How creepy is polyamory?
December 9, 2005 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Non-swingers and non-polyamorous people: Do swingers and polyamorous people creep you out?

Yes, this question is directed at people who don't have experience with polyamory or swinging. Thanks.

Let's imagine you have a coworker, and it comes up in a conversation that he or she is polyamorous. How weirded out would you be? For example:
You: Hey, why didn't your husband come to the party last week?
Coworker: Oh, he was out with his girlfriend.

Or maybe..

You: Who's that guy your wife was flirting with at the BBQ?
Coworker: Oh, that's Jeff, just a guy she's having a fling with. I'm dating his wife.

I can imagine that this information could be presented in a very creepy manner, leering and winking and snickering, and so on, but let's just imagine that there's nothing creepy about the person or the presentation... we're just judging the creepiness of the fact that this person is polyamorous, and you know them/work with them.

posted by pornucopia to Human Relations (119 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

I wouldn't do more than raise my eyebrows. But they would be up there pretty high.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:44 AM on December 9, 2005

I have known a few such people. No, it doesn't really creep me out. Very few things sexual creep me out anymore. After all, I have the Internet -- I've already heard about, or seen, pretty much everything having to do with sex. After you've seen goatse or tubgirl, nothing's shocking.
posted by kindall at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2005

The concept as a whole does not creep me out. I have met swingers that did not creep me out, but then again I have met plenty that have been some sleazy sleaze bags!

So anyway, to sum up, I think its an individual creepiness not a general feeling.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2005

I'd be exceedingly curious, and probably try and flirt more just because the polyamorousness would indicate that said person is at least open to flirting, and flirting back in a mild manner. Which you can't do with people who are normally married.

Then again, I'm weird. I even tried dating a poly person for a while.

Would I find it creepy? No. My non-online mainstream friends definitely would find it "interesting", and it might make for a bit of juicy pub gossip, but they wouldn't find it creepy unless:
a. said person tried flirting with them
b. they had particularly strict definitions about adultery, as most offline people tend to do.
posted by badlydubbedboy at 8:48 AM on December 9, 2005

I'd probably say something like thats very progressive of you. Then I would go home and tell my friends the story.
posted by ackeber at 8:48 AM on December 9, 2005

I've got a friend like that (we're talking marriage and swingers clubs.) Doesn't bother me, as long as I can keep those pictures out of my head.

Most people who know him, but don't know this about him, would probably be no more, or less, creeped out by him if they did.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:48 AM on December 9, 2005

*would almost cough coffee out nose, then say "oh... k..." and endure moments of awkward silence
posted by lpctstr; at 8:49 AM on December 9, 2005

Do swingers and polyamorous people creep you out?


I try to fake acceptance, but I feel a twinge whenever I hear about a poly relationship.

I sincerely hope it makes them happy, but the concepts are so alien to me that I just can't fathom it.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:51 AM on December 9, 2005 [7 favorites]

I really dont want to hear anything about my coworkers sex matter who they are sleeping with.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 8:51 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

posted by cribcage at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2005

oh it's totally creepy, if only due to the mental association with bikers and department of transportation employees.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2005

I'm pretty open minded but I think I've picked up some cues in my upbringing that make me think of it as slightly creepy, even though I know it's not. It's probably from the stigma of it being such a fringe activity: I never hear of anyone doing it, except for the covert ads parked in the back of porn newsmagazines, etc. My mind seems to chalk it up as something couples do to solve serious marital problems rather than just have fun, even though I know that's not altogether correct or rational.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: I really dont want to hear anything about my coworkers sex matter who they are sleeping with.
posted by stupidcomputernickname

I assume that you would not even think twice if a single girl said "I was out with my boyfriend", right? But you would if a married woman said that?
posted by pornucopia at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2005

At some point people are going to get into a big pileon ("why are you all haters??!") so I'm probably going to regret this, but yeah, I would be skeeved out.

I think partly it's TMI for me -- I really don't want to know that much about any of my coworkers' sex lives -- but I am also not a big fan of polyamory. Some of my friends are, but we don't discuss it, and that's fine with me.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:55 AM on December 9, 2005

badlydubbedboy: no way! flirting with people who are involved in relationships is about a thousand times better than real single human beings, because you don't have to worry about anything. it's just being friendly and fun and everyone knows you aren't trying to get your sex on, so no pressure!
posted by soma lkzx at 8:56 AM on December 9, 2005

I assume that you would not even think twice if a single girl said "I was out with my boyfriend", right? But you would if a married woman said that?

Yeah, I guess I understand what you are saying.

I dont think that it would really bother would probably make me raise my eyebrows, but sex is like politics and religion; it's not something that I willingly talk about at work.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 8:58 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm with Pollomacho--it's not the poly, it's the person.

If you live in Portland (Oregon), you probably have poly friends even if you don't realize it. I have a few, and I find it's the difference between poly being a part of their life and poly being everything. The latter are creepy, annoying, and extremely boring.
posted by frykitty at 9:01 AM on December 9, 2005

I'd probably fall back on the good old heterosexual monogamous male double-standard: If a guy told me he was a swinger, I'd feel creeped out. If it was a girl, and she was hawt I'd immediately try and get some, you know, anecdotes out of her.

But, I'm a cad, so YMMV.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:02 AM on December 9, 2005

I have no problem with the idea of swinging'. however those two bits of dialog would definitely weird me out a bit. It wouldn't put me off of a person but I would definitely think something was 'off' with them, not because of what they do, but because of the way they present it. Maybe if they just said "we have an open relationship" it wouldn’t be to bad.

Let's look more specifically at the second example:

Coworker: Oh, that's Jeff, just a guy she's having a fling with. I'm dating his wife.

I mean, that is a really weird situation. Part of what makes it weird is the romantic connotations, rather then the sexual stuff. Its one thing to be 'friends with benefits' but being in one big somewhat incestuous pile just seems really weird.

