Ask Richard: Considering an Ultimatum to Her Intolerant Family

Dear Richard,

I’m in a polyamorous relationship. I’ve been married to my husband for almost four years, and for the past three, we’ve had a live-in boyfriend. At this point in our relationship, we consider all three of us to be equals – the marriage between me and my husband is no more or less binding or meaningful as our relationship with my boyfriend. The three of us are best friends – more than best friends, we’re family. We’re all in our mid-twenties, and we all have college degrees and complete financial independence from our parents.

My husband’s family and my boyfriend’s family are both very liberal, mellow groups. They hadn’t been familiar with polyamory before we told them about our situation, but they took it in stride and treat us normally. All three of us are invited to certain holiday events, and it’s not awkward if, for example, I hold hands with my boyfriend in front of my husband’s family or share a brief kiss with my husband while we’re around my boyfriend’s family. So far, so good, right?

When we told my family (evangelical fundamentalists), they took it horribly. My parents were furious that I’d told my siblings (who are younger than me, but 18 and up) and compared our situation to pedophilia. When pressed, they admitted that our situation isn’t illegal, it’s just “unethical.” One of my siblings hasn’t been in contact with me for months now, having cut me off immediately after getting my letter. The rest of my family has handled this the same way they handled finding out about my atheism – they just avoid the topic. As long as no one brings up my boyfriend’s existence, they’re happy to keep making small talk and sharing family news.

I don’t want to allow them to keep pretending like this forever, and I think that at some point, I’m going to tell them that they’ll have to choose between being dicks about this and having me in their lives – and having me in their lives means acknowledging the existence of my boyfriend and treating him like part of the family. I do know, however, that they need some time to adjust and get used to the situation, so I’ve decided to give them a year before I do this.

So: Should I tell my family now that I’ll eventually expect this from them? I think that they’re assuming that we can go the rest of our lives the way we’ve been acting, and I don’t want to shock them by suddenly springing an ultimatum on them a year from now. On the other hand, I’m afraid to broach the subject at all, when things have been relatively pleasant, and I’m not looking forward to the emotional upheaval of another angry, negative reaction from them. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

Polyamorous and Proud

Dear Poly,

I can understand your frustration and hurt. Your family’s behavior says that they don’t respect you or your loved ones. It says that their moral rules trump their love for you. Sitting around at family gatherings pretending that your boyfriend doesn’t exist is an immature way to respond. I gather from your letter that they have not even met him.

I see three possible ways you could handle this. One, you could continue to go along with the charade, playing your family’s game and never bring your boyfriend over to their home or mention his name. This will most likely increase your frustration and resentment, and they will sense it, and probably respond with tension of their own. Eventually things will boil over, even if the precipitator is an unrelated issue.

The method you are considering is a risky gamble. To answer your question, yes, if you must do this, give them the year’s warning. But that year may be an awful buildup to an awful conclusion. Think carefully first. Ultimatums should be used only as the last possible recourse, and often should not be used at all. They are acts of desperation. In an ultimatum, somebody is going to lose, and often everybody loses. Sometimes people think that an ultimatum is just a high-ranking card in their hand, an ace that one tosses on the table to keep the game going. No, it is a game ender. Never bluff with this. Never issue an ultimatum unless you are one hundred percent certain that being turned down is possible, even likely. You must be completely prepared to follow through with what you threaten to do if they do not comply with your demand, and you must be crystal clear what that consequence will be like for you as well as for them. If you don’t follow through exactly as you said, then from then on your credibility will be zero in their eyes, and even more abuse, belittlement or dismissal could follow. By issuing the either/or challenge, you are saying that you have no confidence in their ability to negotiate, and you have no confidence in your ability to negotiate.

Are you really there yet? Have you exhausted all humanly possible attempts at negotiation? Are you ready and willing to cut off all contact with your family just as hurtfully as your sibling has done to you? What will you have gained versus what will you have lost?

I suggest something in between here and there: gradual engagement. Your family has responded in a less than mature way, but they could have done worse, by issuing you their own ultimatum and when you refused, consequently cutting you off. You still have contact with them, still have your foot in the door. Take advantage of it. What I suggest will take quite some time, and it will require higher levels of patience and maturity than you may have ever mustered before. You are worth that effort, and so are your husband, your boyfriend, and yes, even your family. You certainly, and possibly everyone else will grow from the process. Frequently taking deep, slow breaths, dividing your efforts into small steps, and talking regularly to your allies will get you through it.

Begin working on one family member only, whoever is most likely to be willing to just listen to you. The following may take several separate sessions: Privately, talk to that person about your hurt feelings from your sibling’s abandonment of you, and from the others’ decision to pretend and ignore someone who is very important to you. Avoid expressing your anger and indignation, which are secondary to your root feeling, hurt. Faced with anger, people will immediately defend or counter-attack. Just express your hurt. As I discussed in a previous post, frequently say that you love him/her. As he or she begins to understand how you feel, start introducing your boyfriend in small increments. First just show a picture of him. Later, briefly describe a few things about him, including both something that he does, and something that he feels. Gradually make your boyfriend a real human being in this family member’s eyes. Eventually arrange a casual meeting with him away from the family home. Hopefully, you will begin to have one family member who is more interested in supporting your happiness than in doggedly supporting a family consensus. Then s/he can work with you in an incremental way on the next person, whoever would be the second most open to listening, and then the next…

This might not continue and progress flawlessly, with no hitches or bumps, and it may not work at all with every family member. But I think that you’re much more likely to gain more allies in your family, and you will have gently rather than forcibly broken up the monolithic rejection of your chosen relationships to the point that your boyfriend will be able to attend gatherings, and people will be able to relax without pretending that he doesn’t exist.

Poly, I know that this and many of my suggestions to other people’s problems are a lot of work. Doing the quick and brutal solutions instead can be very tempting, but atheists do not just have the advantage of rationality and emotional maturity on their side in a debate, they also have the responsibility to live by those qualities in their daily lives. We must rise to the challenge of our choice to be self-defining and self-responsible. We must provide the patience and courage that those around us cannot yet marshal. Believing only in our mutual humanity, we must not give up on our fellow humans.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. All questions will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a large number of requests; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Sarah TX.

    Wow, what a sad situation. Unfortunately, I know several polyamorous or non-monogamous family groups that have met with extreme disapproval and even disgust when they came out to close family members. And it’s not limited to conservative or evangelical families – a friend of mine and his parents consider themselves to be pretty liberal Texas democrats who voted for Obama and go to gay rights protests, yet they seem to be deeply ashamed of R.’s sister who is in a similar non-monogamous relationship.

    Doing the quick and brutal solutions instead can be very tempting, but atheists do not just have the advantage of rationality and emotional maturity on their side in a debate, they also have the responsibility to live by those qualities in their daily lives.

    Too long for a t-shirt?

  • ccubeman

    Personally, a polyamorous relationship is not my thing.

    But that’s me. I would not adversely judge any family member or friend for their personal choice in love.

    I have only one qualification, which is not unreasonable for this atheist – the relationship must be between consenting adults, or otherwise age appropriate. I guess that goes without saying.

  • Richard Wade

    Too long for a t-shirt?

    How about,

    Don’t just argue rationally, live that way.

  • JulietEcho

    Thanks, Richard. You definitely made me rethink the whole situation, and I agree with what you said about ultimatums. It’s an easier option, in a way, and it’s tempting, because I feel so in the right, like they’re the bigots and I could shame them into becoming tolerant, but I don’t know the odds on that happening in real life.

    A twist though – they *do* know my boyfriend, and he’s even stayed at their house when he drove me up for a party they threw once. They knew him for years as my husband’s best friend and our “housemate” and even sent greetings to him in cards to us. When they found out that I was in an “adulteress affair” with him though, that all changed.

