"...So the typical polynormative hype article goes something like, �Meet Bob and Sue. They�re a poly couple. They�re primary partners and they date women together.� Or �they each date women on the side� or �they have sex parties in their basement� or sometimes, though more rarely, �Bob dates women and Sue dates men.� Mainstream representations rarely break the �one penis per party� rule, which is exactly as offensive as it sounds. You don�t get Bob dating Dave, or Sue dating Tim and Jim and John while Bob stays home with a movie. Because whoa! That�s just going too far. I mean, playing around with women is one thing, but if you bring a second man into the picture, don�t the two guys need to, like, duke it out? Prove who�s manlier? Because evolutionary psychology! Because nature! Because when there is a penis (and only one penis) involved it is real sex and that means a real relationship and we must have a real relationship to have a primary-secondary structure and we must have a primary-secondary structure to be a poly couple! (Hmm. So maybe this part does relate to my other three points after all.)..."
I have a whole host of thoughts in relationship to this, so I'm going to try to break them down. Here's:
1. I mostly agree with her. But I'm not feeling the force of polynormativity nearly as strongly as she is, either personally or in the poly community or in the wider world. Which doesn't mean she isn't right, or that if I spent more time / energy contemplating it, that I wouldn't end up in the same place she's in.
2. Re: the media representations, while I agree they're pushing a certain spin of poly, and that it's the version closest to traditional monogamy, I guess I'm still so shocked to be seeing poly in the media at all that I hadn't gotten to wanting to push for broader representation yet. But I admit, it would be awfully nice to see.
3. From the outside, a lot of people would assume that Kevin and I are using the primary / secondary model. But I've never been really comfortable with those terms for us, and I think she's got a good point about some inherent problems in their hierarchical language. Would love to hear more from people who identify as secondaries, who are comfortable in that position. I don't think it's quite fair when she dismisses people who use the terminology, and who happen to be in a primary relationship AND a happy secondary one. But I do agree that I'd give a bit more weight to people who are solely in secondary relationships, as to whether they're comfortable/happy in that position. Especially if they prefer it. I THINK that some people do prefer it, people who are in many ways happiest alone, and would be stressed out by having a primary partner and the possibly ensuing responsibilities. But I'm conjecturing here, because I don't think I can name anyone I know who would claim that position.
4. I think there are forces that push people towards what she's calling polynormativity. Some of those forces are cultural, some are biological / practical. In our twenties, I'd say Kev and I both practiced much more varied versions of poly than we do now, happily. Threesomes, foursomes, big puppy piles at parties, me dating four people at once, lots of queer stuff, etc. and so on. And we seriously considered some of those turning into long-term things; if Karina hadn't had Joe, and hadn't lived in another country, I think there was a real possibility we would be in a committed long-term threesome now. In our thirties, we got busy with careers, and were spending less time in queer/geek/SF/poly circles where one might easily meet other like-minded folks. As well, people of roughly our age were more and more often pairing up, and a lot of those who practiced poly in their twenties stopped in their thirties. So our potential pool got smaller.
Then we had kids (at roughly 35), and my sexual orientation for the next five years was 'tired'. I barely had the energy to keep up the emotional side of my long-term partnership with Kevin, and my long-term established long-distance relationship with Jed -- and the sexual side was heavily neglected and/or mostly absent. Now that the kids are older, we're starting to recover from that, and I've even had a few fun sexual encounters with friends at conventions. But we live in suburbia, and our local friends are mostly people with similar-aged children to ours (because it makes socializing SO MUCH easier), and it's much harder to see sexual possibilities there. I also feel a certain reluctance to risk those parental friendships in any way, because it is so valuable to me right now to have those people to share child-rearing conversations and responsibilities with. So I'm not going to be hitting on them.
There are times when I feel wistful for what we had in our twenties. But life is much busier now, and even if possible people were throwing themselves at me, I honestly am not sure I have the time to do justice to any kind of new romantic relationship. I'm not ruling it out, but there's just a lot less uncommitted time now than there was back then. As it is, Kevin and Jed and the children get the bulk of my time, and I feel stretched thin, and as if I don't have enough time alone.
So all of that works together to create a situation where Kev and I look very polynormative on the surface, and function that way most of the time in our day-to-day lives. If we didn't have kids, I think things would be very different. But it's because of practical reasons, not because we're choosing to perform some conventional model 'for the kids'. If we WERE in a threesome, or had other serious romantic partners locally, etc., we would tell the kids about it, when they seemed old enough to notice, and I am quite confident that the kids would be just fine.