And yeah, way TMI.
posted by delmoi at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Poly people don't bug me in the least. A lot of my friends identify as poly.
However, every time I've met someone who calls themselves a "swinger" it has been in the context of them trying to pick me up, so I am not as keen on that.
It is more because of my own experiences than the behavior itself, I suspect. I know plenty of nice, normal people who just happen to be poly. I've never met a nice, normal person who happens to be a swinger. If I did I would reevaluate my opinion.
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2005

I'm probably a jerk, but it depends on how much I like and respect the coworker. If I disliked him/her, then I would probably be annoyed at and creeped out by any little thing, but otherwise, I would think it was interesting and probably read up on it or ask them about it.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:06 AM on December 9, 2005

I know way weirder things about my coworkers' personal lives than that.

I don't find it creepy. Just impractical.
posted by lampoil at 9:07 AM on December 9, 2005

posted by Nelson at 9:07 AM on December 9, 2005

Are they hot? I dunno. Depends on the person. There have been times when I've been told by someone about their polyamory and found them to just be boring and, I dunno, attention-seeking about the whole thing. Like "Look at me, I have an alternative lifestyle!" Kinda like people who make a big show about being vegetarian, y'know?
posted by klangklangston at 9:08 AM on December 9, 2005 [4 favorites]

Yeah, and plus, what if they are not at all good looking? Having them tell me they're poly would put the image of them bumping uglies right in my head, and that's not somewhere I'd want it to be.

Seems like there's kind of a double standard between gay couples and poly people, but there you go. If you wage a 20 year public relations campaign to make it socially unacceptable to be skeeved out by poly people, it will probably help a lot.
posted by delmoi at 9:09 AM on December 9, 2005

polyamory is cooler than most people.
posted by 31d1 at 9:10 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

And just to clarify, It wouldn't bother me if they told me in an appropriate way, but just dropping it into conversation apropos of nothing is not appropriate.
posted by delmoi at 9:11 AM on December 9, 2005

Swingers and poly people themselves don't creep me out, nor does the idea of it really bother me, but the idea of doing it myself does creep me out, if that makes sense. I don't care what other people do, but it's something that doesn't compute very well in my brain for my own life.

That said, the idea of hearing anything at all about any co-workers' sex lives is horrifying. TMI!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:11 AM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: What's an appropriate way? Sitting you down and saying "delmoi, we've worked together for two years now, and I think you should know... I'm polyamorous"?
posted by pornucopia at 9:12 AM on December 9, 2005

Polyamory (the kind with the high correlation to being a fat furry, more than 2 people living together in a relationship, etc) is really the only kind of sexual leaning that I have a serious distaste for. I've never been able to relate to someone in that kind of situation, and I usually attribute it to their poor sense of self-worth or minor autism or something like that... like, they don't really understand human relationships, so they have this screwy version of it.

Swingers (as in, committed couples who have sex with additional people) strike me as people who just have a really different definition of "monogamy" than I do. I don't understand how they can do it, but I don't have a feeling that it's all that creepy.
posted by rxrfrx at 9:14 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Creepy? No. Not normally talked about or accepted by society? Sure.

Well, let me qualify that: Probably not creepy. In and of itself, the concept of polyamory isn't creepy... that doesn't mean an individual who practices it isn't, though.

I don't think humans are really genetically "supposed" to be monogamous - but I've been brought up to act that way and feel shamefully guilty for so much as looking at another woman... and I've also been brought up in such a way that I would be absolutely devastated if I'm cheated on (which has happened, and I was...)

Despite the fact that I will probably always be a monogamous guy, and despite the fact that I will probably never get over the ability to feel a twinge of jealousy if a girl I'm dating so much as hugs another guy -- I don't think people in open relationships are "creepy".

In fact, I'm jealous that they can let their guard down and get over this social construct we've created that does little more than cause people emotional harm. Inevitably, everyone either cheats or gets cheated on.. at least one of the two. Many will never find out about it, but lots will.

Mammals have strong innate procreation instincts and strong territoriality instincts... we probably created monogamy for the purpose of the latter, but that conflicts really strongly with the former.

So um.. basically... yea.. Not creepy. Not something I could ever handle doing myself emotionally, but not creepy.
posted by twiggy at 9:15 AM on December 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

Yes and no, mostly depending on context, I am willing to understand that some people might like that, but I can't understand how it would be a good idea. The kind of person that would need to tell me about what they do sexually is probably the kind of person who I would find briefly amusing and then very annoying. Some times I like to be creeped out though, so I might allow myself to become so, rather than just not care too much, you know, for fun.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:17 AM on December 9, 2005

posted by mumeishi at 9:18 AM on December 9, 2005

I don't find it creepy at all. Why do we have to project monogamy, if that's what we choose to practice, on to other people? If no one is being coerced, and no one is being deceived (e.g., an unknowing spouse or partner) than what's the rub?

I don't think I'd have the mental energy to truly have deep intimate relationships with multiple partners at the same time. If you can do it though, more power to you.

That said, I really am not interested in the sex life, any style, of my co-workers. Eww.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:20 AM on December 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

What's an appropriate way? Sitting you down and saying "delmoi, we've worked together for two years now, and I think you should know... I'm polyamorous"?

If they were a hot chick, maybe : P

But seriously, that would be better then just dropping it into conversation, yes. If I was becoming good friends with someone, it would be OK if they told me like that. Or if they just said something like "Oh, well we have an open relationship" if I asked about something or other that necessitated them telling me. Anyway, I'm just trying to answer your question honestly.
posted by delmoi at 9:21 AM on December 9, 2005

I wouldn't even begin to give a crap.

But I've been in non-monogamous relationships before.
posted by cmonkey at 9:22 AM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: twiggy: I'd like to clarify that polyamory has nothing to do with cheating. Deceiving your partner is never acceptable, imo, and most polyamorous people agree. (See question 3)
posted by pornucopia at 9:23 AM on December 9, 2005

In both of your examples the information is not neccessary, which i think is what makes it creepy. "Where was your husband last weekend?" "Oh, he had other plans." Or "Who's that guy?" "That's our friend Jeff."

if the person really wants to know, as in "Why was your wife all over that guy at the party last week?" Then, sure, say that you're poly or whatever. But otherwise it just comes off as creepy and an attempt to 'freak out the straights.' Which may be appropriate in some situations with friends, but never is in a work situation, IMHO.

