an alternative, my chosen alternative. Nevertheless, some people, especially couples, instantly start explaining why this could never be the right way for them – but that conversation, I believe, is directed more to the partner than to me (“Don’t be afraid, darling, although she’s my friend, I’d never get such funny ideas – just like you wouldn’t, RIGHT?!”).

    Men react with heightened interest, single women tend to react in a similar way as you described the reaction of single men, only milder, and with partnered women, it helps to state that I keep my hands off mono-men.


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