    So they know he’s a nice guy, that he’s smart and funny and great – not some stranger they can imagine as evil or sleazy.

    I think I’ll start “working” on my mom in the weeks to come, explaining how I feel, and see where it goes. If I try this approach for *years* and things still only work if they pretend he doesn’t exist, I’ll reconsider something like an ultimatum. Maybe though, over time, they’ll realize that this isn’t going away, and they’ll come to slowly accept it.

    I can hope :-)

  • Ron in Houston

    Poly

    If you want sympathy, I’d suggest you find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.

    You made a choice. Your parents don’t like your choice. You think they SHOULD accept your choice. Since it appears they won’t accept it, you’re going to use emotional blackmail on them.

    Who is being the “dick” here?

  • Dhruv

    Poly

    If you want sympathy, I’d suggest you find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.

    You made a choice. Your parents don’t like your choice. You think they SHOULD accept your choice. Since it appears they won’t accept it, you’re going to use emotional blackmail on them.

    Who is being the “dick” here?

    I wouldn’t say that. The lack of openness from her family is preventing a mature relationship with her family. The real solution is knowing, understanding, and carefully implementing a good option.

    Wish Poly the best of luck

  • medussa

    Wow, Ron, what a way to define “dick”. I think you qualify.

  • Mountain Humanist

    Great response, Richard.

    My first advice would have been: “Add a girlfriend to the mix.” It doesn’t solve the problem at hand but…oh, my.

    Bring balance to the Force, it would.

  • Mountain Humanist

    Could Ron be vying for the boyfriend #3 slot?

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    t at some point, I’m going to tell them that they’ll have to choose between being dicks about this and having me in their lives

    Every family is different, so I can’t really give you personal advice. But that’s exactly what I told my mother about 12 years ago about my atheism and she decided that we would agree to disagree, she chose not to be estranged. Sadly, some families will make a different choice.

  • Richard Wade

    Ron in Houston,

    You asked,

    Who is being the “dick” here?

    You.

    But you’re not stuck with that.

    There is nothing in Poly’s letter indicating that she is asking for sympathy. There is nothing in your comment indicating that you are capable of empathy.

    When people are in pain, they sometimes consider desperate measures. Poly was considering one, but she was asking for suggestions. You had nothing to offer but your self-righteous, indignant, superior-sounding disapproval. You sound a lot like her parents.

    Assuming that once a loved one decides to disapprove of a choice you have made, then you and they are forever stuck with that impasse, is a childish, fatalistic and pig-headed response. It is just as inflexible and destructive as an ultimatum.

    People can negotiate. They do all the time. People can come around from their initially mechanical condemnation of something that is out of the norm, and see that throwing away love is not worth following that dogma. They don’t let go of their hardheartedness by being beaten or threatened out of it. They respond to being given the warmheartedness and openheartedness that they can’t yet produce.

    That is why I think that you are capable of a better response than the one you just gave, Ron. I’ve seen excellent comments from you that are thoughtful and constructive. Try a response that draws upon your own experience of getting past both your own and another’s uncompromising posturing. I’m sure you’ve done better in a conflict with a loved one than simply saying, “Oh. Don’t like my choice? Oh well.”

    Come on.

  • CybrgnX

    There is no real lose here. Live your life you don’t have a sky-daddy so the normal kind is not a requirement. If they do not like your life well too bad–See-Ya!!!!
    But the consequenses??? there are none if your life falls apart and you need your old familly back just return to them – lie like hell – tell them how the devil tempted you but you threw off his evil (whatever), and now you have seen jesus. They are gullable and will believe every word. They’ll suck you back in like a lost lamb – found again.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Poly,

    Many evangelical fundamentalists have strong prescribed notions of what the family unit should be. It may take time for them to fully accept your alternative family. I would recommend avoiding any ultimatums. Accept the fact that your polyamorous relationship bothers them. Work on not letting their disapproval bother you. If they don’t see any effect of their scorn on you, then they may stop the scorn and accept your polyamourous relationship. Don’t force them to a time-table. Let them know that this is who you are but stay engaged with them. In my opinion.

    Jeff

  • KeithLM

    Trying to force people to accept a practice that is so far beyond the norm in our society is a bit ridiculous. Sure it’s not like pedophilia, but it sure is demeaning to all involved. I try to be open minded, but I would have a hard time respecting someone in such a relationship. This is clearly an unbalanced relationship, where the guys are being cuckolded at times while the girl is having more than her fair share of fun. Her parents see this as completely immoral and as I think she is disrespectful to these two men I can see where they have issues with it.

    Seriously, you kiss one guy in front of the other guy’s family? Do these men have spines at all? Do you just like showing off your power over them and keeping them in their place? Do their families have any respect left for them? Their families could tolerate this relationship only to keep people happy, but they may hate it also.

  • Brian E

    Polyamorous, huh? I’ll have to introduce that concept to the wife and see what she thinks.

  • Sarah TX.

    This is clearly an unbalanced relationship, where the guys are being cuckolded at times while the girl is having more than her fair share of fun.

    How do you know that Poly’s husband isn’t “having his fair share of fun” as well, if you know what I mean? My momma, religious though she is, taught me a thing or two about what happens when we assume.

    Regardless, I suggest you do research into the polyamorous lifestyle before you make broad, sweeping assumptions. I have a choice thing or two to say about the unbalanced power between a man and a woman in a traditional monogamous relationship, if we start on this “debate”.

  • Ron in Houston

    Richard

    Yeah, it was over the top and severely lacked empathy, but what the letter writer suggested is still a form of emotional violence. You did a great job of letting them know that such ultimatums aren’t really fair.

    I’d love to think that I’d be the liberal accepting parent if my daughter came to me with a polyamorous relationship. However, if I don’t it is still wrong of my daughter to expect me to change. It is even more wrong for my daughter to issue threats to try to force me to change.

    I’m sorry – dicks issue threats to try to get what they want.

  • KeithLM

    She didn’t mention another woman being involved or the two guys doing anything together.

    Even if it is balanced, it’s still not anywhere near the accepted norm in western society. You can’t force people to be open minded and accepting of something like this.

    I know of another married couple that each has an extra partner. Still b.s. to me. All the research in the world is never going to convince me that people involved in polygamy properly respect themselves and their partners.

  • Amber

    I know of another married couple that each has an extra partner. Still b.s. to me. All the research in the world is never going to convince me that people involved in polygamy properly respect themselves and their partners.

    Then don’t be in that kind of relationship. But do not ever assume that somebody is getting the short end of the stick simply because you cannot comprehend what it is they’re experiencing. I think it’s wonderful that the three of them can find love and compassion in one another. Who am I to judge? It may not be for me, but I’m not going to assume somebody is being disprespected when there is no evidence to suggest that that is the case.

    As for Poly, I can understand how much pain she must be going through. It’s never easy when family decides to ignore something so valuable to you. When members of my family decided they never wanted to talk to me again because of my atheism, I was devastated. It’s extremely unfair of them to be so damn selfish as to put their own comforts above their family members. It sounds like Poly’s relationship makes them uncomfortable. Too bad. If they want to have her as a part of their family they need to accept her for who she is, not who she isn’t. Nobody should have to fit a certain mold in order to be accepted.

    Richard I think you gave excellent advice. And Poly.. I really hope it works out for you. Even if you can’t have exactly what you want (family might not be willing to give it), I hope you can at least find some peace in all this turmoil.