(For the record I have a friend from high school whose marriage is open. Generally I don't find it creepy, just annoying as he's ALWAYS on the make for a new fling.)
posted by miss tea at 9:27 AM on December 9, 2005

Since I'm in the midst of writing two novels with a poly main character, no, not at all. I'm very monogamous, but I see nothing wrong with not being monogamous. One just needs to be ethical about it...full disclosure, no cheating. I don't know any poly people (at least not that I know of), unfortunately.
posted by lhauser at 9:28 AM on December 9, 2005

If you want my honest reaction:

I don't think I would be that creeped out. However, I think I would start to look down on that person to a small degree. My opinion of him or her would be tainted slightly by my own "voice in the back of the head" kind of suggestion that he or she does not know how to maintain a stable relationship, or has commitment issues, or is just otherwise acting out on feelings that will eventually lead to destruction of the relationship. It's the same general emotion that I would have if someone told me that he perpetually dated partners that he knew were bad for him, or consistently did things to sabotage his relationships (like habitual cheating), or had a long string of ex's that abused her.

Another way of stating this is that I just see these kinds of multiple-partner arrangements as being inherently unstable and emotionally destructive to all involved in the long run without exception, and anyone that would try to perpetuate them as lifestyle choice as being someone who is deluding themselves into thinking that it can be workable.

For this stance I have to admit that I completely blame Loveline and Dr. Drew. It's just that after having heard countless callers on the show that ask a question along the lines of "we decided to try a threesome" or "my wife and I decided to let each other fool around with other partners" get systematically analyzed by Dr. Drew and found to be doing things destructive to their emotional health, that I have come to form this opinion that "it can never work and anyone that thinks it can is only fooling themselves." I know that I have a problem with selective sampling here in that of course all the callers to Loveline are going to be having serious relationship problems. But that I counter with the fact that Dr. Drew is a trained physician that has dealt with many people, and he seems to be steadfast in his assessment that these kind of things in fact always end in pain, disappointment, and so on. So for better or worse his unwavering assessment of this behavior as across-the-board destructive has worn off on me.

I'm sorry if that sounds a bit condescending or judgmental, but I think you were looking for honest reactions.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:29 AM on December 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

Wouldn't creep me out at all. The way I look at it, you are what you are, and if you have the capacity to like more than one person at a time, all the power to you in finding a partner who will support said endeavor.

Given the right opportunity, I wouldn't be opposed to trying it out for myself, but it's definitely not something I would conciously seek out. For a brief period of time, I dated two women at the same time (without them knowing about each other), and the internal pressure to make a choice was highly intense.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 9:30 AM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: That's an excellent point, miss tea, and I pretty much agree with you. I was trying to portray someone who is 100% nonchalant about polyamory. After all, if your friend is dating your other friend, you'd not hesitate to mention they were dating, right? Even if it's not necessary.

Perhaps I should have posed a second type of situation where the information isn't volunteered but isn't concealed either, which would probably be a more realistic scenario.
posted by pornucopia at 9:31 AM on December 9, 2005

People who define themselves as swingers are, almost 100%, creepy. It's not the act of non-monogamy that's creepy, just that the people who seem to use that term for it that are. The conversations described above wouldn't strike me as creepy.

I'd wonder, perhaps, about the second one. Because two couples cross-dating that way without the sense that the group of four is in a relationship strikes me as a bit off-key, but not in a creepy way, just in a 'huh, it seems odd that they'd both choose members of the same couple as their other' way.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:32 AM on December 9, 2005

Sexuality is something that should be kept private. Unless you are a supermodel I really don't want to hear about your sexual exploits or picture you doing anything sexual. If what gets you off is dressing like Little Bo Peep and getting spanked by someone in a Richard Nixon mask more power to you but I really don't need to know about it.
posted by any major dude at 9:36 AM on December 9, 2005

Are you trying to determine whether you should be free with this information at company parties and so forth? Because then of course it would depend on your corporate and surrounding culture. Probably OK in, say, Portland; probably not OK in Wichita Falls, TX. Probably OK at a liberal university; probably not OK if you're in accounting, etc.

Remeber that the majority of America has a very rigid definition of marriage and commitment (rigid enough it's been legally defined in a number of places to exclude monogamous couples of the same sex).

Personally, I've known a few polyamorous folk. Some were creepy, some weren't (with probably a higher creepy percentage than in the general population). The only real trend (of course not universal; merely a trend) I noticed with them was a greater love of romantic drama, which is boring when you're just hearing about two people, and gets exponentially more boring the more people are involved.

A lot of the creepy factor will depend on delivery: is this just a stated fact, or is it more information than called for--are you trying to shove your lifestyle in peoples' faces? Because, then, well, you're creepy or boring, depending on who you're talking to.
posted by fidelity at 9:43 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've got friends who identify themselves as polys (pollies?), and they don't creep me out; for the most part, I found out they were polys after I knew them pretty well, and it didn't really change my attitude towards them. It's not like they became different people after I learned this new bit of information.

That said, there's something about the practice of polyamory that does skeeve me out. I wouldn't want to do it, and don't dwell on that aspect of my friends' personalities (since none of them are militantly polyamorous, it's easy enough). It's much the same with my gay friends (though with them, I usually know that they're gay up-front).
posted by adamrice at 9:44 AM on December 9, 2005

oh it's totally creepy, if only due to the mental association with bikers and department of transportation employees. I find this incredibly amusing, because I am a dept. of transportation employee.

Anyway, if the situation were like you described, I wouldn't be creeped out if a coworker mentioned it in response to my question because the answer is matter of fact. It's just small talk. I wouldn't wouldn't pursue the topic any further, though.

