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 at polymeansmany.com
There are so many different things I could have written about for this month’s PMM topic, the frighteningly broad “dealing with the bad stuff”. My first instinct was to share war stories of terrible things that went wrong in poly relationships for me, but the thing is, this sort of shit is not intrinsic to poly relationships, nor are these problems ever not present in mono relationships–indeed, I’ve a fair few war stories about my life as a mono person.
So I am taking a different approach, and turning a topic which I and many other of the PMM bloggers dreaded into a celebration of sorts.
Valerie Solanas put it beautifully when she said that life in this society is “at best, an utter bore”. Inhabiting this capitalist, patriarchal society, we are bound to be thrown all sorts of horrors in our life, and we will often find ourselves frustrated, sad, horrified at these things that happen which are often far beyond our control. To maintain itself, this system benefits from our feeling alone in our misery, allowing it to crush each of us individually.
This is why we need each other so much. From my own personal experience and that of others–and a vast wealth of scientific evidence–having a support network makes it so much easier to deal with the bad stuff. From mental health problems to a major negative life event to just getting through day-to-day life, a support network is essential.
And this is where poly comes in. A lot of the skills that you need to maintain a good support network–and be supportive to others–are exactly the skills that are needed to make poly work. These are the skills that, when entering a poly lifestyle, you tend to end up reading books about, going to workshops about, practising and learning endlessly.
There is a lot of communication involved in looking out for each other, and getting the help that we need to deal with the bad stuff. Perhaps one of the most difficult sentence to utter is “I’m not OK”. This is a fairly essential thing to be able to say when you’re in a poly relationship, and the skill of being able to verbalise this is one which we tend to become reasonably adept at. From this, it is easier to say what sort of help you need: a shoulder to cry on, a phone call once a day, money, or maybe even just a hug. It’ll be unique and individual to the person.
Likewise, a good supporter will listen calmly, and know when to ask a very important question “are you OK?”. Again, these communication skills are vital to poly. We learn to be good listeners, to be responsive to the needs of other people, to show empathy. And, most crucially, we kind of have to learn about attending to the emotional needs of multiple individuals, to try not to neglect anyone but to give what we can where we can.
This is not to say every poly person in the world is actually any good at these important skills: of course a lot of us are not. We’re only human, and we’ve been raised in a system which wants to keep us apart from one another. What I can say with some certainty, though, is that the skills I learned from being poly have helped me so much in supporting–and being supported by–others, whether they are partners or not.
It would be so good for everyone if we were all taught these skills, consciously, from birth. To look out for each other, to support each other, to look after others as much as you can. To be open and ready to listen and able to vocalise safely. To seek and provide comfort.
These are skills we all need to deal with the bad stuff. And whether we are poly or not, they are essential.
3 thoughts on “Poly means many: Looking out for each other”
What a brilliant take on the subject! I agree that all we’ve learned from poly relationships – plus the friends we’ve made through our extended networks – makes it a bit easier to deal with the bad stuff. Knowing you’re not alone is really important. Having someone who gives enough of a shit to sit down with you and listen, is vital. Being able to take a step back and calm the fuck down… we;;, I’m still working on that part. Getting there though.
That’s a lovely way to look at it, and yes, I agree! And the more people you have to apply these skills to, the more diversity of responses you get experience with. People really are so different, both in the support they need and the support they can offer, so more intimacy can make for a strong emotional safety net, if we learn to look after it.
Building a broad support network was actually part of what drew me to polyamory, especially as an immigrant, with my (ridiculously supportive but very far away) family on the other side of the world. It can feel so risky reaching out, but I totally agree that it’s easier to do so when you’re able to communicate feeling and intentions well. That’s something I’m definitely still learning!