  • mikespeir

    KeithLM:

    I’m coming down pretty much on your side. Frankly, I’m convinced that those who are in these relationships and claim that all is just hunky-dory are kidding themselves. It may seem that way at the outset, but I can just about guarantee it won’t last. The societal norms you speak of developed because they are friendliest to the human constitution. I don’t see the human constitution as being flexible enough to support this kind of thing long-term. Polygamy of one kind or another has existed (and still does in small, isolated groups), but it has almost always existed because some party or parties had no choice in the matter. When there is a choice, eventually one party or more will opt out. (The objection will be that one can opt out of traditional marriage, too, and people often do. But I suspect we’d find the success rates are much higher for voluntary monogamous relationships than voluntary polygamous ones.) There will be no long-term family stability. Undoubtedly, contrary examples could be cited, but they’ll be rare and unusual. And, anyway, anecdote is no way to argue.

  • Richard Wade

    Ron in Houston,

    I’d love to think that I’d be the liberal accepting parent if my daughter came to me with a polyamorous relationship. However, if I don’t it is still wrong of my daughter to expect me to change. It is even more wrong for my daughter to issue threats to try to force me to change.

    I agree that it would be wrong for your daughter to expect you to change as if she’s entitled to it, and certainly she would be wrong to try to force you to change.

    I’m only saying that it would not be wrong for her to try to convince you to change through patient, loving and respectful persuasion, and I think that you and I agree on that.

  • Sarah TX.

    And, anyway, anecdote is no way to argue.

    Neither is making broad generalizations based on no cited evidence. I don’t think non-monogamous relationships are as rare as you assume. A quick trip to Every Researcher’s Dream shows that

    Blumstein and Schwartz (1983, cited in Rubin & Adams, 1986) noted that of 3,574 married couples in their sample, 15-28% had “an understanding that allows nonmonogamy under some circumstances. The percentages are higher among cohabitating couples (28%), lesbian couples (29%) and gay male couples (65%)” (p. 312).

    Statements like Polygamy of one kind or another has existed (and still does in small, isolated groups), but it has almost always existed because some party or parties had no choice in the matter indicate to me that you have not done a single second of research. That you have formed an opinion based on “tradition” and “family values”. In short, that you are a conservative.

  • JulietEcho

    Thanks to everyone for the responses – even to those who are responding negatively regarding polyamory. Every negative reaction kind of hurts (yeah, I know, it’s not smart to be sensitive over the internet, but I’m not always smart, as my question revealed), but it also helps me to better understand what my family might be feeling. Maybe I’ll be able to change their view over time, and maybe I won’t and we’ll grow apart as two different families, but I’m definitely going to give them a long-term chance and not an ultimatum.

    I see in retrospect that the “ultimatum” plan was a dickish option, and I’m glad that I asked for advice before doing something that probably would have hurt everyone involved.

    To those who have made judgments about polyamory, I hope that you’re still somewhat open-minded about the issue, because someday you might end up with friends or family who surprise you by coming out poly and could change your minds. I hope that my family can change their minds.

  • KeithLM

    Thanks mikespeir, well said. There are limits on being open minded. Sometimes you have to accept that if you are in a non-traditional lifestyle that you need to be respectful of other people’s feelings too. If someone you care about has deep seated values that are in direct opposition to yours, and you really care about them, you won’t flaunt your lifestyle in front of them. If that means you have to go a few hours pretending that husband #2 is just a friend, so be it. What harm is there really in that?

    Look, my mom is opposed to people having sex out of marriage and especially living together before marriage. If I had a girl living with me I would be honest with my mom and tell her. Since my mom is in another state, there probably wouldn’t be much conflict. But if I took the girl to visit my parents, we would sleep in different rooms. I respect my mom and wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings. I wouldn’t flaunt the relationship in front of my mom or her friends and family so as to protect her own sense of dignity. Now if my mom were to raise a fuss and say she would never recognize our relationship even if we got married there would be trouble.

  • JulietEcho

    KeithLM said,

    If that means you have to go a few hours pretending that husband #2 is just a friend, so be it. What harm is there really in that?

    None, and it’s what we did for several years. It becomes harmful when it’s clear that it will have to last forever and involves people you love, people you’d like to be open and honest with.

    KeithLM said,

    I respect my mom and wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings. I wouldn’t flaunt the relationship in front of my mom or her friends and family so as to protect her own sense of dignity. Now if my mom were to raise a fuss and say she would never recognize our relationship even if we got married there would be trouble.

    Which is why we waited almost three years to tell my parents. We knew that there was a very strong likelihood that it would offend them, and we only told them about it once we were reasonably sure that it was for the long haul.

    To the three of us, this is essentially equivalent to a situation where your mom would “never recognize” your relationship, because that’s our position. We’d like, at some point, to have my family recognize the relationship, and while it’s stretching the cultural norms further than sex before marriage, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to try.

  • mikespeir

    Statements like Polygamy of one kind or another has existed (and still does in small, isolated groups), but it has almost always existed because some party or parties had no choice in the matter indicate to me that you have not done a single second of research. That you have formed an opinion based on “tradition” and “family values”. In short, that you are a conservative.

    Whether I’m conservative or not is neither here nor there. Can you show me any research to the contrary? I know of the Zo-E along the Amazon. They practice voluntary polygamy. But even that is often short-term. (In fact, as I understand it, anthropologists aren’t quite sure what constitutes a Zo-E marriage.) Other than that tiny, tiny tribe, though, I know of no other. Can you point to such a group?

  • Aj

    I don’t see how an ultimatum is a dickish move. If you feel strongly about an issue, then you’re not alone. Calling ultimatums dickish is either hypocrisy, or advocating moral relativism, and relativists are the real dicks. Feeling strongly about something just means you have values, if you strongly feel you only want to have relationships that accept your way of life then that’s understandable to me.

    An ultimatum is a little final for me, and can be framed as presumtious as has been expressed here. Perhaps strategically instead of an ultimatum you can request that both your lovers be involved in family occasions, if refused or insulted, you can decline attending or leave early. Then while in my eyes exactly the same, can’t be framed as a forward move by you but as a reaction to something they did.

  • http://www.atheistnexus.org/profile/StephanGoodwin Stephan

    KeithLM said:

    All the research in the world is never going to convince me that people involved in polygamy properly respect themselves and their partners.

    Wow, how dogmatic. So, you will just ignore the facts and continue to hold an empty prejudice for no reason? Lets reword your prejudice:

    All the research in the world is never going to convince me that people involved in interracial marriages properly respect themselves and their partners.

    See how sick it is now? You don’t have to accept that it is normal, you don’t have to participate, but you should respect the decision of others if they are not hurting anyone or anything real.

    Poly, your parents will hopefully find a way to say “I don’t like it, but if it makes you happy you can all come over for Christmas as a family unit and you will be treated as such.”

    Or, you know, whatever get-together you like with the family. =)

  • Neon Genesis

    This is clearly an unbalanced relationship, where the guys are being cuckolded at times while the girl is having more than her fair share of fun.

    This makes no sense at all. It’s like saying if you love more than one parent, then your relationship with your parents is unbalanced and therefore immoral, so that must mean everyone should have to have only one parent.

    Seriously, you kiss one guy in front of the other guy’s family? Do these men have spines at all? Do you just like showing off your power over them and keeping them in their place? Do their families have any respect left for them? Their families could tolerate this relationship only to keep people happy, but they may hate it also.

    Isn’t this no different than the whole argument that fundamentalist Christians use that they don’t care if someone is gay but they don’t want it recognized or expressed in public because it’s icky to see gays flaunting their sexuality and Christians are spineless if they don’t stand up for “traditional” values? And I don’t understand this whole argument that poly couples should not try to win their family’s acceptance but then poly couples are somehow expected to accept that their family hates them. Isn’t this a double standard? Isn’t this no different than the fundamentalist Christians who say that they should have a right to condemn you to hell for who you are or what you believe but you don’t have the right to challenge their beliefs because that’s disrespectful?