I'm not skeeved out by knowing that other people have different sexual orientations than mine. I would be uncomfortable if they went into detail, though. But I feel uncomfortable when coworkers casually discuss their health issues, too. I don't really want to hear about their spleenectomy or heart murmur, you know?
posted by luneray at 9:46 AM on December 9, 2005

I've never run across such a person. I imagine I would react similarly to the first time a friend came out to me and told me he was gay..... utter shock, followed by.... meh. And back to the way it always was.
posted by Doohickie at 9:47 AM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: fidelity: I would never personally bandy such information about at a company party. I was curious about what peoples' reactions would be if someone DID decide to bandy that information about, or just treat it nonchalantly, much as you would treat the information that a woman friend is dating a man friend. (ie, no one bats an eye)

I was also, and still am, curious about peoples' reactions to finding out such information after getting to know someone better, in non-work situations. I think enough people answered thoroughly to give a good idea of their views and reactions.
posted by pornucopia at 9:50 AM on December 9, 2005

Would I find it creepy? No. But I would lose some respect for them, in the back of my head.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:52 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I've been in more than one poly relationship in the past, but I am now monogamous and much happier in this arrangement.

I wouldn't have a problem with it. However, what I *would* have a problem with is the kind of people who get all "TMI, TMI!" about it. Seriously people, we aren't (or most of us aren't) in high school, and we should all realize by now that people have lives outside of work. Lives which hopefully include a satisfying and healthy sexual relationship. I personally find the "TMI reaction" juvenile, repressive, prudish and distasteful.
posted by Invoke at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

"The only real trend (of course not universal; merely a trend) I noticed with them was a greater love of romantic drama, which is boring when you're just hearing about two people, and gets exponentially more boring the more people are involved."
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 AM on December 9, 2005

I would probably say something like "reeeeallly" and ask a bunch of obnoxious questions. It's not really something that would work for me, but I'm curious about it because it's alien to me.
posted by speicus at 10:02 AM on December 9, 2005

I wouldn't care at all. I know a fair number of people who are in or have been in polyamorous relationships. Most of them haven't been creepy at all. Some have been really high drama, some not. It's not the kind of relationship I could possibly imagine working for myself, but I have absolutely no problem with people who decide to get into those sorts of relationships. [Unless, as someone upthread said, that's all they ever talk about. But I'd get sick of anyone like that, poly or not.]
posted by ubersturm at 10:03 AM on December 9, 2005

Wouldn't care in the slightest. Or rather, I would care, but it honestly wouldn't affect my impression of that person positively or negatively. It'd just be another thing I knew about them.
posted by terpsichoria at 10:20 AM on December 9, 2005

pornucopia writes "I assume that you would not even think twice if a single girl said 'I was out with my boyfriend', right? But you would if a married woman said that?"

I don't think that analogy holds. In the case of a single person talking about their SO, sex may or may not be part of it, but what they're talking about (at least the polite veneer on what they're talking about) is a full, you know, relationship. In the two examples offered, what's being discussed is an explicitly sexual relationship, otherwise, why label it in the way it's labeled. I'm not creeped out by polyamory or swinging, but I don't want the kind of explicitly sexual information about a coworker that's being offered here. Casual about being polyamorous should not mean eager to divulge TMI.
posted by OmieWise at 10:22 AM on December 9, 2005

It would skeeve me out a bit. But that's because my only real exposure to the lifestyle has been episodes of HBO's Real Sex and the swingers depicted tend to be insanely unattractive old hippies. **shudders**
posted by jrossi4r at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2005

Oh yeah. No rational reason, but yeah.
posted by LarryC at 10:34 AM on December 9, 2005

I've found that being around a lot of poly people does creep me out because quite often they come across to me as "Since you're not poly, you're an outsider to us." As a result, I've been made to feel very uncomfortable around groups of poly folks. No, I'm not a lecherous pig. No, I'm not creepy. I'm just... not poly. My experiences in it (years ago) turned out to be an absolute disaster anyway. *shrug*

As for their actions, no, I don't find it creepy at all.
posted by drstein at 10:42 AM on December 9, 2005

I'd be intrigued and very open about my surprise - like I wouldn't try to pretend it was all cool and everything. I'd say, "Really? Wow! How's that work? How'd you guys get into that? But then again, I'm a therapist, so I've been socialized to ask all kinds of inappropriate follow-up questions when people volunteer something out of the ordinary about themselves.
posted by jasper411 at 10:44 AM on December 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

I don't care if you're polyamorous if you don't care that I'm non-poly. I have poly friends and non-poly friends and the only poly people I don't like are the ones who are constantly trying to sell polyamory to me as some sort of marked improvement on the lifestyle I have now. I know more than a few people who fit this bill, though most of my poly friends are not like this. I imagine that this is true on both sides of the gay/straight divide as well, no one likes being told that their sexual choices and preferences are wrong, sinful, appalling, or skeevy.

I think generally people's preferences should be respected and if you're close to someone you might feel more comfortable opening up and saying "Tell me why you made life choice XYZ because it's totally different than what I have chosen...." but anyone who is too much of a salesman for their own brand of reality gets on my nerves. I also think telling people something that you know to be outside of the sort of normal behavior range for whatever group you're in might be interpreted as something being told for shock value only and reacted to accordingly. So, people assume that married people do not also date, for example. You know that people assume that. If you have a relationship where that sort of thing happens, casually dropping information about your extramarital date into a conversation is guaranteed to raise some eyebrows because people will clearly have some moment of cognitive dissonance, possibly be confused or assume there is more to the story. I think it's a little disingenuous in this instance to think that them being confused by your story has anything really to do with polyamory, it seems that it would have much more to do with cultural norms generally which polyamorous relationships tend to fall outside of.

