Poly Pocket: When Family and Friends Just Don’t Get It

When there aren’t any models for how you want to move through the world, it’s harder to move through the world. There’s no one right way to do ethical non-monogamy, just as there’s no one right way to do ethical monogamy, and no way is better or worse than any other, just better or worse for those involved. Poly Pocket looks at all the ways queer people do polyamory: what it looks like, how we think about it, how it functions (or doesn’t), how it feels, because when you don’t have models you have to create your own.

Zevran is a 23-year-old non-binary queer black African polyamorous human living in Poland. “Zevran” is a pseudonym.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?

Zevran: My journey began when I was 19. I started with ethical non-monogamy, where I had a partner but was casually dating other people, and then a year ago I began to identify as polyamorous where no relationship hierarchy exists.

Right now, I have a girlfriend who I love deeply. She lives with her boyfriend. We’ve been together for a few months now. We all identify as poly and kinky and the V has no hierarchy and third-party veto (that’s what we are striving for for whatever constellation may arise). I can date or hook up with other people but after I inform my partner, not for permission but for a head’s up. I’ve met my metamour, we are on friendly terms, and since we are interested in similar things we often end up going to events as a trio.

Carolyn: What about non-heirarchial poly feels right to you?

Zevran: That was part of our negotiations before the relationship started. We all felt that since there are already so many layers and dynamics in our relationships, adding even more layers would complicate things. Personally I decided to choose such a relationship because I like to let my emotions and relationships develop organically.

In terms of those layers, my girlfriend and her boyfriend are also in a Daddy Dom/little girl relationship and they live together. My girlfriend and I also have a Dominant/submissive dynamic where we are both switches with each other.

“It’s important to ensure that no partner is treated unfairly and also to not be a complete asshole.”

Carolyn: What impact do your kink dynamics have on your poly dynamics?

Zevran: I like to joke that they make for very unusual conversations between the three of us. But generally it means that we have to be more conscious and aware of boundaries and work extra hard to find a balance.

I’ll give an example. They have a dynamic where she must ask for permission before doing something or face enforcement of a curfew and orgasm denial as punishment. That obviously posed a big problem in my relationship with her. So we have to work around that and make sure the kink stuff from one relationship doesn’t limit the other relationships.

Carolyn: How did you negotiate that? What did you decide on together?

Zevran: The basic thing we agreed on was that no relationship or partner is more important, no matter how many people each of us is with. We all make our comfort levels and boundaries clear and try to be considerate. I talked to them about the things I wasn’t happy with and we made a plan. Namely: no giving tasks that eat into another partner’s time. When she’s with me their dynamics and rules don’t apply. Basically I’m with her, not daddy’s little girl. The same will apply to all other partners.

Carolyn: How do you negotiate conflict?

Zevran: We respectfully voice our complaints then talk about it and find a way forward. Luckily we have a local poly support group, too. Sometimes they end in tears or total disagreement but so far we haven’t gotten something we haven’t been able to work through or around.

Carolyn: Earlier, you wrote, “I believe that honesty and clear communication is key. Compromise, being considerate and willingness to renegotiate can be helpful, especially when conflicts arise. It’s important to ensure that no partner is treated unfairly and also to not be a complete asshole, as applies to everything in general.” Was there a time when someone was treated unfairly? How was that resolved?

Zevran: That happened plenty of times during the beginning of our relationship when we were still trying to adjust ourselves to the situation. Boundaries were crossed, there was a time when it got so bad we were considering ending things or at the very least taking a break. I don’t want to get into specifics but it was tough on all of us.

What I did was talk to a lot of people more experienced than me — on fetlife or from the support group and my therapist is also very poly and kink friendly. Then we sat down and discussed the issues that were troubling us, and then negotiated.

I learned that there is no ideal way or correct way of doing poly. Sometimes what works perfectly in theory might fail miserably in practice. It’s important to know exactly what you want and accept that mistakes will be made, so how you resolve them is important.

Carolyn: How out are you about being poly?

Zevran: My friends and siblings know that I’m poly. Anyone who pays close attention on Facebook knows I’m non-monogamous, so I guess my mum knows, too, it’s just never come up in conversation. I’ve never announced it but it’s no secret, either. What I wish is that it wasn’t such a big deal. It gets exhausting.

In terms of queerness, my family and friends try to adjust themselves to the situation. My queerness is something they have accepted. But my family is mostly in Kenya and maybe that works in my favour; my close family has only met my partners through the years via Skype. So being from a society where “What would people say?” holds a lot of water, my not being there for societal comment makes it easier for my close family to accept and support me. And I’m far enough away from those who would give me shit about it.

“There is no ideal way or correct way of doing poly. Sometimes what works perfectly in theory might fail miserably in practice. It’s important to know exactly what you want and accept that mistakes will be made, so how you resolve them is important.”

Carolyn: How do your family and friends see your relationships?

Zevran: I’ve noticed the intersection of queer and not queer and poly relationships, especially when not all partners or people in the constellation are queer, leads to a lot of societal invalidation of the queer relationships. In my experience with my current partner that has been a real problem. Family and friends tend to recognize her and her boyfriend and pretend that I don’t exist, mostly because they have been together longer and queer relationships are not respected or recognized.