  • KeithLM

    Well I’m sure some of the girls in polygamous marriages in the FLDS church will tell you it’s all good, even if the match was made without their consent when they were teenagers. But hey, if they’re happy, we should all just accept it, right?

    Fact of the matter is people have emotions, such as jealousy, and they do crop up from time to time. She has never addressed whether her guys each have their own girlfriend(s). Let’s hear about that. If she’s sleeping with one guy one night, what’s the other guy doing? When she’s kissing on one guy in front of the others family, what do you think they are really thinking? “Way to go, now that’s being open minded.” or “What a wuss! I thought he had more respect for himself.”

    Isn’t this no different than the whole argument that fundamentalist Christians use that they don’t care if someone is gay but they don’t want it recognized or expressed in public because it’s icky to see gays flaunting their sexuality and Christians are spineless if they don’t stand up for “traditional” values?

    Yeah, these are different. One is we’re talking about what you do in front of the family versus in the general public. I would imagine that there’s a fair number of homosexuals that tone down their behavior in front of family members out of respect and to limit conflict. It is one thing to say what must be tolerated in society as a whole, and another to say what people must tolerate at their family gatherings.

    I’d love to see some statistics on how many happy, balanced, fair, non-coerced polygamous marriages there are. There’s a big difference between polygamy in our society today, which is primarily associated with certain cults, and homosexuality. There is a far greater stigma associated with polygamy than there is with homosexuality. I bet there’s a fraction of a percentage of a percentage of relationships in America in which polygamy, cheating, whatever occurs and the people involved are truly happy. That’s far less than the number of homosexuals, and thus far harder for many to accept as it is so far outside the norm it’s not something most can imagine yet alone accept.

    A good relationship is one where both partners are 100% committed to one another. Exactly how well does that work in a polygamous relationship?

  • http://angelofharlots.blogspot.com Nena

    This has nothing to do with the question posed, but…

    Dear Poly,

    Made me laugh so hard I almost threw up because the pastor at the church I went to before I deconverted was named Poly (pronnounced POE-lee).

  • JulietEcho

    @Keith: I don’t know if you caught the article that I wrote for the blog a few weeks ago, but a lot of your questions/misconceptions are covered there.

    If you want to denounce forced marriages or child marriages, then by all means do so. The fact is, monogamous people have done horrible things to underage kids as well, and “arranged (forced) marriages” still go on between monogamous partners in many parts of the world. It’s not intrinsically connected to the number of partners involved.

    I’m not going to outline the intimate details of my personal relationship for you, but I will say this: Everyone in our relationship is great at communicating their needs, and everything is consensual in every way. Limits are consensual and agreed-upon just like in any healthy relationship.

    And our relationship has *three* partners who are 100% committed to one another, so I’d say we’ve got something that works pretty well.

  • medussa

    Wow, reading all these concerns regarding the horrible side effects of polyamory (such as “it won’t last”, spinelessness, jealousy, disrespect, self-hatred), makes me realize how very perfect monogamous heterosexual marriage is, with no disputes, no spinelessness, no cuckolding and no discrepancy in the power balance.

    Why are the intricacies of polyamory even being discussed here? The letter made it very clear that all participants are consenting adults, were not coerced into this by their families and it has lasted longer than many traditional marriages.
    Whether this is the ideal lovestyle for any of us is not the question, clearly it is right for the letter writer, at least for now. The question remains how does one bring this up to the family. And can one hope for a reconciliation.

    So, focusing on that issue, I don’t actually think an ultimatum is all that horrible, depending on what you are hoping to achieve with it. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to demand that the family acknowledge you and your preferences. People can hold on to their long held and never examined beliefs for a long time, but it is valid to point out to them that they are elevating these beliefs above their love for their daughter, and for their daughter’s happiness. No one expects them to participate, or change their own lovestyle, or even love their daughter’s choices.
    That being said, I also think it’s valid for them to not be able to adapt fully. That takes a degree of mental and emotional flexibility many just don’t have, as well as courage to stand up to their social circle to defend your choices. If your family can’t cope with the 3 of you at family and social events, then maybe you can negotiate something to allow for only one of the men at a time to accompany you to family events, alternating maybe. That’s just an example, there really are many possibilities, IF both parties are willing.

    An ultimatum can be as simple as “you have a year to figure out what bugs you most and to talk to me about it”, or “to discuss with me how we should handle family events”, or “to come up with questions you feel you need to ask any of us 3″, etc. A year to come up with a plan on how to handle the situation, it doesn’t have to be resolved, just addressed. Or you’ll only appear at their house solo and celebrate holidays with your in-laws, for example.

  • Alan

    I’m one of the two men in this relationship (the unmarried one), and I must respond.

    KeithLM Said:

    I bet there’s a fraction of a percentage of a percentage of relationships in America in which polygamy, cheating, whatever occurs and the people involved are truly happy.

    I bet you’re wrong. And I bet being “truly happy” is a difficult thing to measure, and a poor way to prop up a losing argument. I tell you with sincerity that I am truly happy as a part of my polyamorous triad, if that means anything to you.

    A good relationship is one where both partners are 100% committed to one another. Exactly how well does that work in a polygamous relationship?

    Consider a man who beats his wife. Frequently, and only because he can. Yet, he has never cheated on her, and she has never cheated on him. By your definition, that would be a “good realtionship”. Try to come up with a new definition that excludes people who love each other. Extra points if you work in the phrase “between one man and one woman.”

    mikespeir: You want anthropological evidence of stable, consensual polyamory in human culture? Scroll up. So we can’t use precedent in human history to “justify” our relationship. All manner of abusers have ample examples throughout the ugly depths of humanity to draw on, and they (I hope) aren’t able to gain any traction with you. We’re not talking about what primitive cultures may have done, we’re talking about what we’re doing right now.

    I’d like to stress this again because apparently the message hasn’t been conveyed: all three of us are in exactly the relationship we want to be in, and I love both my partners completely. We harm no one, not even ourselves. Although it is moderately surprising to run into on this forum, I understand that there will be some resistance to our arrangement. For those who look with such disapproval on that which exists between consenting adults, I remind you of this: your side always loses. You lost the fight against interracial marriage, you are rapidly losing the fight against homosexuality, and you will lose this fight too.

    And if you still can’t see what side you’re fighting for, you have more looking to do.

  • Neon Genesis

    Well I’m sure some of the girls in polygamous marriages in the FLDS church will tell you it’s all good, even if the match was made without their consent when they were teenagers. But hey, if they’re happy, we should all just accept it, right?

    Again, this is no different than the argument fundamentalists use by comparing homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality. This argument might have a point if we were talking about polygamy, but last I checked, this was a blog entry about polyamory, which is something different.

    Fact of the matter is people have emotions, such as jealousy, and they do crop up from time to time. She has never addressed whether her guys each have their own girlfriend(s). Let’s hear about that. If she’s sleeping with one guy one night, what’s the other guy doing?

    And some people in monogamous relationships get jealous if their partner is just talking to someone of the opposite sex. Does this mean monogamy is suddenly evil?

    Yeah, these are different. One is we’re talking about what you do in front of the family versus in the general public. I would imagine that there’s a fair number of homosexuals that tone down their behavior in front of family members out of respect and to limit conflict. It is one thing to say what must be tolerated in society as a whole, and another to say what people must tolerate at their family gatherings.