So, it's two questions "Do people care that their co-worker is polyamorous?" and "Do people care that their coworker is talking a lot about their sexual relationships" I don't totally agree with OmieWise, I don't think of poly relationships as purely sex arrangements, but because there are many ways to be poly, it's hard to say WHAT they are, and often more explanation into specific situations and arrangements is necessary. When I was a kid, I had this problem explaning to kids in my small town why the Mom of my cousin wasn't my uncle's wife.
posted by jessamyn at 10:46 AM on December 9, 2005 [4 favorites]

No, I had a huge, monogamous crush on one.
posted by johngoren at 10:46 AM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: How do you react when someone on MeFi makes a comment that indicates they're polyamorous (or some other unusual leaning)? Let's assume that it's someone you've paid attention to in the past, since some random unknown person being polyamorous isn't that interesting.
posted by pornucopia at 10:51 AM on December 9, 2005


Live & Let Live :)
posted by DrtyBlvd at 10:59 AM on December 9, 2005

A friend of mine recently told me him and his wife have an "open" relationship.

I was mildly incredulous, then thought it was a little cool, but honestly, mostly, my reaction is that him and his wife are playing with fire. I wonder how long him and his wife will be together. Personally I would want to stay out of situations like that if I were married and especially if I had kids.

If you can do it, and it works for you, more power to you, but yes I find it a bit creepy and dangerous. On the other hand, when I told my friend my reaction he called me a prude. I try not to talk to him about it anymore.
posted by xammerboy at 11:03 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I actually met a guy a few weeks ago who introduced me to the people with him in this manner: "This is my boyfriend Matt, and this is my other boyfriend Dan." He was totally nonchalant about it, and so I nonchalantly asked him about it.
Turns out all three of them live together, share a bed, and are in love. Supposedly. I have a hard time buying it, especially because one of the guys was significantly less attractive than the other two.
It doesn't creep me out, though I couldn't possibly imagine myself in a similar situation. If I'm casually dating more than one person at a time I feel extremely overtaxed, let alone being in a SERIOUS relationship with two people.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:04 AM on December 9, 2005

I really have no problem with it, other than I think it can easily lead to situations you'd rather not be in.
posted by xammerboy at 11:04 AM on December 9, 2005

The terms themselves are full of connotations: swingers make me think of divorced truckers with leopard print bedsheets in the backs of their trucks who go to swingers clubs. Polyamory makes me think of people who are married & have kids yet somehow have the time to pursue secondary relationships & then make 1997-style webpages about them.

I'm definitely okay with open relationships in theory. In practice, the impetus behind them is often a dissatisfaction with one's primary partner, or with oneself, and both those situations usually lead to trust breakdowns that cause the primary relationship to fail when the stress of multiple partners is added (if not sooner).

On the other hand, it bothers me that unless people assert themselves as non-heterosexual, non-monogamous, non-middle-class, non-two-party-system, etc, they're assumed to be so (unless they convey their politics/etc in some other way dress is the first that comes to mind). So just as I'd expect someone who brought their same-sex partner to a company partner to introduce them as "my partner/bf/gf" rather than "my friend," I'd hope poly couples would do the same. Obviously there are more & less tactful ways for anyone to do this, but it all boils down to figuring out how to assert differences without feeling the need to push/educate people.
posted by soviet sleepover at 11:07 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Weirded out, sure: I'm not entirely used to people outing their sexual habits to me. TMI.

What was really weird, though, was the time my wife and I were being recruited for a big ol' sex party. We were pretty damned amused by it all. Nothing explicit was said, but there was a whole lot of flirting going on on the part of the swingers.

Fortunately, it was all very respectful, and they all took the hint quite nicely.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:08 AM on December 9, 2005

I don't really think about the sex side of it. I've met a few people who identify as swingers or polyamorous. And when they mention their exploits, it's not terrifically shocking.

What's really memorable is the fact that none of these people appeared to be in truly healthy relationships. There always seemed to be some wreckage of former friends or love interests (whatever you want to call it) that followed them around. And maybe, just maybe, a narcissistic need for attention.

Am I overgeneralizing? Or expressing prejudice? Perhaps. But that's what comes to mind.
posted by Scooter at 11:09 AM on December 9, 2005

It depends on what you refer to by "polyamory." It doesn't seem all that odd or uncommon for somebody to be dating more than one person. However, when you bring marriage into the picture, it becomes a bit of a different story.

As far as the situations you suggested -

Would I be creeped out? No.

Would I feel a bit awkward? Yes.

I'm a naturally curious person, and I would probably want to ask them a bunch of questions about their polyamorous lifestyle. However, I would be afraid that doing so would make me appear "nosy." Since I would be unsure of how much they wanted to address the subject, I would probably give some kind of acknowledgement like, "Oh. That's cool." and then move on and try to change the subject.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:09 AM on December 9, 2005

How do you react when someone on MeFi makes a comment that indicates they're polyamorous (or some other unusual leaning)? Let's assume that it's someone you've paid attention to in the past, since some random unknown person being polyamorous isn't that interesting.

No, that wouldn't bother me because this is an 'appropriate' venue. People talk about very personal things on here all the time, so it wouldn't be out of the ordinary.

I actually met a guy a few weeks ago who introduced me to the people with him in this manner: "This is my boyfriend Matt, and this is my other boyfriend Dan." He was totally nonchalant about it, and so I nonchalantly asked him about it.

Oddly, I wouldn’t see anything strange in that scenario.
posted by delmoi at 11:16 AM on December 9, 2005

Two different spousal murders here in Fayettenam were by people who were in that lifestyle. (In one case the polyamorous wife shot her husband, in the other the polyandrous wife had her daughter shoot her (also polyamorous) spouse.

Yes, it creeps me out. And judging from the info that came out after these murders there is a considerable amount of it that goes on around here. Yuck.
posted by konolia at 11:18 AM on December 9, 2005

it's not something i'd do but it's not creepy as long as they're not selling me anything. Just don't try and tell me that my view on monogamy and what I prefer is wrong. That I have a problem with.
posted by Stynxno at 11:20 AM on December 9, 2005

I've only known a couple of people who identified themselves as such. I came away with the impression that it was always the guy's idea, at least at first. I'm sure that's not universal, of course. That part creeps me out, not the lifestyle itself.

Most people who have a "lifestyle", be it swinging or Harleys or what have you, tend to become obsessed with it. It becomes necessary for them to mention it in every conversation. They also lose the ability to sense how boring they are.
posted by tommasz at 11:26 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

dressing like Little Bo Peep and getting spanked by someone in a Richard Nixon mask

Ooh, gotta try that sometime.

