Audio Post: What Does Respect Mean in Polyamory?

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Transcript (subheadings added to make reading at least a little easier)


Hey folks, this is Jessica and we’re trying something new this week.

I’ve been thinking for a while about adding a podcast or vlog as a community goal on the PolyonPurpose Patreon campaign. And since this week I’m having a bit of trouble putting my words on paper, I thought I’d give a try doing an audio blog and seeing what people think and how well it works.

Please bear with me on the sound quality. If I do add a vlog or podcast to the Patreon campaign as a community goal, I’m obviously going to need to invest in some new sound equipment.

So, this week we’re going to be talking about respect and specifically how we define respect. I’d been planning on going into kitchen table polyamory this week and how the etiquette around that can work. But I realized there is something I’ve been putting off. When I started this series on polyamory and etiquette, I said that as two of the core values of polyamory.

Defining Respect

Now, something I didn’t think about at the time is the many different ways respect can be defined. And that came up a couple weeks ago in my post on “disrespecting the primary.” Which is an idea that floats around the poly community, that for a metamour were to do something– or a secondary partner were to do something with their part– with the mutual partner it’d be disrespecting the primary partner. And what I mentioned in that post is the saying—and I really need to track down who said it first—is the saying that respect can mean “respect me as a person” or respect can mean “respect my authority.” And so when people say “I will respect you if you will respect me,” what they often are meaning is “I will respect you as a person if you will respect me as an authority”. And it seems to me that 9 times out of 10, if not more often, when poly folks talk about “disrespecting the primary” this is the kind of thing they are talking about, that the primary is being disrespected as an authority.

So this got me thinking about there’s, you know, obviously different ways of looking at respect, different ways of defining it. So when we are talking about respect as one of the bases of etiquette in poly relationships, what are we talking about? What does respect me to us in polyamory, when we are talking about respect not just our partners, but our partner’s partners, and our partner’s and all the other people in our lives because of our connection with our poly partners.

Now if you practice parallel polyamory you only really need to worry about respect in terms of you and your poly partners*. And that in and of itself is a big thing. If you have a communal approach, if you practice kitchen table poly or group poly or a bunch of other possible setups, respect also comes into not just you with your partners but you with a bunch of other people who you interact with because of your partners.

So that’s kind of where we are starting from today.

Now, you look at traditional definitions of respect, they are all talking about giving deference to someone, or esteeming someone, basically tying in with idea that respect is about respecting someone’s authority, respecting someone’s knowledge, respecting someone as a person to be looked up to in some manner or form.

But words evolve, and ideas evolve. And at least within Western culture, especially American culture, respect became something that you were expected to give to people as a default. And when that happened it kind of lost its meaning of deference. Because you aren’t expected to give someone deference as a default. What you are expected to do as a default is treat people with common decency and acknowledgment of their rights and existence. And that’s where “respect me as a person” comes in. Respect my humanity, respect that, you know I am a person. And being a person means there are certain things I get automatically.

Respect My Humanity

What do I get automatically as a person? I get the right to self-determination. I get the right to decide what I will do with my life, what-what actions I will take and what choices I make. I can give this right up. People can take this right away from me, as happens in dictatorships, in abusive relationships, in all kinds of situations. But at base, this is my right as a person.

Along with self-determination comes the right to set boundaries and the right to agency, to act within my environment. There’s other rights that come with being a person, the human rights people talk about. Now, there’s an argument that humans have a right to clean water. That really doesn’t come into play in interpersonal relationships, that’s a geopolitical issue. [Realizing as I transcribe—this CAN be an interpersonal issue is a specific individual is deliberately taking or fouling your water.] In interpersonal relationships, you know I have the right not to be harmed. I have the right to defend myself again harm. I have the right to interact with you or not interact with you as I choose, you do not have the right to force yourself on me. That would be a violation of my self-determination.

And this is what we are talking about when we talk about respect and polyamory. We are talking about all of us, in our relationships, in our lives, have these rights to self-determination, to set boundaries, to excerpt agency, to decide what we will and won’t do and who we will and won’t do it with.

As pat of my self-determination, I can determine I want to be in the closet about polyamory. I don’t want people to know I’m practicing this love style. If I make that decision, and you out me, you are disrespecting my right to self-determination, you are disrespecting me as a person who gets to decide who I will live my life.

And this applies in a lot of other ways. But—I think it’s an important distinction to make, that it’s really not—respect has so many definitions, and this is the one we are talking about in polyamory. We are not talking about respecting your boss, respecting your teaching, respecting authority. We are not talking about respecting in any way of being looking up to someone. We are talking about what has come, in American society at least, to be the bare default of “you are another person, and as another person I respect you and I respect your right to live your life as you choose.”