She tends to get invitations to events like weddings which explicitly state only one partner is invited, preferably the male one as people will be uncomfortable with my presence. That’s something we haven’t yet been able to work around. I would like to know how other people navigate such situations, because in as much as we see each other as equals, society doesn’t and I would be lying if I said that doesn’t pain me.

Carolyn: How does polyamory function within your understanding of yourself?

Zevran: Being poly allows me the freedom to be myself. I don’t believe that one person can realistically fulfill all my needs and I have the capacity to be with several people at once.

I’m already pretty untraditional and unconventional and being poly sometimes complicates things a bit more. I have friends and family who still haven’t wrapped their heads around my queerness and gender identity and they simply just don’t understand poly.

Carolyn: What do you want your future to look like?

Zevran: I want to be with two or maximum three serious relationships. I also want to involve kink in the relationships. Hopefully by then being poly won’t be so radical.

Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Consultant, and was formerly the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor, for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 895 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Wedding invitations… woof. They’re the worst when you’re poly. My brother just got engaged and my wife and I are already thinking about it – her boyfriend co-parents our children. I’ve been with my girlfriend over two years. We’re out to my parents and my brother has relationships with our partners but my parents are super uncomfortable with it all, and their extended families don’t know, but if any of us are helping with the wedding we might need the third parent’s help, especially since he’s got the strongest bond with the toddler, but then who dances with who… it’s an enormous mess.

    And then from the marrying couple’s perspective it can be financially challenging. A friend of my girlfriend’s got married last year and went out of her way to tell her that she really wanted to invite me along with her husband, but they were crunched for space and money and had to decide, eliminate a family member or eliminate one of the +2? I can’t fault the decision they made.

    Anyway thanks for sharing your story Zevran, you sound awesome 🙂

  2. This has easily become my favorite series! Thank you to Zevran and Carolyn!

    After typing the above sentence, I turned to my wife and asked, “So… do we get to include our partner if we go to your friends’ wedding?” Deer caught in headlights. There’s a desire to, but an immediate fear that sets in. I’m out to my friends, but she isn’t out to all of hers. She doesn’t think there would be a problem. However, we’d both feel like shit if we didn’t get to include him.

    Remember those old Staples commercials with the easy buttons? Polyamory could use one of those.

  3. These personal stories are amazing, but I just have to mention how much I LOVE the intro to the column:

    When there aren’t any models for how you want to move through the world, it’s harder to move through the world. There’s no one right way to do ethical non-monogamy, just as there’s no one right way to do ethical monogamy, and no way is better or worse than any other, just better or worse for those involved. Poly Pocket looks at all the ways queer people do polyamory: what it looks like, how we think about it, how it functions (or doesn’t), how it feels, because when you don’t have models you have to create your own.

    True and healing words in so many ways!

  4. I love reading these pieces on polyamory. It helps me understand what to expect and how to be aware of relationship dynamics I never thought possible. I just wished I knew how people get into these relationships….. Well I can kind of see how. Anyways, good info. Can’t wait for the next one ?

  5. Would you expect to receive a +2 to a wedding?? Given how much it costs to have each additional person at a catered affair?

    I respectfully hazard that the polite thing to do would be to attend the wedding alone or with a friend, rather than picking and choosing between partners or, worse, asking for a second date.

  6. So I realize the wedding guest situation is complicated, and in some cases nice people are just being a bit oblivious. However, if I was in a situation where someone was being blatantly disrespectful of my relationship(s) I would not want to attend a celebration of their relationship.

  7. Wait sorry, also, you’ve been together “a few months now” and you are expecting wedding invitations to include you?

    Sorry for the wedding invite pile-on, but even my very cheap wedding cost over $100 per head and it was bad enough having to invite spouses who I had met like twice (when I would have been way happier if Friend had brought not their new spouse but their longtime roommate who I have known for years, and no I couldn’t just invite Roommate myself bc then I would have had to pay for Friend and spouse and Roommate and partner). No I wasn’t gonna invite someone with a +2, and regardless of the type of relationship I wasn’t gonna invite someone’s “a few months” new thang.

    And people wonder why weddings are so expensive. And make fun of people (esp women people) when wedding planning gets out of hand and crazy-making. Your partner’s friend’s wedding isn’t about you.

    Anyway, I hope you and your relationships are happy and strong and that you are accepted by your friends and family! Def your partner should take you both to, like, family bowling night. Just gotta keep in mind what’s actually motivating wedding invites, so that a friend’s financial decision doesn’t feel to you like a great big blow of “you don’t count,” bc that’s not what it is.

    • Not every wedding pays for all the guests. Many have weddings where guests pay for their own plate. Even if people aren’t paying for their own plate, it would be more polite to explain your limitations and ask if your friends could help pay for their own food if there’s more than two of them.

      Obviously the wedding isn’t about the guests, but who in their right mind expects someone to come without their partners? It’s absolutely “you don’t count” and no amount of saying it isn’t will make it so.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.