Anyway, not creepy as long as it's framed in a "dating" or "romantic", not sexual sense. What are poly people supposed to do if they have two girlfriends? Everyone else can talk about their girlfriend or husband or whatever, but not you? It doesn't seem fair.

On the other hand, I don't care who you boned last night, regardless of their relationship to you. That's TMI. And maybe even borderline sexual harrassment in the workplace.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:26 AM on December 9, 2005

Not only would that conversation creep me out, it would annoy me, too. My first instinct would be that the person was just talking about thier lifestyle for shock value because there is no reason to go into that much detail for any other reason than attention.

I don't think everyone should have a full disclosure policy about every detail in their lives. If someone asked about the red rash on my knees, I wouldn't say "Oh, that! That's just a nasty rug burn I got during hot sex with the repair man. Boy they should change these carpets!"

All in all, poly/swingers = not creepy, poly/swingers who need to wear their lifestyle on their sleeves = creepy.
posted by necessitas at 11:51 AM on December 9, 2005

As someone who is totally cool with poly _I_ would be somewhat skeeved by the exchanges you describe from a cow orker who I was not very close to. Which I think is fine since anyone sharing that kind of information with you like that is looking for a reaction.

Poly people are perfectly aware of how the world perceives them and 99 out of 100 would never drop that kind of bomb on a casual aquaintance. It's the 1% looking to put it in your face who would behave as you describe and want to use it as either a litmus test of your Coolness or to start an argument.
posted by phearlez at 11:52 AM on December 9, 2005

If I already knew the person, and was not already creeped out, as in the original example, I wouldn't be creeped out.

However, if you just asked "Are polyamorous people creepy?" I would interpret that as "Are polyamorous people much more likely than monogamous people to be creepy?" and say "Hell yes"

But that's mostly just me. I might get less creeped-out as I get older, because I have this image of swingers as these washed-up creepy old hippy guys, and old-people-sex is just not something I want to think about.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:54 AM on December 9, 2005

Not creepy; however, very few of my poly friends actually seem happy with their poly lifestyles. The only ones who are happy are a married gay (male) couple that I know. They've been together for 25 years, but have an "open" relationship. I don't know that a hetero or a lesbian couple would be able to do the same.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:56 AM on December 9, 2005

It would be exactly as creepy (and the same kind of creepy) as a random male coworker talking about some strip club he frequents, or a married couple telling me about their sex toy collection.

I just don't wanna know. In a random work conversation these are not topics I expect to deal with, and I have trouble wrapping my brain around them ("why did he just tell me that?"). I automatically attribute ulterior motives to them, and it weirds me out that I can't instantly figure out what those ulterior motives are.

...and I'm not saying there are ulterior motives. Some part of my brain, however, immediately leaps to that conclusion.
posted by aramaic at 11:57 AM on December 9, 2005

Amway creeps me out more. An ex-girlfriend of mine went through a dodgy period: repeatedly attempted to drug my fiancée to shag her, finagled her drunken younger sister into a threesome with her own fiancé, developed a prediliction for shagging underage kids at raves. Und so weiter. But it wasn't until she got seriously into MLM and started hassling people into buying crap from her that most people concluded she had gone totally out to lunch.

This is my boyfriend Matt, and this is my other boyfriend Dan.

I'd want more details, like, do Matt and Dan get it on together? If so, does she ever feel excluded? Within the relationship, is there a tendency for a consistent top, or a binary flip, or a switch rotation? What's the power dynamic?
posted by meehawl at 12:02 PM on December 9, 2005

I think once someone admits to something that is considered "abnormal" one would begin to question how far that extends into other parts of their lives. "Bob has two wives, what else does Bob do that isn't normal?" I mean if they do one thing that's weird, why not something else weird? "Yes, I enjoy strangling kittens, and cross-stitch. Don't you?"

My personal response would be something along the lines of saying.. "Okaaaaaaaay...." and then back away slowly without making eye contact. And then I would start running.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:30 PM on December 9, 2005

I vote for creepy. Not because the situation is inherently creepy but because every person I've encountered who self identified as a swinger or poly was creepy and so the association has stuck.
posted by Justinian at 12:32 PM on December 9, 2005

meehawl: it's three guys, and they live together. I was told that sometimes they have threesomes, other times it'll be just 2 out of the 3, and they insist that there's no jealousy.
I still don't believe it. Maybe if I run into them again I'll ask further. They were the first and only polyamorous relationship I've ever run across, and maybe I'm a prude, but I really can't see all three of them being totally happy in that situation. *shrug*
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2005

I'd be a bit freaked out at first, but I wouldn't let that affect my professional/personal relationship with the person/people involved. In my head, I'm too wedded to the idea of coupling and monogamy to accept it as a viable lifestyle choice (oh my god, I'm a bigot) but it's none of my business and I'd eventually probably become more welcoming instead of merely tolerating it.
posted by lychee at 12:53 PM on December 9, 2005

What consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedroom is none of my business. I don't really care if my friends are celibate, monogamous, polyamorous or keep an inflatable sheep under the bed ;)

I do object to people disrespecting my boundaries with unwanted stories of their sexual exploits. If I haven't asked about it, then I don't wanna know about it.

Yeah, for me this is more a question about boundaries of regular in-office conversation than about morality.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2005

Yes, because my impression of the whole scene is informed by one episode of MTV's Sex in the 90s wherein 3 Renaissance Faire winners were living together in lumpy love.
posted by yerfatma at 12:59 PM on December 9, 2005

As Mrs. Fez and I were faced this last weekend with a scenario much like the asker's first, here are two data points:

1. cool with it in a not-my-style but not-my-concern sort of way.
2. play it cool but be skeeved inside—probably permanently souring one's view of the couple as a couple and possibly as friends. At the very least, causing one to hound one's spouse into a lengthy conversation about the rationale and consequences of this sort of activity, and hashing out the precise effects of interest in this sort of activity in terms of befezzed matrimonial bliss.

