Polyamory and the Media

Some observations on the media

I often do interviews with newspapers, magazines, and other media about polyamory. Many of these interviews, I’ve linked to from the Media section of my portal Web site.

I discovered that I’ve done these interviews often enough now that I can pretty much predict how they’ll go. I can usually predict how long they’ll last (if the interviewer says to expect 15 to 30 minutes, that’s a clear sign it will probably take about an hour; if I’m told to expect an hour, that means I should plan for three). Talking about relationship structures that run totally counter to the social norm is time consuming, it seems.

There’s a sort of standard flow to an interview about polyamory given by a person who’s not at all familiar with it. Usually, they start out using terms like “polyamory,” “open marriage,” “open relationship,” and sometimes “swinging” interchangeably, which prompts a brief segue down the road of “polyamory can be seen as one type of open relationship, sort of, but not all poly relationships are open and not all open relationships are polyamorous.”

From that point comes a list of questions about the interviewee:

“How long have you been polyamorous?”
“How many partners do you have?”
“Do your partners know about each other?”
“Have your partners met each other?”
“What do you mean, they like each other?”
“You and your partners hang out with each other and do things together???!!
“Your partners have OTHER BOYFRIENDS?
“And you like them???!!!!11!!11!”
“Don’t you get jealous?”

From there, things generally move into Phase II of the interview:

“Do you think everyone should be polyamorous?”
“What makes you want more than one girlfriend?”
“Why isn’t one person enough?”
“Of your girlfriends, which one is your main girlfriend?”
“I’ve heard polyamorous people have ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ partners. Which one is your primary?”
“Which one do you want to live with?”
“Do you have group sex?”
“Do you ever think you’ll settle down?”

That generally brings us into Phase III, which is:

“What about children? Isn’t it confusing for children?”
“I talked to someone who said he broke up with a polyamorous partner. Doesn’t that mean polyamory doesn’t work?”
“What do you get out of being polyamorous?”

I’m absolutely not trying to ridicule these questions at all. My goal is not to mock the interviewers who ask questions like these; there’s no way that a person who’s never considered the idea of a non-monogamous relationship could reasonably be expected to know the answers to these things.

Instead, I think these questions illustrate just how deeply ingrained cultural ideas about sex and relationship are. These interviews inevitably take more than 15–30 minutes because in many cases it takes longer than that just to deconstruct the assumptions behind the questions to the point where the answer is intelligible. I also think it’s interesting that cultural ideas about sex and relationship are so much a part of a person’s background understanding of the world that even completely different people, having no contact at all with one another, giving interviews in different formats at different times for different types of publications, will ask more or less the same pattern of questions in more or less the same order.

When interviews about polyamory appear on the Web, one can expect the same pattern of comments and responses, too. That part is a bit depressing; conversations about polyamory in any mainstream media invariably attract a great deal of very angry commentary.

One of the things that consistently strikes me when I view reader response to a Web article about polyamory is how much the responses say, not about polyamory, but about the person making them. We all tend to re-create the world in our own image; “I think this is wrong because it is inevitable that someone will get jealous” translates, for example, to “I personally would be jealous, and cannot conceive that another person might not be.” Which is fine, as far as it goes; I can’t personally imagine being monogamous, so it’s reasonable that there might be people who can’t imagine being polyamorous.

But a lot of people become very upset at the thought of other people having poly relationships. And that seems silly to me.