Mostly grammar and typo fixes here, but I also updated info on how things turned out for me when I got some of these reactions and removed some of emphasis on being polite to people who are being assholes. While I still believe that being polite to people you love who are reacting badly can sometimes keep bad from from becoming “burnt to the ground and sown with salt,” it’s ultimately up to you and we certainly don’t owe politeness to people who are treating us badly. 8/23/17
It would be great if we could be sure of getting acceptance and support from friends and family. The reality is, pure ’nilla monogamous relationships often don’t get the support of family and friends, so it isn’t surprising that non-traditional relationship styles can cause less-than-stellar-reactions from the people we care about.
Thankfully, people who love us are more likely to go for a neutral reaction, and at least try and understand. But negative reactions are way more common than any of us likes. I hope you never need to deal with any of these, but here are a few of the bad reactions you might run into – and a few suggestions that may help you get through it.
I don’t know what to think about this, please don’t tell anyone else, I’m afraid of how X will react (runs and tells the whole family about your horrid choice and how awful it is)
Dishonest, manipulative, and mean, this is worse than someone who rejects. This is someone who rejects, lies to you about it, and then sabotages your chance to discuss your life with who you want, when you want, plus spreading gossip behind your back.
On the surface, this looks like one of the neutral reactions. They may really just need time to deal with their own reaction before dealing with other people’s reactions. You just can’t know if this is an honest, neutral reaction or a dishonest, bad reaction until the gossip gets back to you, possibly months later.
Ultimately, the people who care will ask you about it directly about gossip they hear or will listen to your side with an open mind when you approach them yourself. The people who believe the gossip without at least listening to your perspective are people who probably wouldn’t have accepted your lifestyle anyway. Which sucks beyond belief. IMO, the best you can do in this situation is treat it like an honest request for time, possibly make it clear that you want to be the one to tell others in your own time, but you will wait while this person has time to think for a few weeks (or however long).
I don’t want to hear this.
As negative reactions go, this one… isn’t the worst. This person is utterly refusing to listen and rejecting your relationships. But they aren’t being dishonest about it, aren’t rejecting you, aren’t going into a moral rant. They are basically saying ’I recognize this is your decision, but I don’t like it and I don’t want to know about it.’ It’s their right to feel this way. Let it go, and don’t bring it up again. Don’t try and introduce your OSOs, and just let it be. If you don’t want to go to family or holiday parties where all your partners aren’t welcome, decline any invitations, and explain why when you are asked. How much of a relationship you maintain with them is up to you. In the past, I’ve tried to include people like this in my life as much as possible. We usually end up drifting apart over time.
Long lecture about immorality/shameful behavior/sin/disappointed in you/etc etc
This person is either a parent or someone who thinks they have a right to act like your parent. You can listen to the end or cut them off, which ever suits you best, and tell them that you are sorry they feel this way, but you will live your life the way you choose. It is up to them if they wish to be a part of your life in spite of their beliefs, and you hope they will eventually understand and accept.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything else you can do in this circumstance unless you are ready to just cut them off and never talk with them again. These people aren’t going to listen to anything you have to say, feel they have some authority over you and are likely to continue to pull this crap. Personally, I’ll politely listen through the first lecture, explain that it is my life and they have no say in it, and that I want to continue our relationship but will not allow them to dictate my life. After that, if I see them at a family gathering or whatever and they start another lecture, I will walk away without saying anything.
Angry/yelling/denouncing/etc etc – Angry reactions can take a lot of forms, but all basically tell you the same thing. For whatever reason, this person is hurt by and rejecting your choice and is turning that hurt into anger. Their anger will usually be directed at you or possibly the person they believe ’lured you into it’. Get up and leave. As much as it may hurt, do not stay to be abused this way. Tell them you love them, you are sorry that your choice has hurt them, and when they calm down, you can try talking again. Then leave.
Once they calm down, they may take any other imaginable reaction, including coming to you and saying ’I’m sorry, I love you and support you, and I’m going to try and understand.’ A different one of the negative reactions is more likely than a positive reaction, but positive reactions after calming down and thinking can happen. You’ll just need to deal with whatever other reaction they have as it comes.
This person will not go into a rage, lecture, or really say anything at all. They just shut you or your choice out. In the ’better’ form of this, they will still welcome you in their life but will turn icy and shut out any attempt at discussing your lifestyle. They are, then, basically trying to pretend that you never told them anything. It is up to you whether you let them pretend, or choose not to be a part of your life.
The more extreme version of this is when they choose to shut you out. They may or may not say anything immediately, but after this conversation, they will not speak with you again, not return your phone calls, and ignore you at family gatherings where you bump into each other.
There is a third form this can take, which is also very hurtful and can be confusing until you figure out what is going on. The person is friendly and polite, gives a neutral reaction to your explanation, and you part on good terms. They will invite you to holiday and other events the rest of the family is invited to because it is expected. They will be socially polite and say how much they’ve missed you since they last saw you. But if you try to call them, they will not answer, if you invite them somewhere, they will decline, basically they will put on a mask of good feeling at any event they feel they must, for politeness sake, include you in, but otherwise shut you out. If this is someone you were never very close to, this probably won’t make any difference in your interactions – if you only saw them on holidays and weddings and funerals, you may not even notice any difference. If you were very close to them, getting together regularly, talking on the phone, whatever, this can be extremely hurtful.
Unfortunately, I have not found any productive or useful responses to these reactions. The best you can do is cut them out of their life if it gets too hurtful to deal with.
This is the reaction many polyam folk and people in other alternative lifestyles live in terror of. Thankfully, it actually is fairly rare. Most people who love us will at least try to either bring us to our senses or understand why we have made the choice to be polyamorous. This person tries to do neither. They will simply tell you that you are no longer their relative/friend, and they never want to see you again.
All you can do is walk away and grieve. In time, they may change their mind, especially if other family members still welcome you in their lives. But right now, that is little comfort.
“Beat the devil out of ’im”/Abusive ’intervention’
Okay, I had a serious debate with myself about including this one, but it IS a possible reaction to someone learning about polyamory, and unlike the other possible reactions, it is DANGEROUS. Reality is that it is (thank god) rare. But it does happen. And even something that only happens one time in a million is one time too many if you are that one. If you think anyone you know could react like this, make sure they have no power or authority over you. Get out of their house if you live with them, get a job or other income if you depend on them financially, get help from friends or other family, get the hell out. Do NOT talk with these people about polyamory. If you absolutely must tell them for some reason, send a letter when you are someplace where they cannot influence you. If you cannot get out and away from these people, make sure that some one you trusts knows about your fears and will be prepared to help if things go wrong and they find out about your lifestyle from another source. Thankfully, most of us will never need to deal with this kind of horror, but if you know someone who is like this, protect yourself.
I wish none of you would ever need to deal with any negative reactions. Unfortunately, chances are that if you choose to live openly as a polyamorous person, you will run into at least one, and likely several negative reactions from people you care about. I wish there was more advice or help that I could offer. Keep your head up, and hold onto the positive reactions you get. Good luck.
This post is part of the
Explaining Polyamory Blog Series.
(Originally posted June 2012)