After 16 years of monogamy, my wife and I decided to try polyamory a few years ago. It’s going well and we’ve grown a lot. Our marriage is truly stronger than ever. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, about relationships and, major bonus, the sex within our marriage has gotten way better, too. We have kids and our marriage is the primary relationship for both of us but we both see other people, too.
The thing is, we live in a small town. We aren’t officially out about it, but some people know and it’s become pretty obvious that our marriage has been a topic of conversation around town. This type of thing is top shelf gossip material (I’m totally guilty of gossiping and speculating about other people’s sex lives myself) but the thought of it bothers me a lot.
I’m Gen-X and I grew up with all the conventional thinking about relationships and marriage. I’ve seen so many marriages break down and I do feel very lucky and proud of the one we have. It’s taken a lot of work to shake the jealousy and possessiveness that felt so hardwired in me. But, I still feel ashamed and embarrassed sometimes by people knowing about us.
I can imagine people thinking “He must not really satisfy his wife” or “He’s a fool for letting her sleep with other guys,” etc. I’m aware these are very patriarchal and outdated criticisms but damn, it’s hard to shake them. Maybe people are jealous of the freedom that we have. I just feel embarrassed sometimes and really can’t figure out how to move past these feelings.
I also worry that once our kids are teens they might be subjected to ridicule about this. As progressive as The Valley is, polyamory isn’t exactly accepted by society.
How do I stop giving a fuck?
Signed, Proud to Be Polyam?
Personally, I feel a lot of power in being as out as possible. Not only does being out signal my own confidence in who I am, it also makes the socially taboo aspects of my life more visible for others who may be struggling to accept those same aspects about themselves in their own lives. If I ever had to hire a public relations professional, I’d opt for the one that was all about “get ahead of and control the message” meaning, if you write the story, other people are less likely to write it (and therefore the narrative about being in a non-monogamous marriage) for you.
This is all well and good in theory, of course, but the other reality is that we are social pack animals, biologically hardwired to do what it takes to stay in our peers’ good graces for survival. And, importantly, being able to be out without serious employment, social, religious, and even legal ramifications is a giant privilege.
We are fortunate to live in a place where the politics are liberal, non-monogamous families grace the cover of our local alt newspaper, and polyamorous meet-up groups are commonplace. And, that certainly won’t protect you from the darling rumor mill.
My direct advice is to speak openly about your happy non-monogamous life to the people who are already gossiping about you (and therefore already know). You’ve got kids, so you’re probably familiar with the ol’ if your kid falls down in the playground and you react calmly, so will they. Same idea — you have the power to set the tone here whether that’s one of “You’re right, I’m so ashamed” or “I feel totally good about this and maybe you should, too.”
Connect to other non-monogamous families who are undoubtedly grappling with the same worries and can offer support, advice, and empathy. Personally, I can certainly imagine a future where our children are all so done with monogamy that they’ll roll our eyes when we attempt to reassure them that all relationship styles are valid but, of course, we can never be sure nor protect our children from ridicule whether we remain monogamous or not.
Finally, don’t stop giving a fuck. Rather, give more fucks about what’s happening in your lane rather than who’s jealous or disapproving of whoever. You are polyamorous, afterall — isn’t giving more fucks one of the perks?
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com