    So, since I’m a gay atheist, should I therefore not try to get my family to accept me but then they should be allowed to condemn me to hell or are these somehow different just because you say they are? Should black people have not have tried to get people to accept them as equal beings and simply let racism slide without any criticisms because racism used to be a norm? You realize that things become a social norm because people make them a norm? Do you think they just magically become accepted over night through chanting a magic spell or something or that there’s some sort of universal laws that have always been accepted as to what counts as social norms? It is hypocritical to tell people not to try to criticize bigotry but bigots can spread their hatred all they want because the bigotry happens to be “normal” just because you say so. And why should straight couples be allowed to express their emotions in front of their families but gay couples can’t just because homophobia is the norm? How do you expect things to become the norm if families don’t get used to seeing their own family members expressing who they are? It’s not like Poly is going around demanding that she be allowed to have kinky sex in front of her family or anything like that. She just wants her family to accept her and to acknowledge the existence of her “non-traditional” relationship but you’re claiming that we should tolerate intolerance just because you say so and if that’s not an oxymoron, someone tell me what is.

    I’d love to see some statistics on how many happy, balanced, fair, non-coerced polygamous marriages there are. There’s a big difference between polygamy in our society today, which is primarily associated with certain cults, and homosexuality.

    Again, you might be making valid points if we were talking about polygamy, but last I checked, we weren’t.

    A good relationship is one where both partners are 100% committed to one another. Exactly how well does that work in a polygamous relationship?

    According to a recent survey, fundamentalist Christians have higher divorce rates than everyone else in society, so polyamory relationships can’t be that much worse off than monogamy.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    In the novel “Brave new World” the societal norm was to have multiple and continually changing sexual partners and it was considered deviant (and completely unacceptable) to limit yourself to one (or even two) consistent partner(s). Interesting food for thought.

    My earlier point of avoiding ultimatums was for the purpose of salvaging the family relationships. Later in life she might be sad if she lost contact with everybody in her family.

  • medussa

    Jeff, that’s a valid point, but then again, breaking off contact with the family doesn’t have to be a permanent situation if she really regrets it later.

  • KeithLM

    How about this folks, all you open minded types who think every type of relationship is perfectly ok and should be accepted by all families no matter what, tell me what you think of these situations.

    A. A male who is an active transvestite but not transgendered wants to come to family gatherings always dressed as a female.

    B. A couple who lives a 24/7 dom/sub relationship where the sub is kept on a leash at all times, answers only when spoken to, kneels at the other ones feet, and is fed table scraps.

    C. Someone brings a paid escort to dinner with the family because they don’t want to come alone, and they are open about it.

    Do all of you want that at your family gatherings? Do all of you want to explain that to the small children around or the grandparents? These are all a matter of personal choice, and we should accept them all, right?

    There’s a difference between tolerating behavior and embracing behavior that falls well outside of societal norms.

    JulietEcho, perhaps your family had some idea about your lifestyle but was willing to accept it so long as you didn’t flaunt it. You should have let them have their fantasy of what your life is like and let them enjoy it. You said this guy was included, there was no harm, but you messed it up. In a perfect world perhaps your mother wouldn’t feel like dying of shame if one of her friends found out about how you live your life. But that’s just not the way most people are, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to change.

  • medussa

    KLM, there’s a difference between saying anything goes and we’re ok with all of it, vs saying I don’t understand or like your choices, but I love you and want you to be happy, so how can we work this out?

    If you don’t get the difference, if all of this is just about rubbing other peoples noses in your personal sexuality (which the above examples certainly seem to imply), then no, you’ll never get what this conversation is about.

    Hope no one in your family tries to come out to you. Ever. About anything.

  • Richard P

    Well it might not be much, but here is my perspective on this….

    It would seem to me that your family is not the type to confront this problem, just ignore it and it will be fine..

    My advise on this would be to do just that. Ignore it as a problem. Act like you didn’t know or care they have an issue. Talk like you normally talk. Not the way you would if you were walking on egg shells around them, but how you would converse and talk with anyone about life. As you mention this one or that one they will bite their lip, roll eyes, but carry on like all is normal. Eventually they will get so used to it it will become normal for them. Once it becomes normal, the prejudices will just melt away, they will never even know it happened.

    Remember the most important thing is your goal (acceptance of your relationship structure) so how this happens doesn’t matter really, just achieving the goal. This is a non invasive tactic that always has you in control and doesn’t incite flair ups of anger.

    If this doesn’t work then it will come to a head at some of the cuff remark and you will have your answer as to whether they will ever be able to accept it.

  • Alan

    How about this folks, all you open minded types who think every type of relationship is perfectly ok and should be accepted by all families no matter what…

    Whoever made this claim? I think most people commenting here think lots of relationship types aren’t acceptable. Mostly ones that don’t involve consent. You’re not off to a good start.

    …tell me what you think of these situations.

    The fact that you chose those three examples makes me worry that you don’t understand the difference between a relationship and a sex act. Transvestitism, kinky S&M, and sex work can all be great fun when done properly, but they are all without question sex acts that it would be wrong to include non-consenting individuals in. And by doing them in front of your disapproving family, that’s exactly what’s happening.

    When my girlfriend and her husband come to family gatherings, for example, nobody is having sex in front of my cousins. But all of the people who are most important in my life get to spend time together, and that is good and rewarding. I would never expect someone to pretend a person they love doesn’t exist for my benefit, and it saddens me that there are people who do just that.

    There’s a difference between tolerating behavior and embracing behavior that falls well outside of societal norms.

    Yes there is. The second one takes time and a lot of effort, but in the end, you have a chance of changing “societal norms,” and improving the world for everyone. It has happened before, and it will happen again.

    It’s hard not to keep coming back to arguments against homosexuality. Everything you’ve said could be used in support of bigots who don’t think gay people have a right to expect their parents to meet and know their partners. Those arguments are exactly as wrong in that case as they are in mine.

  • medussa

    Halleluja!

  • KeithLM

    Transvestitism, kinky S&M, and sex work can all be great fun when done properly, but they are all without question sex acts that it would be wrong to include non-consenting individuals.

    Thanks for proving my point. You have bounds to. Mine just happen to fall a little more towards societal norms than yours do. Having a paid escort doesn’t automatically make it sex work after all. Why do you automatically assume that? You’re making a leap on all three of these actually.

    By some accounts homosexuals make up 10% of the population or thereabouts. They have been working for years to be accepted in society and have made many strides. It’s far easier to get people to accept behavior like that which they can see permeating all parts of society now. Polygamy in any form is different than this.

    Of course people pushing for polygamy aren’t really helping the homosexuals now are they? After all the conservative Christians say “what next, polygamy?”, so keep up the good work. By trying to open up society to this you’ll only help the extreme right.

    I love how judgmental about me you all are being though. That’s just great. At least I acknowledge the limitations in my open mindedness. You all insist others should accept your ways, I’m just a realist. I have no problem with homosexuals. You all can assume that if you want, I really don’t care.

    Richard P has it right, if you know your behavior is going to cause problems, try your best to let others ignore it. If being different is so important to you, be prepared to accept the consequences. This is a simple case of you should have let sleeping dogs lie.

    I’m an atheist, I’m fairly open about it, but I don’t bring it up with my family much. It’s just not worth the hassle. I don’t lie to them and tell them I go to church. I just don’t talk about it, and fortunately most of my family doesn’t either. What would it gain me? I spend most Christmas’s at my aunt and uncle’s house, and my uncle happens to be a baptist preacher. If I was pushy about it, they may not accept me at their house. This would create a problem with my mother, as it’s an opportunity to see all her nieces and nephews and their children every year. Instead I go there, I bow my head when they say grace, and everyone goes about their merry way. Who gets hurt by that?