IOW, a mixed bag –or– what many others have already said.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:11 PM on December 9, 2005

it's three guys, and they live together

I apologise for my deplorably normative assumption of heterosexuality. This new fact does make the power dynamics even more interesting, however.
posted by meehawl at 1:30 PM on December 9, 2005

Despite what I was saying about disliking the "TMI Reaction" above, I will agree with those who point out that they'd think the poly-person was looking for a reaction, and that the conversation would be inappropriate for most workplaces. Already friends = appropriate, simply a coworker = not appropriate.
posted by Invoke at 2:08 PM on December 9, 2005

Not creepy.

What consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedroom is none of my business. I don't really care if my friends are celibate, monogamous, polyamorous or keep an inflatable sheep under the bed ;)


The only time that I've knowingly been exposed to the swinging lifestyle was a coworker. She mentioned, after a few drinks, that she and her husband used to swing. It was rather eye-opening and enforced the lesson to not judge book covers.
posted by deborah at 2:11 PM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: Well, I think the example I gave unnecessarily distracted from my core question. I should have probably given three examples:

1. Coworker as above
2. Acquaintance of a few weeks, as you get to know them better, it's revealed that they're polyamorous.
3. Friend of several months or more reveals that they're polyamorous.

I definitely get the feeling that some of our responders would be creeped out by any of those three, and think less of the person in any situation, while a lot of our responders would only be creeped out by the awkward situation presented by our too-sharing coworker #1.
posted by pornucopia at 2:11 PM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: There's also situation #4, the family member, but I'm sure a much higher percentage of people would react very negatively to any news of their family members' sex lives.
posted by pornucopia at 2:13 PM on December 9, 2005

I'd probably think, "Whatever man, leave it at home." Unless, of course, we were at some not-quite-work drinking occasion during which someone drunkenly confesses something and I think "Wow, that's some crazy shit" and then can't help giggling when I see them at the water cooler. I never mentioned I had a girlfriend at work for a long time, though.
posted by mikeh at 2:17 PM on December 9, 2005

I have had many friends who have, at different times, been poly, and it doesn't skeeve me out.

But at work, it would be much too much information to be passing around and I would think, "oh that person has problems with boundaries and general social adjustment."

Someone posted earlier in retort to such an attitude something like "would you say the same thing about a straight guy who had a date with his girlfriend?" and it was easy to assume a quiet "AHA!" at the implied discrimination that was supposedly outed.

Big problem though - saying X single person was out with his girlfriend is not saying anything about any sexual relationship. It is no different to say that than it is to say X is out with his mother, brother, or the local dog-catcher. Someone who views the world through a sexual lens may make certain assumptions, but it is not reasonable to assume that everyone else does. By definition a polyamorous relationship is about sex - so unlike single guy who mentions his girlfriend, a poly person saying their wife is out with some other person is also saying "they're fucking, you know, and I'm cool with that."

And honestly, even very good friends who have been poly and know that I don't have a problem with their lifestyle have also implied that they're WAY more comfortable and healthy about sexual issues than me, so even discussing it at all has become, in a couple of cases, a negative judgement OF me from time to time.

And that sucks.
posted by mikel at 2:48 PM on December 9, 2005

What I want to know is how poly people have the goddamn time for all these partners. I have one low-maintenance girl, and I hardly have time for her. What would I do with two of them?
posted by breath at 2:53 PM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh, poly is just about the sex? I sorta assumed they also had relationships.
posted by breath at 2:54 PM on December 9, 2005

When a friend's new wife brought this up (about a prior polyamorous thingie), I teased and taunted them both while asking pointed questions. But then, she was showing me pictures in front of her husband (PG-rated, but....). So I figured a little friendly ridicule was expected. I mean, what are friends for? (And no, not for that, thanks.)
posted by orthogonality at 2:56 PM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: I think swinging is all about sex, usually a couple who swaps with another couple.

My conception of polyamory is that it can include almost anything, including multiple life partners, multiple sex-only partners, dating other people, or just having very close emotional relationships with multiple people, even if you just hold hands.

If any swingers, polyamorous people, or non-standard-lifestyle people want to chime in and correct me, or comment on any misconceptions they've seen in this thread, feel free.
posted by pornucopia at 2:59 PM on December 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

"creep me out"? No.

But do they make me wish they would just keep their personal stuff personal? Hell yeah. I don't care if someone has two SOs or if they like to lick the toes of hired professionals.

Basically, if you want the public to stay out of your bedroom, then keep that stuff in your bedroom.
posted by Kickstart70 at 3:21 PM on December 9, 2005

I fall towards one end of the spectrum: emotions without sexual stuff. Swingers fall towards the opposite end: sexual stuff without emotions. I totally respect that, if only for the separation of sex and emotions. More power to 'em, I say. The one polyamorous couple I met was in the context of swinging, so I can't really speak to that separately.
posted by hopeless romantique at 3:30 PM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I want to clarify. What is the difference between saying "meet my Wife" (an explicit sexual partner as marriage is consummated with sex) and the phrase "meet my consenting adult sexual partners no matter who they are or their number"

I wonder if any of you creeped out people have considered how much straight monogamous people "flaunt it" or "wear it on their sleeves"

For goodness sake they wear jewelry to symbolize their ownership of eachother!!
posted by Megafly at 3:32 PM on December 9, 2005 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, excellent point, Megafly.
posted by pornucopia at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2005

straight monogamous people "flaunt it" or "wear it on their sleeves"

We live today in an ambiguous heterotopia.
posted by meehawl at 4:08 PM on December 9, 2005

Yes. They creep me out.
posted by davidmsc at 4:46 PM on December 9, 2005

Yes, yes they do.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:03 PM on December 9, 2005

There's a high correllation, in my experience, with people who strongly identify as poly, and creepiness. Also, "polyamory" is a bit of a euphamism, I'm afraid, for "panfuckia."
posted by jimfl at 7:06 PM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

The philosopher Thomas Nagel once compared the practicer of certain types of anomalous sexual behavior (which he called "perversion") to someone who, instead of eating food, cuts illustrations of food out of magazines, places that paper on plates, and eats the paper.

