January 8, 2013 by aggiesez
I regularly attend the weekly meetups of my local poly community. Here, the first meetup of the month is always “newbie night” — where priority in the discussion is given to questions and topics raised by people new to or curious about polyamory.
I love newbie night. Yeah, it gets a little old hearing the same basic questions. (“How do you cope with jealousy?” Yadda yadda.) But newbie night is not just a chance to expand awareness of polyamory, dispel stereotypes, help people think beyond the standard relationship escalator, and grow the poly community. It’s also a chance to influence the culture of polyamory.
It’s long bothered me how couple-focused most of the discourse of polyamory is — both because it usually comes from the perspective of, and is intended mainly to serve, couples who open an existing primary relationship. When you don’t know about (and don’t consider, right from the beginning) the perspective and reality of poly people who aren’t part of an existing primary couple, it’s easy to develop some very destructive poly relationship habits.
That’s why newbie night is such a wonderful opportunity to make polyamory better for everyone. When newbies are face to face with experienced poly folk, they seem more willing and able to absorb some information about how to treat additional partners well.
Last night our newbie night attracted two hetero couples, one single guy, and one woman who attended without her spouse — all new to or considering polyamory. I’ve found that with most newbie questions, there are easy ways to clue them in that polyamory isn’t all about primary couples, and that all relationship partners matter and deserve fair treatment.
For instance, this is a great chance to mention that when troubles arise, it’s especially helpful to view new partners as part of the solution — and to invite all partners to participate in discussions and negotiations about matters that affect them. In the big picture it helps to see new partners as potential opportunities, not threats.
It’s a great time to remind them that their new partners are human beings with feelings and needs that matter as much as their own. Treating people as people, not just roles, is essential to the health of any relationship.
It’s a great time to encourage newbies to think clearly about what they want and need, how they’re willing to change and grow, and what it takes to make discomfort useful and eventually beneficial. (Too often, people new to polyamory focus heavily on protective rules, with less consideration given to the positive reasons why they want to make this leap. Both are useful.) Thinking and talking this stuff over helps newcomers to polyamory more clearly communicate their feelings, boundaries, and what they have to offer as individuals and as a couple. In turn, this helps their prospective new partners discern what to expect, and to make informed decisions about getting involved in an intimate relationship.
And it’s also a great time to clue newbies in about couple privilege: what it is, why it exists, how it works, and what can happen because of it. Usually poly newbie couples want to hang on to their couple privilege; it helps them feel safe, at least at first. That’s fine — as long as it’s a conscious choice they can communicate clearly to others, and as long as they are aware of and can recognize the effects this choice can have on their new and existing relationships and partners.
The trick to introducing this particular theme is to reassure newbies that it really is okay for them to manage their relationships however they choose, even with strict hierarchies and lots of rules that may be rooted in couple privilege. But remind them that — whatever approach to polyamory they choose — everything will work better for everyone if they are very honest and forthcoming with themselves and others, if they consider how they will handle unexpected problems, and if they know there are better ways to deal with problems than bailing.
This information often surprises newbies. Often at these gatherings, poly newbie/curious couples often start out by viewing veto power over additional partners and relationships as a kind of fail safe, because it’s mentioned so frequently in books and forums about polyamory. But then once they start talking in person to poly people who’ve had experience with veto power, they see what a double-edged sword and rat’s nest veto power can be for everyone. Many times after these discussions, newbies have thanked me for reassuring them that veto power is only one of several possible options for dealing with inevitable uncertainty, insecurity, or pain.
See, poly newbies really do want to treat they people they love well and fairly! That’s terribly important to most people who are new to or considering polyamory. They’re relieved to learn more about how to accomplish that.
Also, solo people who are new to or considering poly often are especially reassured and empowered to hear how much they matter, and how they can be happy in this type of relationship, despite the presence of couple privilege. Polyamory often looks especially daunting to solos — for good reason.
So keep this in mind when you encounter poly newbies or poly-curious people seeking context and guidance. Assume that they really do have the best intentions. And realize that they can do the whole poly community a lot of good in the long run, if they develop good habits for thinking things through, being honest with themselves and others, and striving to treat others fairly.