    At some point there is a limit to who’s feelings you worry about hurting. You can’t always make everybody happy. So you’re offended that they’re offended that you do something that you know is a slap in the face to their moral and religious values. That’s just peachy. Of course they’re going to be offended to find out you are offended that they are offended. Where’s it end?

  • ChameleonDave

    What is this doing on an atheism blog? It doesn’t really have anything to do with religion.

    The woman is in a bizarre relationship that goes against almost every human society’s concept of what is appropriate. Her family disapproves, as most families would. They have a right to. She should just accept it, and avoid rubbing their noses in it. It must be humiliating for them to have this shame in their family.

    For the record, I don’t personally have a problem with her relationship; I have a quirk or two myself. But deviants should stop demanding that society accept with a smile everything they do. That in itself is also a form of intolerance.

  • http://micketymoc.mchronicles.net/ micketymoc

    Shouldn’t a tolerant society also be tolerant of the fact that some of us disagree with certain things, instead of shouting those disagreements down? Disagreeing with polyamory isn’t a slippery slope to fascism.

  • Alan

    Thanks for proving my point.

    I don’t think I have. Besides, I hope you had something more to say than “people have limits.”

    Having a paid escort doesn’t automatically make it sex work after all. Why do you automatically assume that? You’re making a leap on all three of these actually.

    That’s fair. I suppose I don’t have any problem with paid non-sexual accompaniment to family events, though I don’t personally see the appeal. I’m still convinced that S&M and non-TG transvestitism are sexual in nature even when actual sex isn’t taking place, though. In the unlikely hypothetical situations where that’s not the case, that’s something to work out with the family, I suppose, just like my case. But I will say: you’re talking about hypothetical ideas you just made up. I’m talking about my life.

    By some accounts homosexuals make up 10% of the population or thereabouts. They have been working for years to be accepted in society and have made many strides.

    They had to start somewhere. And it’s not hard to imagine that, decades ago, before Stonewall, someone with your attitude would draw the line “closer to societal norms” and had the same hatred for homosexuals. If those pioneers would have followed the advice you give now and not pushed for acceptance, those strides you seem to look so highly upon never would have happened.

    You seem to think I’ve called you a homophobe. Actually, some part of my arguments depend on the assumption that you’re not. I’m trying to show you that your beliefs about my lifestyle come from the same place of ignorance that homophobia does, and through that comparison, enlighten you. I’ve obviously not been successful.

    Richard P has it right, if you know your behavior is going to cause problems, try your best to let others ignore it. If being different is so important to you, be prepared to accept the consequences.

    The point is not to avoid problems. Keeping the nature of our relationship a secret was obviously the path of least resistance, and it had worked for us for many years. But given the permanent nature of our arrangement, it became clear to us that the long and difficult process of seeking acceptance from all of our families was the best thing to do. None of us regret it. The subject of the question you apparently didn’t read was how to proceed now that we’ve taken the plunge and admitted our relationship. How can we work for the kind of acceptance homosexuals have fought for and, in many cases, won?

    Of course people pushing for polygamy aren’t really helping the homosexuals now are they? After all the conservative Christians say “what next, polygamy?”, so keep up the good work. By trying to open up society to this you’ll only help the extreme right.

    If you had read my girlfriends really fantastic article on polyamory that appeared on the front page of this site a while ago, you would already know that causing harm to the gay rights movement is a real concern for us. But I don’t believe we can wait for perfect equality for them before we act in our own interest. We’re living our lives right now, after all.

    We want to figure out how to seek this acceptance from our families and from society. We’re willing to work. You say it’s reasonable for her family to cut her out because of how she chooses to live her life, and we ask “does it have to be that way?”

  • Alan

    micketymoc said:

    Shouldn’t a tolerant society also be tolerant of the fact that some of us disagree with certain things, instead of shouting those disagreements down? Disagreeing with polyamory isn’t a slippery slope to fascism.

    Who’s shouting? People are disagreeing, and having a discussion. Is it that you don’t think discussion is productive? Then why comment at all? I know I’ve had a lot to think about, and I’m glad to have read a lot of the points against my lifestyle people have made. I still think they’re wrong, and I’ll still say what I think. Isn’t that the whole point?

  • Alan

    ChameleonDave said:

    The woman is in a bizarre relationship that goes against almost every human society’s concept of what is appropriate.

    Yet another argument that could be equally (and equally poorly) applied to homosexuality. Especially homosexuality 30 years ago. They are tiring.

    Her family disapproves, as most families would. They have a right to.

    In our experience, two out of three families are able to accept this kind of relationship.

    She should just accept it, and avoid rubbing their noses in it. It must be humiliating for them to have this shame in their family.

    “Rubbing their noses in it” is a metaphor from dog excrement. Surprisingly enough, that’s not how I think of my relationship, and my girlfriend, her husband, and I hope to show her family that they don’t have to think of it that way either. As for the shame, well, see my first point above.

  • selfification

    I find it ironic how an atheist blog which attempts to quash misconceptions about atheism and encourage its readers to be more vocal about their personal choices should have readers who are just as close minded or irrational when it comes to another minority group. It goes to show that being an atheist really isn’t that special — it doesn’t automatically make us all rational, accepting, open minded, skeptical or empathetic. We still need to be trained in all of the above faculties independent of our stance on supernatural beings.

    In this case, the particular critical point to absorb is that the question wasn’t to make the parents wholeheartedly embrace their daughter’s lifestyle. If my (hypothetical) adult descendants embraced a lifestyle that I disapproved of (being a cannibal, druggie, bigoted dickhead, telemarketer etc.), I wouldn’t embrace their lifestyle. But I wouldn’t disown them or shirk them or pretend their situation didn’t exist. The key is compromise. If my children posed an ultimatum on fully accepting their lifestyle, I might have to turn them down and not compromise my principles. On the other hand, if they are willing to work with me, they could possibly convince me that their particular lifestyle was acceptable. This would begin with compromises from both sides — I would have to openly acknowledge their lifestyle and would have to make an attempt to learn about it. They would have to make some compromises to satisfy my sensibilities (don’t eat human meat in my house, don’t call other people during my dinner time). They would have to understand my criticisms in a positive manner and there must be attempts from either side to reconcile our (presumably) differing ethical frameworks.

    Sometimes, I may find it completely impossible to accept a lifestyle (being a pedophile, hit-man etc.). At that point, cutting off connection is probably the best one can do (and informing relevant authorities if above was also illegal). In all other cases, compromise compromise compromise. And this post is about how to go about gently getting family members to talk, compromise and accept the situation. Richard correctly dissuaded the use of an ultimatum as a counterproductive tool and encouraged communication and understanding.

  • Richard Wade

    ChameleonDave, I’m very glad you asked,

    What is this doing on an atheism blog? It doesn’t really have anything to do with religion.

    It’s on this blog because atheists have a lot more going on in their lives than just atheism vs. religion. They have all the same hopes, fears, desires and pains as anyone else. They want to be loved, to be accepted, to express their uniqueness, and to be safe. They have families, friends, jobs and homes. All that involves interacting with other people, and it can be rather complicated for anyone.

    But all that is made even more complicated because atheists face enormous challenges from the intolerance and willful ignorance of their religious families and the bigotries of society in general. So finding skillful ways to constructively respond to these challenges is a very important issue for them. They can also benefit from having those skills in conflicts that have nothing to do with atheism or religion.

    Despite all the tangential discussions here about the ups and downs of polyamory, the main point of Poly’s letter and my response has nothing to do with that, but is about how to deal with the intolerant and passive-aggressive behaviors of her family that cause her pain, and in particular the use of ultimatums. If her problem was that they were not accepting her atheism, or dozens of other issues that might bring friction, my response to her about ultimatums and my suggestions about gradual engagement would have been exactly the same.