Respect and Common Decency

Now another thing that can go into this, and it’s debatable but my personal opinion, I believe respecting a person also comes with treating them with common decency. Y’know if I’m gonna cut you off in line at the supermarket, I’m disrespecting you, in my opinion. This is debatable. It doesn’t fall within self-determination, it doesn’t fall within boundaries and agency so much. But it is breaking the social contract. And if I break the social contract to your detriment, that to me is disrespect because I am denying you something that society agrees is your right. Even if it’s just the right to be ahead of me in line at the local Kroger.

If I’m calling you names, if I’m insulting you, if I’m in any way treating you in ways that don’t line up with our social contract of “this is the way people treat each other in society” that’s disrespect. Now of course society various. How people treat each other as schoolmates in a classroom is different from how people treat each other as fans at a football field, is different from how people treat each other bumping into each other at the store, is different from how people treat each other online. And that isn’t even getting into issues of culture and subcultures and what is part of the social contract of the way we interact for Jews at a synagogue is different from mainstream white people in Time Square is different from African American’s down south, is—it all interacts in different ways.

Accidental Disrespect

So accidental disrespect can happen. If…ya know, I’m pretty open about being Jewish and keeping kosher. It’s, to me, disrespectful to me to show up at my house, knowing hat I’m Jewish and keeping kosher, with pork that you’re planning on cooking for dinner. But there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what keeping kosher is. If you don’t realize that I keep a kosher home, that if you bring pork into my home I’m gonna spend an hour scrubbing my kitchen down because that’s what my religion asks of me, if you don’t know this and you bring pork over, that’s arguably disrespectful to me but you didn’t know it. It’s an accidental disrespect. it’s violating my rights in several ways because you are violating my right to set boundaries on my home and decide how I will live in my home. But you don’t know this. It’s an accident, accidents happen.

So respect isn’t something that can be carved in stone “THIS is being respectful, THIS isn’t.” Respect is an individual thing and it changes with everyone. What is respectful to me will be disrespectful to my partner will be disrespectful to the person down the street, might be respectful to you. Might be something that you’re “Eh, that’s not about respect of disrespect, that’s just, you know, a quirk.”

Where Does That Leave Us?

And that’s all something that goes into how we handle etiquette within the poly community and within poly relationships. Taking the time to learn about what is respectful and disrespectful to other people. In order to be respectful, in order to give people respect as the basis for our approach to etiquette, we need to know what they view as respectful and disrespectful. That goes back to honesty, goes back to community, goes back to just knowing each other as the basis for a relationship.

So that’s where I’m coming from when I say that respect is one of the foundations of etiquette in polyamory.

Um, ya know, comments are open below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you see as being the foundations of etiquette in polyamory? What do you think respect means? How does respect for your in your relationships? I’d love to hear from you and if you’re interested in getting more audio posts like this, in my getting a vlog or podcast going, please check out the patreon page, link is down below.

Take care all.

*This was a silly thing for me to say. It is totally possible to be disrespectful to people you never meet or interact directly with.

Managing Parallel Polyamory

Let’s talk parallel polyamory.

Parallel polyamory refers to poly relationships where the relationships run in parallel and don’t interact. I’m in a relationship with you, and you are in a relationship with your other partner, but the two of us aren’t friends and may never meet. Our two separate relationships progress without connecting to each other.

In theory, the etiquette of parallel polyamory is straight forward. If you don’t interact, you don’t need to worry about etiquette, right?

But parallel poly covers a lot of ground. Not wanting your relationships to impact each other doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them far apart.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Parallel poly is the default way poly relationships work. Yeah, yeah, there’s no one way to do poly, every poly relationship is different, yadda yadda. Hear me out.

No one has the right to require you to be in a relationship. You do not have the right to require anyone else to be in a relationship. This should be a no-brainer. But apply that idea to polyamory. We’ll look at three people, for simplicity. The same idea applies no matter how many people are in your network.

Angela is dating Raoul and Janna. By default, Raoul and Janna do not have a relationship. By default, Angela’s relationship with Raoul does not give him the right to invite himself over to her home for coffee. By default the two relationships and three lives run in parallel. It is up to them to make the decision to change this. Angela can say “Hey Raoul, you’re welcome anytime. You don’t need to call or schedule, just drop by and hang out.” Janna can say “Hey, Angela, I’d like to get to know Raoul, he’s a bit part of your life and that makes him important to me. Do you think the three of us could hang out sometime?” But if nothing is said, if they don’t invite each other into their lives, the relationships continue to run in parallel.

This is also true with highly entwined relationships. Let’s say Angela and Raoul live together, and Angela is dating Janna. Angel and Raoul’s lives are intertwined and run together. Janna’s life runs separately and in parallel unless she and Angela choose to entwine their lives. And the relationships also run parallel unless Raoul and Janna choose to interact with each other.

parallel polyamory
All of these lines are parallel, but some are closer together than others.