I wouldn't find the conversation creepy at all, but I would find it terribly sad and suspect that it's sad-making.
posted by Mr. Justice at 7:22 PM on December 9, 2005

breath said, sarcastically, "Oh, poly is just about the sex? I sorta assumed they also had relationships."

Umm, everyone on the planet, married or not, has important emotional relationships with people other than their partner.

Yet I think very few of them would identify as "polyamorous".

So if it't not about the sex, and it's not about having emotional relationships (because then everyone's poly, right), what IS it about?

That comment sort of proves my point though. The polyamory people I have known pull that crap all the time, this sort of dismissive oh-you're-so-stunted sarcastic crap.
posted by mikel at 8:29 PM on December 9, 2005

If it was someone that I was close to and they just said, "Hey, I'm poly" or some version of that, I would be shocked - especially if no clues had been given beforehand. But otherwise, I wouldn't give a fig.

Truth be known, I would love to try out the poly lifestyle. However, I'm very certain that I wouldn't last two minutes in it because I am extremely jealous. So that would mean that while I'm "dating" 3 or 4 guys and girls, I wouldn't want them to date anyone else but me. And that's not poly. That's very frickin' selfish. Hence, I stay away from it.
posted by damnjezebel at 8:33 PM on December 9, 2005

What creeps me out is the thought that people's main hobby is sex. I always wonder, "Isn't there something else you could be thinking about?"
posted by sneebler at 8:54 PM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

breath said, sarcastically, "Oh, poly is just about the sex? I sorta assumed they also had relationships."

I wasn't being sarcastic, just genuinely curious. It seems likely to me that some people want to be loving more than one person at a time, and some people want to be having sex with more than one person at a time. The impression that I'm getting is that polyamory is the former, and swinging is the latter.

Umm, everyone on the planet, married or not, has important emotional relationships with people other than their partner.

This isn't exactly the meaning of 'relationship' that I was shooting for. There are definitely different sorts of relationships that you can have, many of them important. There's a certain type of relationship that you have with a spouse that's different from the other relationships you have, and it's certainly not just sex that distinguishes that relationship from all the others you have.

So if it't not about the sex, and it's not about having emotional relationships (because then everyone's poly, right), what IS it about?

I wouldn't know how to put it in words, but everything about the way you interact with your spouse/significant other is informed by the nature of the relationship. You don't talk the same way as you do around your best friend, which is distinct from the way you are around your mother, and not really the same thing as your relationship with your children.

I don't intend to defend polyamory -- I don't particularly care about it. But it's at least plausible to me that more than two people could have a mutual positive relationship that looks and feels just like a normal loving spousal/significant other relationship.

I really don't know, though, I'm just talking out of my high horse's ass or whatever. If someone actually knows something about this subject, do tell.
posted by breath at 11:40 PM on December 9, 2005

I wouldn't consciously be creeped out, and I would act normally and even be friends with this person if I was interested in that, but I would always in the back of my mind have some warning labels attached to this person, reminding me that there is the potential for a lot of pain, drama, and other emotional danger, in a relationship with this person. In my very limited experience, the correlation between polyamory and interpersonal chaos is strong.
posted by evinrude at 12:42 AM on December 10, 2005

I think jessamyn said what I wanted to say pretty well, but I'll say it anyway.

I don't care about polyamory in and of itself one bit. Do whatever you like. Nine out of ten of my closest friends fall into at least one of the alternative sexuality camps, if not several. It was recently revealed to me that one of my good friends in a long term relationship was polyamorously involved with someone else and I couldn't say as that information changed my opinion of said friend in the slightest. Nor would it change my opinion of a co-worker, family member, or complete stranger.

What bugs me is evangelical polyamory. I can't stand it.

I was in a long-distance relationship for a year and during that time lived in an apartment with four other college students (yes, I do believe that Dante has written extensively about this), two of whom were enthusiastcally polyamorous. Enthusiastic to the point of trying to get me to have an open relationship. I was constantly being given the sales-pitch on the benefits of sleeping with someone else while having a "primary partner." Thankfully, I was never enticed to sleep with either one of them, but I think that they would have felt a moral victory if I had declared that emotional stability be damned! I would go out and have sex! With someone else!

But um, I never did. And now I'm married and oppressing them with my monogamous lifestyle. So, you know, whatever.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:16 AM on December 10, 2005 [3 favorites]

at first i thought there was something wrong with people like that. i assumed they were molested, perverts, couldn't keep a stable relationship, didn't really love the people they were with.

secretly it sounded hot too me! but then i'd suppress that.

i was confronted with shit in a relationship, thought about it, read about it, and confronted stuff in myself... now thats where i want to be. i still kinda wonder (not all people are poly for the right reasons), but if the person seems stable and the like I tend to think of them as being strong and well adjusted.
posted by aussicht at 3:46 PM on December 10, 2005

My sexual proclivities are about as vanilla as they come (my shameful secret is out at last) but no, I'd have no particular reaction to this sort of revelation. In the spectrum of personal sexual choices it doesn't even strike me as particularly far outside the mainstream. What do I care? The rock solid principle on which I base my reaction to other people's sex lives is people can fuck who they like, as long as its consensual and not children. If a person insisted on sharing too many intimate details I'd find that creepy, but I would even if they were only talking about their monogamous relationships.
posted by nanojath at 10:23 PM on December 10, 2005

Unless someone was being really creepy about their non-monagamous lifestyle, I wouldn't be creeped out to learn about it.

I'm always curious about how other people relate to one another, how their romances work, what kind of sex lives they have. I love it when people are open and willing to answer my questions.

Creepy is when people tell me stuff when I give clear cues that I don't want to know, or when they evangelize, or when they hit on me inappropriately. Barring that, I'm not going to judge.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:33 AM on December 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yes, they creep me out, but not as much as piss me off, because they're throwing off the ratio. Seriously, people, don't be greedy.
posted by hoborg at 2:18 PM on August 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

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