To those unfamiliar, a bit of clarification: being polyamorous often involves a decision of when, or if, to come out. Like in any other coming-out situation, not everyone who is poly opts to come out, and some choose not to come out to everyone. For the time being, out of deference for my parents and their journey through cognitive dissonance, I'm not out to my extended family. Some people don't come out to coworkers for fear of discrimination. Some people choose to not come out at all.
In my years of coming out as poly, I was surprised to find that making "I am poly and have two partners" come out of my mouth wasn't the hardest part. (In actuality, it is almost exclusively relieving.)
And it's not watching the person's brain explode in reaction to my perceived fairy-floaty woo-woo liberal (in so many ways) relationship status. No, it gets tough when they respond.
Almost invariably, any monogamous person I come out to will spout a variation of, "Oh! I could never do that!"
Clearly this response indicates empathy. As Eddie Izzard put it, my disclosure surged through their brain, which spit out a terse "No information on this." So they went with what they could. I wholly appreciate this response, knowing that those who are actually rude or inconsiderate could say much, much worse.
Still, I was left with the question of how do I respond to such a statement?
A sheepish "Yeah…" didn't feel right — I'm afraid it might sound condescending or wishy-washy. Need something with more conviction. How about an elevator speech about how some consider monogamy a purely social construct? Nope, then I'm no longer relatable, and risk coming off as superior. And with my poor friend in a state of shellshock, the last thing I want to do is challenge them with, "Oh yeah? WHY?"
I knew what I wanted to convey: I wanted to maintain my dignity while putting them at ease. To show them that it's absolutely fine that they feel that way, and I'm fine the way I am too. Out of these desires came my trademark throw-away line, a lightly delivered:
"Oh, don't worry — I'm not asking you to!"
And that handles it for me. They know I'm not hitting on them, or recruiting (as a friend puts it, "poly-nating"). I have provided them a Scott-free exit from the subject if they want it. If that's the case, the look on their face tends to give it away, so I'll tack on "I just wanted to let you know!" and steer the conversation elsewhere. I let them know I'm around if they ever have questions, and that's that.
That response has been sufficient for a good long time. But recently my husband surprised me. In what is relatively against-type for him, he wanted a reply that facilitated a conversation and provoked a bit deeper thought.
He wanted to convey the monogamy-as-a-societal-norm idea in a way that facilitated conversation. Unfortunately this disqualified launching a copy of Sex at Dawn at their faces. So we put our heads together and worked it through.
For a while, everything we developed was too alienating or dangerously close to liberal shaming. (Thanks for that article, Ariel!) Out of frustration, my husband exclaimed, "They haven't even thought about it! I mean, I never liked the idea of sushi, and now I eat it all the time!"
And there it was. It fit perfectly with his general approach — light, humorous, non-threatening.
"Oh, I could never do that!"
"Yeah, I used to feel the same way about eating sushi. But I love it now!"
Comparing polyamory to nigiri — automatically, it's not that big of a deal! Provides a nice lead-in to deeper conversation, if the other person is interested. Either way, he feels good about that reply. We've developed two ways to honor the other person's feelings as well as our own.
We love you, monogamous friends! And don't worry if you couldn't be polyamorous — we're not asking you to.