Now, entwinement can make it harder for relationships to run in parallel. The more entwined Angela and Janna’s lives get, the closer Janna and Raoul’s lives move together because they are both entwined with Angela. If they are entwined enough, Angela might want to spend holidays with both of them. Now they will need to decide: do they stop practicing parallel poly, take turns spending holidays with Angela, or otherwise come to an arrangement that works for everyone. If Angela throws big holiday parties every year, Raoul and Janna can both come to the party and keep their distance from each other. Parallel courses maintained. If Angela has intimate holiday get-togethers with a few select friends, some choices need to be made.

Discussing Your Preferences

Don’t assume parallel polyamory. Yes, it’s the default. That doesn’t mean it’s what everyone wants. You and your poly partner(s) need to talk about what you want and how you want your relationships to work.

Angela and Raoul talk. Raoul feels weird about getting to know other people Angela is dating. Angela agrees that it is up to Raoul if he wants to get to know Janna or not. When Angela and Janna talk, Janna says she’s curious about Angela’s other partners, but if Raoul doesn’t want to spend time together, that’s up to him.

How Will Your Parallel Work?

The discussion needs a bit more detail than this because there are lots of ways relationships can be parallel.

So Angela says, “I love having our time together, but I really need to keep our relationship separate from my family and work life. So I’d prefer to stick to just stick to our date nights.”

Janna’s cool with that. When Angela talks with Raoul, he says that he’s not going to push in on her life, but he’d love for Angela to meet his family. How would she feel about being invited to a summer barbeque or holiday dinner?

When Parallel’s Meet

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to keep it parallel, shit happens.

Maybe Angela and Raoul drive their own cars to meet at the restaurant because Angela isn’t comfortable with her poly partners coming to her home. What if one night her car breaks down? Raoul can drive her home, but that’s a space Angela had previously set aside as off-limits.

If Angela asks Raoul to drive her home, the best thing he can do is not push past her boundaries any more than necessary. Stop the car, let Angela get out, say good night. Don’t get out of the car unless she invites him to, don’t ask if he can come in.

What if Raoul pulls up to drop Angela off and Janna comes rushing out of the house to meet her, worried that something is wrong?

Well, Raoul wanted to be more a part of Angela’s life. He might be hurt or upset. Angela let Janna stay at her house when Angela isn’t even there but isn’t comfortable with Raoul coming by to pick her up. Raoul’s feelings are understandable and he and Angela can talk about it. Later.

For now, he waves politely to Janna. Janna doesn’t focus on Raoul or take the chance to try to get to know him. If she comes out to the car to meet Angela, she says hello to Raoul. That’s it. She certainly doesn’t invite him in without Angela’s say-so. Raoul greets her politely. He and Angela say goodbye, and he drives away.

Just two people who happened to bump into each other. Yes, it might be awkward. But you respect the boundaries everyone has laid out. Raoul respects Angela’s not being comfortable with him at her home. Janna respects that Raoul isn’t comfortable getting to know her. Angela doesn’t change the way she treats them because no one has any boundaries about PDAs. They say goodbye, and continue moving in parallel.

Etiquette for parallel polyamory is crazy simple. Respect boundaries, don’t assume you know what your partner(s) want, and if the parallel breaks down briefly, don’t make a big deal of it. Use stated boundaries as guidelines for how to handle the situation and move on.

Discuss problems or discomforts with the specific person or people you are in a relationship with at a later time.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Kitchen Table Polyamory, Parallel Polyamory, and Etiquette

Kitchen Table Polyamory is a new term even in poly circles. It refers to poly relationships where everyone in the polycule is comfortable sitting together at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Folks who prefer kitchen table polyamory want to know their metamours and be friends with them. They may want their kids and their metamours kids to spend time together, or their metamour’s other partners to be comfortable calling them up to plan a surprise party together.

Parallel Polyamory is a companion term to kitchen table polyamory. It refers to poly relationships where the relationships run in parallel and don’t interact. I’m in a relationship with you, and you are in a relationship with your other partner, but the two of us aren’t friends and may never meet. Our two separate relationships progress without connecting to each other.

Of course, there’s an undefined middle. You know a bit about your metamours (and maybe their other partners), might friend them on social media, send them a card on their birthday. But you and they wouldn’t be comfortable hanging out in each other’s kitchens.

Each of these approaches to polyamory raises some interesting etiquette questions. So for the next few weeks we’ll be looking at:

Polyamory Etiquette at the Kitchen Table
The Etiquette of Running in Parallel
When One Person Wants Parallel and One Person Wants Kitchen Table
Establishing a Middle Ground

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

I wasn’t able to finish the Etiquette blog series, but you can learn more about managing kitchen table and parallel polyam in The Polyamorous Home.