    This hot button issue about polyamory is only useful to help us see that atheists can have their biases too, that they too can be subject to reflex fear of the unfamiliar, that they can make the same mistake of assuming that everyone else would respond to something just as they would, or that everyone ought to, and that they can mistakenly think that a difference in viewpoint is a difference in worth. Our very human limits are displayed right here on this page, as well as our equally human potential for transcending those limits. Every single person commenting here is capable of having any of the flaws or the virtues of everyone else here, and I suspect that all of us actually share them all, just in different arrangements.

    If we could see our mutual sharing of those flaws and virtues, then we could learn equally from those with whom we disagree and those with whom we agree.

  • Neon Genesis

    A. A male who is an active transvestite but not transgendered wants to come to family gatherings always dressed as a female.

    What’s wrong with that? You act like there’s something wrong with it.

    B. A couple who lives a 24/7 dom/sub relationship where the sub is kept on a leash at all times, answers only when spoken to, kneels at the other ones feet, and is fed table scraps.

    As long as they’re not having sex, sure, why not?

    C. Someone brings a paid escort to dinner with the family because they don’t want to come alone, and they are open about it.

    Given that I support the legalization of prostitution, I don’t have a problem with this either.

    Do all of you want that at your family gatherings? Do all of you want to explain that to the small children around or the grandparents? These are all a matter of personal choice, and we should accept them all, right?

    I have to agree with the philosopher Bertrand Russell. As long as they’re not actually engaging in sex, why should we hide knowledge in itself from children?

    By some accounts homosexuals make up 10% of the population or thereabouts. They have been working for years to be accepted in society and have made many strides. It’s far easier to get people to accept behavior like that which they can see permeating all parts of society now. Polygamy in any form is different than this.

    So, if we were living in a time when racism was the social norm, would you then tell black people not to push for racial equality and that pushing for racial equality is going to somehow magically hurt the women’s rights movement?

  • Richard P

    Richard P has it right, if you know your behavior is going to cause problems, try your best to let others ignore it. If being different is so important to you, be prepared to accept the consequences.

    This is not right I did not say “ignore the problem.”

    What I said was ignore it as a problem. or ignore that the other people have a problem. Don’t change how you talk or act, because her family has a problem.
    I believe she should continue the relationship based on the fact she has informed them of her lifestyle choice and that she that if they continue to associate with her then they have come to terms with it.
    Forcing the issue for them to formally accept it and to put them in a place that would force them to make a compromise in their beliefs will only create conflicts that will put up walls between them that may never come down.
    However if she would simply carry on living her life as she wants and assuming that their continuing contact is their acceptance. What is currently abnormal to them and hard to accept, will become a normal part of who she is and it’s strangeness will ultimately become part of that norm. Then there is no need to force this situation into a confrontation that all may one day regret.

  • Jen

    Blah blah blah personal judgement, blah blah blah everyone who loves differently from me is a jerk, blah blah blah I am worse than a conservative Christian.

    Alright, now that we are done arguing about how evil Juliet is, I would offer that Dan Savage had a podcast maybe a month, month and a half ago- I think it was #144, where a person (I think it was a guy?) came out gay to his parents and was stonewalled by them. The gist of Dan’s advice was to give the parents one year to ask weird questions and not have to be confronted with the boyfriend. After one year, the parents had to be ok with it or they would lose their kid because their kid was not going to live in the closet to make them comfortable forever. It’s harsh, I suppose, but really, so is demanding kids not be themselves.

    One last thing I wondered about: have your parents met your husband’s parents? Do they like each other? Perhaps his parents can mention to your parents how much they love the boyfriend?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    KiethLM (especially) and Mikespeir…you two are obviously trolls who have no intention whatsoever of offering constructive advice to the situation at hand. It is not your business or place to criticize the structure of Poly’s relationship. Please stop.

  • WCLPeter

    Seeing as how I’m fully capable of loving my closest family and friends, certainly more than one person there, is it really so hard to see how some people are able to find it within themselves to love more than one person romantically?

    While I don’t know if I could live in a polyamorous relationship myself, the people involved would have to be amazingly incredible before I’d even consider it, it is also true that no one person can possibly be capable of being everything their partner needs them to be; that’s why our friends and families are so important, they fill in the gaps our partner can’t.

    I don’t really see any problems with Poly’s living situation. If her, her husband, and her boyfriend are much more happy and fulfilled as a triplet than a couple, then I wish them nothing but happiness. I also don’t see anything wrong with Poly wanting to have her parents acknowledge both of the people in her life that bring her so much joy and fulfillment.

    They don’t have to agree with her choice, I know my family doesn’t always agree with my choices, but they do need to accept Poly’s choice and at least be civil when she brings her family with her to family functions.

  • http://brain-junk.blogspot.com RedSonja

    Wow. What a disappointment the “discussion” here has been.

    Poly, good luck with the family. It’s hard enough to “come out” as different to your family, without them having a full scale freak out. My husband and I, while not deliberately hiding anything, haven’t explicitly come out as atheists to his family. This weekend his grandmother died, and the ensuing conversations/church services/she’s-an-angel-in-heaven-with-jebus talk rather reaffirmed our choice to handle it that way for now.

    I admire your courage and commitment to your partners that led you to coming out to all three families. I hope things work out well for you, and am sorry you had to encounter such bullshit here.

  • Heidi

    I’m still convinced that S&M and non-TG transvestitism are sexual in nature even when actual sex isn’t taking place, though.

    Have you considered that maybe the non-TG guy can’t afford surgery? Or maybe he’s been turned down as a candidate? (I’m ignoring the full immersion BD/SM part, b/c I think anyone who wants to go about on a leash needs psychotherapy.)

    Comparing your situation to a gay person’s situation is a bad analogy, IMO. Orientation is not a choice. Gay people are still gay no matter what relationship choices they make.

    Poly, OTOH, is a choice. You chose to participate in a multi-partner relationship. It’s not who you are, it’s how you choose to live. Which is absolutely your right, but you can’t equate it with things over which people truly have no control.

    Anyway, in the end, it’s going to have to come down to what Juliet can live with, if her parents can’t get used to the idea. When you choose an unconventional living arrangement, you have to realize that not everyone is going to approve. Choices bring consequences, and disapproval is often one of them. So she needs to decide if it’s more important to have her family as a part of her life, or if she would prefer them not to be involved if their presence comes with disapproval. It’s not a choice anyone else can make for her, not even as a husband or boyfriend.

  • Neon Genesis

    Poly, OTOH, is a choice. You chose to participate in a multi-partner relationship. It’s not who you are, it’s how you choose to live. Which is absolutely your right, but you can’t equate it with things over which people truly have no control.

    Actually, whether one is monogamous or polyamorous is caused by genetics too: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/36069/title/Gene_linked_to_commitment-phobia

  • Ninive

    I hope readers won’t think atheists are devoid of morals and promiscuous. I am an atheist, but I would have a very hard time accepting that my daughter’s husband was bissexual and she had sex with two men at once. There was no way I would want this in my presence and family garherings. I feel for her parents, notwithstanding their religion. It would be very tough to pretend I am ok with it for her sake. Very difficult situation.

  • JulietEcho

    Ninive, this isn’t about exposing our sex lives to our families – it’s about gaing the inclusion of a loved one. Sure, people can guess that there’s sex involved in the relationship, but we would never talk about it to our families! People are often grossed out by gay and lesbian couples because their own minds jump to imaging the sex involved – but letting such gut reactions define the way you feel about the relationship is immature and does a disservice to the people involved – who love one another in many ways that have nothing to do with their private sex lives.

    Sharing details of your sex life with your family is inappropiate. Sharing your loved ones and wanting them to be treated warmly by your family is normal and healthy, even is there’s more than one.

