October 15, 2013 by aggiesez
Today, Psychology Today published a pretty good blog post about solo polyamory by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, author of the soon-to-be-published book The Polyamorists Next Door — which is bound to get a lot of attention from mainstream media and society.
Dr. Sheff was kind and generous to send me a draft of her post last week, so I could provide the perspective of someone who practices solo polyamory and knows a lot of solo poly people. She incorporated much of the feedback I offered.
This is especially great because it indicates the importance of being open to new or unfamiliar ideas and perspectives. Dr. Sheff’s research and writing about polyamory has generally been pretty excellent — but so far she’s focused almost exclusively on primary-style partners, life-partner-track relationships, and family-style polyamory. That’s okay — every research project needs a focus.
However, since most discourse and media about polyamory is already heavily couple-centric, and since Sheff’s book is likely to attract considerable attention, I’m particularly glad that she eventually looked beyond her initial focus to learn more, and share information, about other approaches to polyamory. Opening your mind and speaking up in public are important ways to be an ally of any minority or marginalized/stigmatized group.
I was impressed with how, from her first draft to her published post, she made many subtle wording changes to avoid common conflations. For instance, her published post doesn’t equate being solo (an autonomous free agent) with being single (which generally means you are totally unpartnered), since many solo poly people DO have partners — often in very deep, committed, and long-lasting relationships.
She also offers a succinct and clear discussion of couple privilege — something which affects everyone in our society, not just solo poly people:
“Couple privilege can spur some polys to create restrictive rules that primary partners attempt to impose upon non-primary partners in order to ‘protect’ the primary relationship. This frames non-primary partners like solo polys and/or secondary partners as potentially threatening interlopers — something that is generally not conducive to the health of any relationship. In these cases, the couple will often close ranks against what they see as an external threat to their sacrosanct coupledom, and the secondary partner or solo poly can be discounted, emotionally trampled, and silenced in the process.
“…Solo polys, though, often do not want what primary romantic partnership has to offer. Instead of trying to weasel their way into a primary role or hoping to undermine an established relationship, most solo polys simply want a full and equal voice in the conduct of their own relationships.”
Her last point — that solo poly folk generally desire a full and equal voice in the conduct of their own relationships, rather than parity with metamours — is something that I shamelessly cribbed from Joreth Innkeeper, my co-moderator of the Facebook Singleish and Solo Polyamory group, and passed along to Dr. Sheff. (By the way, that group just hit 1000 members and is still growing fast!)
Kudos to Dr. Sheff! Thanks for your consideration, and I look forward to reading your book. (Which is due out in a month or so, and is now available for pre-order.)