One of the things we see newcomers in POSH do the most is operating as a unit, usually a couple but occasionally as a polycule or group relationship. (For the rest of this post I’ll assume it’s a couple, but the same ideas apply.)
We know you love your partner(s)… we love ours too! But when you introduce yourself as or speak as your relationship instead of as an individual, a few things will happen that aren’t ideal. Here are some reasons why people in POSH might advise you to stop doing this.
Reason 1: We want to get to know you as yourself.
When you’re posting your introduction or making that comment, it’s likely that both of you aren’t hitting the keys together, and you might not even be in the same room. We want to get to know the person we’re talking to… and we want to get to know your partner as themselves, too!
This is something that’s true in many, if not most, spaces, but it’s especially important in polyamory. Even if you’re only dating together, you’re each individual unique people, and that’s valuable. Many of us don’t ascribe to the idea that’s prevalent in mono culture of couples being an inseparable social entity, so we’re going to treat you as distinct people and approach you as two unique humans. We’re going to think of you as having separate identities, and we’re usually not going to link your activities in the community together.
We might say “oof, their partner’s a little toxic, I don’t want to double date with them” but we also aren’t going to say “oof, we had to kick one out of the group for bad behavior, let’s kick the other one too.” Just like under the law or in a doctor’s office getting treatment, everyone’s an individual.
Reason 2: Your relationship isn’t polyamorous. YOU are.
This might be a controversial statement, but in healthy relationships it’s generally obvious over time. Your relationship isn’t the main entity that’s polyamorous, because polyamory isn’t practiced by relationships themselves. You may have altered your relationship agreement with a partner to allow you to explore polyamory, and that new agreement may provide for dating together, separately, or both, but the relationship isn’t what’s polyamorous.
Who’s polyamorous? You. And maybe your partner.
Why maybe your partner? Because there are poly/mono relationships all over the place in the polyam community. Someone who is polyamorous is open to multiple invested relationships with multiple partners. Someone monogamous chooses to only have one relationship with a single partner. A polyamorous person, then, can have multiple invested relationships, with one being with a partner who themselves only has one invested relationship.
So, to be perfectly honest, for the purposes of polyamory and community, what matters is whether you, the individual, are polyamorous. Your relationship status is important, but it’s not what we’re often interested in. Your relationship agreements might also allow for putting the toilet paper on the wrong way or might prohibit pineapple on pizza, but that’s not terribly important to your new polyamorous friends in comparison with the fact about you yourself: are you one of those people who likes pineapple on pizza?
Basing identity in the relationship instead of as an individual? That’s kind of a monogamous couples’ privilege thing.
Reason 3: You’re signaling potential toxicity.
Many people who have been actively polyamorous for a long time learn to see “we” and generally operating as a couple as a red flag, and for many it’s enough to not want to date or interact with you, especially among people who date separately. This isn’t us saying you’re automatically a bad person! We just know that it can signal some unhealthy things, so if you want to show us signals of health it’s something to stay away from.
- People who say “we” a lot are often unicorn hunters or practice couples’ privilege.
- People who say “we” a lot often have veto power.
- People who say “we” a lot might have poor meta boundaries.
Again, this isn’t an accusation! It’s just an observation of what’s often the case in people who exhibit the same behavior, and so it’s something you’ll have to work through in order to be seen differently. Someone wearing head-to-toe camo might be going duck hunting or they might not. Even though they might really be perfectly safe, the ducks who see you might not stick around to find out. The best way to fix it? Take the camo off and bring some bread down to the pond.
Reason 4: It’s impractical long-term.
Unless you intend to only date as a couple and only ever practice polyfidelity, using “we” can get pretty confusing. If you have multiple relationships, which “we” do you mean?
Even if you’re practicing hardcore hierarchy, the group might know one of your partners better than others, and it might not be your primary partner. It’s pretty common, especially if you aren’t out, to be more visible with one partner out in mono society but with a different partner in polyamory. For example, you can post pictures with your husband on your main Facebook page but post your pictures with your boyfriend in POSH.
Even if you’re both in every post and at every event together, sitting together and talking to people together, we might have a certain thing in common with just one of you. Eventually someone’s going to need to use the restroom, and who will we be talking to then?
And, even if you practice hardcore hierarchy, it can be hurtful for your partners who aren’t part of that “we.” They may be perfectly fine with hierarchy and with your arrangement, but those little reminders can still leave them feeling left out.
If you want to avoid all of that, the best thing you can do is to work on replacing “we” with language that centers on you as an individual. Don’t be surprised if this takes a while! Culturally, we’re all programmed to speak as a monogamous unit, especially if you’ve been married for a long time. “We” and “our” are second nature. Saying “our house” to people at the grocery store who have never met your spouse or even knew you had one before this one small snippet of conversation. Little things like that.
Once you start really noticing these little things, you’ll be able to start correcting yourself. It takes a while, but that little mental shift toward speaking about yourself as an individual will also help you in your polyamorous journey. Things like advocating for your own needs when talking with your partners, considering your own actions, and eliminating codependency in your relationships all become a little bit easier.
Here are some things to try:
- Instead of “we” say “I”.
- Instead of “our” say “my”.
- Instead of “us” say “me”.
- Instead of listing what you like to do with your nesting partner as hobbies, include some things that you do without them, maybe some that you’d like to have a partner for.
- Instead of leading with a description of your home life, lead with your work, a fun fact about your history, or something else that’s just about you.
Leave off your wedding date, your partner’s name, what you and your partner are wanting in polyamory (just list what YOU want!), and especially any details about your partner like their job, their hobbies, or their personality.
Who would you be if your partner went on vacation for a month and you were left to your own devices? Tell us that story. When we meet just you at a POSH event next month, that’s who we’ll be sitting across from, and that’s who we want to be friends with. (And if your partner’s awesome, we want to meet and get to know them too!)