  • Ninive

    Sorry Juliet. I am open mostly liberal and an activist atheist, but I could not accept your lifestyle. I have seen couples who engage in group sex, polymory or whatever name you want to call it, and someone always gets hurt at the end. If you were my daugter, I would continue having a relationship with you because I loved you, but I would refuse to socialize with you and the 2 men. There are limits to everything Juliet, and this would not be ok with me. I think you are asking too much of your family, and trying to force something quite shocking for most people down their throats. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You need to make an option. If I were you, I would stop trying to “work” them. I know that would never succeed with me. Yes, I can accept my daughter being a lesbian and married to a woman. Being “married” to two men? No. By the way, why even bother being married to the first guy? Why get married and just not have two lovers? This kind of arrangement really undermines the concept of marriage, which is commitment to ONE person.

    Lay off your folks. This situation is shocking even for liberals like me.

  • Neon Genesis

    Let’s try something

    Sorry Juliet. I am open mostly liberal and an activist atheist, but I could not accept your lifestyle. I have seen couples who engage in gay sex or whatever name you want to call it, and someone always gets hurt at the end. If you were my daugter, I would continue having a relationship with you because I loved you, but I would refuse to socialize with you and your lesbian partner. There are limits to everything Juliet, and this would not be ok with me. I think you are asking too much of your family, and trying to force something quite shocking for most people down their throats. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You need to make an option. If I were you, I would stop trying to “work” them. I know that would never succeed with me. Yes, I can accept my daughter being a white woman and married to a black man. Being “married” to someone of the same sex? Why get married? This kind of arrangement really undermines the concept of marriage, which is commitment to ONE WOMAN AND ONE MAN

    Lay off your folks. This situation is shocking even for liberals like me.

    Ooh, “liberals like me!” because liberal magically means open minded and non-judgmental expect for stuff that you can conveniently be judgmental and bigoted towards and don’t try to understand when you feel like it.

  • JulietEcho

    Ninive, I’m quite glad you’re not my mother then. She may be a consevative Christian, but at least she doesn’t seem to have the fixation with sex that you do. We don’t engage in group sex, and even if we did, we’d hardly share that with our families. We’re not inviting anyone into our bedrooms!

    I have hope that my mom will come to accept my boyfriend just as she does my husband, because we love him, he’s family, and he’s a great guy – not because we want some weird endorsement of out private sex lives. My boyfriend’s and husband’s families love and accept all three of us without any problems, and it’s because they’re adults who focus on what’s actually being shared (love and family) and not on sex details.

  • Ninive

    Hey Neon, people have to be responsible for their actions and respect that others may feel uncomfortable with their choices. Why be married? Just date 2 men, period. And no, I don’t care what people do in their private lives, but don’t impose it on me nor force me to accept it.

  • Ninive

    Juliet, my daughter would not engage in such arrangement. She has good judgement. You need to understand how awful this is to your parents. Very few people, even the most open minded I know, would accept this with a smile. Furthermore, let’s not think that atheists approve of more deviant behavior.

  • JulietEcho

    Atheists aren’t a big group that identify together based on anything besides the fact that none of them believe in any gods. Period. Plenty of them do form groups and identify through those groups, which have different goals (and often involve fighting for separation of church/state and supporting science).

    The reason that I came to Richard, an atheist advice columnist, for advice about this is because I know he doesn’t harbor any religious prejudices against what you call “deviant behavior” that harms no one and is simply mostly hidden.

    The whole reason that polyamory is considered so “deviant” is because the hundreds of thousands of poly families in the US hide in the closet for fear of losing their jobs, their kids, their reputations, etc. People like you, who have no concrete objections to us other than that you find us offensive and imply that we don’t have “good judgment” are the people we are afraid will discriminate against us.

    Plenty of people are horrified by the public acceptance of homosexuality and call that “deviant.” Should homosexuals keep their love for their partners private in order to make sure no one is offended? Absolutely not. They’ve been brave, and instead we’ve seen increased tolerance and acceptance to the point where they’re getting marriage rights.

    Why am I married to one of my partners? Because I met him first, we fell in love, and we wanted the benefits and social acceptance that marriage brings in this country. We’re not going to get divorced simply because we’ve added another partner that we both love. Why would we? If, someday, it’s possible for all three of us to be legally bound in marriage or something similar, we’ll do that.

    You don’t have to accept us “with a smile.” You just have to realize that your personal disgust or offense is only valid for you – it’s not a remotely sufficient arguments against polyamory – and that you might one day have to get used to seeing more and more poly families go public and eventually gain acceptance as healthy, loving family units.

  • selfification

    JulietEcho: Don’t argue with her. She just defended the sanctity of traditional marriage hiding under the veil of a liberal. I’m sorry… the rules of marriage are not some immutable moral code that no one can violate. The concept of marriage is a religious one and hence carries the same irrational belief systems at its base regardless of how useful it may be as a social structure.

    For the naysayers:
    A redefinition of marriage to include only the commitment factors and remove any of the other prejudices from it would open it up to polyamorous relationships (and in fact, to any arbitrary undirected social graph — undirected being crucial here). This would of course complicate legal issues like tax laws, but that is a whole other discussion (and one that was had in the previous thread).

    And as for the other comment about “polyamoury being a choice” — really? Do you “choose” who you fall in love with (hint: the answer is always ‘it depends on the context of choose’). Poly people choose to have multiple partners in exactly the same way that non-vegetarians choose to like meat. Surely they could refrain from eating meat. Surely they should be considerate about their deviant behaviour when the larger community around them considers them sinners for it (actually true in India). Surely breaking the norm here should deserve ostracism and intolerance (for the sarcasm impaired, the last three lines were… yeah). And the old and tired arguments of “It doesn’t work out for most people. Hence it can never work” is just as stupid as “Most people don’t have the mental faculties, discipline or drive to be oncologists. Hence, it is impossible to be an oncologist.”.

    So really — quit with the judgmental posts and actually help her work out this disagreement with her parents. I for one support her in her journey towards that end.

  • JulietEcho

    Thanks, selfification. I really like your analogy about oncologists. I’ll have to use that one sometime, as it makes a nice, concise response to the people who somehow think that something difficult should be discriminated against simply because it’s difficult.

  • http://www.cnet.com philbob

    I’ve known people in these relationships and I think it is as hard to generalize about them as it is about anyone else. Here’s my two cents: For most of human history we have worked out social relations that preserve peace in a culture at a particular point in time. Practices like monogamy were preserved because they worked. But in some parts of the world serial marriage, polygamy or tolerance of affairs was the norm.
    These cultural practices change over time in response to new technology and new patterns of living. Until 1850 slavery was pretty much okay anywhere in the world, to cite one example. As humans began to exploit oil, they no longer had to exploit other humans to accomplish work.
    We’re probably now undergoing a huge change in sex and marriage. Marriages no longer have to stay together out of economic necessity, because the thousands-of-years-old power imbalance between men and women is ending. People live longer, and they don’t live all of their years in economic desperation as in earlier generations. They want to be themselves. The notion that our descendants, living to be 100+ will all want to have 80-year monogamous marriages, seems to me to be a debatable. Even today, 50 percent of marriages don’t last. For all I know, in a society where women have sexual and economic “freedom” polyamory and fluid marriages may ultimately be more socially stable.
    Which is all a way of saying, it’s complicated. Julietecho should not make hasty ultimata. There does come a point in life where you might have to say “I don’t care if my mother (or brother) ever calls me again.” But you don’t have to be the one who cuts off the relationship. Continue to keep your heart open. Anger is like sticking a knife in yourself and hoping the other person feels it.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X