Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Social Scaffolds

My partner Scott is living with two men who are in a long-term partnership.  In a conversation tonight, he talked about our relationship for the first time.  Scott, in other words, “came out” as open and poly to his gay roommates. 

They were, for the most part, supportive.  When they asked whether or not I was bisexual, Scott said that I don't identify as bisexual, but I am queer and like threesomes with women.  They winked and said, “Every straight boy's dream.”  I would have been more impressed if they said something about a boy-on-boy-on-girl threesome being every straight girl's dream, but hey, for the most part, they were very supportive of our open relationship.

But when the topic turned to being poly, for real…like Scott and I will be open to, not just fucking the hot bi babe, but also being emotionally intimate with others of all genders, they said something like…and I’m paraphrasing here…Oh.  Polyamory.  We’ve known people who have tried to do polyamory, and it never ends well.


It’s hard for me to keep my chin up about the prospects for the future.  Not because I believe that polyamory isn’t possible.  I know that it is.  I know people who have more than one partner and are blissfully happy.

It’s hard because I’m a sociologist, and I know that social scaffolding…social support is the key to relationship success.  People need to have others look at their household or relationships and say, “Good for you.  We want you to succeed.  We honor your commitment to each other, and we will support you in good times and in bad.”

Scott is just now coming out as poly, and I have to say that, to hear that some of the first people he talked to warned him and said they’re worried about his well-being…well, it’s not exactly Private Jr. coming home from the war or college and saying to his parents, “I found the girl of my dreams and we’re going to settle down and make babies.”  

Hugs, tears of happiness, wedding showers, weddings, mothers-in-law on the other end of the line saying, “You can make this work.  Trust me.  It takes compromise and negotiation, but this is what will make you happy.”

Monogamous couples ride that social scaffolding, taking in the glory and gifts.  Have a baby?  The world is your socially supportive oyster.  They know that, despite the loneliness, squelched desire, and unrelenting toil of a traditional household, the whole world has their back as they endeavor to make a life together.

The irony is that most of the research shows that the life celebrated with hugs and gifts doesn’t make people, especially women, happy in the long run. 

Fifty years ago, Betty Friedan talked about the feminine mystique.  A mirage of happiness held up on white, middle class women’s horizon to get them to trundle forward toward marriage and childrearing only for the dream to dissipate into a dry desert of self-effacing servitude to others. 

As I make my way in the world as poly, I witness a chorus around me…a mirage…saying to my partners and me, “It doesn’t work.  Traditional marriage is the only way to go-whether you’re gay or straight.” 

Scott, excited for our future, hears from his roommates, “I’ve heard about polyamory.  It never ends well.”

I want to say to those very supportive gay men…

First, how many relationships, monogamous or otherwise, have you witnessed that end, end well?  Seriously. 

Second, it wasn’t very long ago that people thought same-gender partnerships couldn’t work.  “You need a wife or husband,” roommates and parents said.  “You need to fit in.  There is no place in this world for you to form a household with someone of the same gender.  I fear for you.  I’ve seen gay relationships, and they never end well.”

Might it be that Scott’s roommates’ success in building a household with supportive neighbors and family is inextricable from the LGBT social movements that made those relationships legitimate?  Are Scott’s roommates at all aware that they’re throwing our relationship under the bus to hold up monogamy…the relationship form that gives them showers and gifts and leaves us out in the cold?

It saddens, but doesn’t surprise me that two middle class, white gay men say to Scott that they fear for his well being because he’s doing relationships differently from the norm.  They’re cozy at the hearth of “normal” and closing the shutters on those of us still out in the cold. 

I can rationalize, form a rebuttal--like I am here--but when it comes right down to it, I’m feeling defeated by the social pressure to just take the easy, “normal”, monogamous route.  I’m not wavering in my own convictions, but I worry about Scott or any newbie to polyamory because they don’t get the social support Private Jr would get for settling down with his wife or husband.

Marc was told that polyamory doesn’t work.  Scott is now being told that polyamory doesn’t work. 

Perhaps those saying this are right.  It doesn’t work.  Not because it isn’t a wonderful, healthy, fulfilling way to do family and relationships in this world of longevity, gender equality, and Anthony Giddens’ pure relationships.  No.  Polyamory doesn’t work because the whole fucking world is telling us it’s impossible. 


  1. Um...Do you really think Marc is gone because he was told polyamory doesn't work? Is it so hard for you to believe it just doesn't work for him? That no matter how much you wanted it to, he was really just doing it because it was what you wanted?

  2. Mimi, you need to post again. An update is needed. What makes you happy is important. It may not have made Marc happy, but I think Marc will always love you (and you him) and he is happy because you are happy.