On Being Young and Poly

 

I am poly. And I am young. At 21, I’m still the youngest poly I personally know. The gap is narrowing, but it’s still there and was even more noticeable when I first started moving in poly circles at the age of 19.

So what does this mean?

A lot of the time, absolutely nothing. To use a very tired but true cliché, age is just a number. I have many wonderful friends of all ages, and the ages of the people I’m currently involved with on any level span a range of about 20 years. It doesn’t matter. If I click with someone, who cares if there’s two days or twenty years difference in our ages? So in terms of restricting who I feel it’s appropriate for me to get involved with, it makes absolutely no difference. The same is not true for how other people feel, unfortunately – I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been informed that my beloved Nomad is ‘taking advantage of me’ purely because of the 15-year gap in our ages, or that I have been ‘brainwashed’ in my youthful innocence to believe that something as out-there as polyamory is actually okay. As though I need rescuing from my own choices.

The assumption that young equals naïve and inexperienced is something I deal with pretty regularly. This can get seriously tedious. Yes, I am young. I also have several years experience of poly, longer of relationships generally. This doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out or learned all there is to learn – far from it. But who has, really? We’re all learning and figuring things out all the time.

The problem is that being young means essentially that everything I do tends to be written off as a phase. I started liking to dress ‘goth’ when I was fourteen. Just a phase. I came out as bi at eighteen after years of struggling with it. Just a phase. I’ll either realise I’m actually gay and stop denying it, or revert back to heterosexuality and stop this silly experimenting. And now I’m poly. Obviously just going a bit wild while I’m young and can get away with it. I’ll get over this when I find a nice, monogamous man to settle down, marry and have babies with.

I can virtually see people wondering when I’m going to grow out of it. Well, I wonder instead how old one has to be before one’s life-choices are not written off as ‘a silly phase?’

Because I’m sure many things about me will change as I get older. But being bi and poly are facets of who I am, and I am increasingly sure they will not change.

Whatever people might think, though, I am truly happy that I discovered this lifestyle, the kind of life that suits me, when I was young. And if this is a phase, I hope it’s one I never grow out of! :-D

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24 thoughts on “On Being Young and Poly

  1. Nomad says:

    Indeed! The problem with statements like that — which infuriate me as well — is that there is absolutely no way to refute them… no matter how untrue they may be. In fact, the more you try, the more the person making the insulting statement nods sagely, smugly confident of their superior wisdom. At thirty-six, I don’t get such comments anymore, but I used to all the time. Especially for my views on marriage.

    Meanwhile, if you come back years later and point out that they were wrong, they will just shrug it off as no big deal.. or maybe think you are nutty for bringing it back up again after so much time has passed. So they get to make a hurtful claim that cannot be defended against at the time and ignore when they are proven wrong later.

    Such statements are off-limits in my book as unfair and I try to avoid ever making them. I don’t have a lot of respect for people who do.

    • missamaranth says:

      Hello, Love!

      Yes. I completely agree. The more I tell someone I won’t grow out of this, because it’s not a phase but part of me, the more they seem intent on being right. Out of interest, how long did it take before people stopped telling you that your views on marriage were something you’d grow out of?

      I must admit I’m looking forward to telling certain people in ten years or so, ‘see! Still poly! If it’s a phase, it’s a long one!’

      I agree. They’re off-limits for me, as well, for obvious reasons. I think it’s very invalidating and just downright rude to write off someone’s life and experience as just youthful experimentation.

      And on a completely different note: I love you!

  2. Lydia M says:

    I know those feelings. I’m 24, and been out as bi, poly and kinky for a long time. I’ve been in poly relationships for 5 years. It’s mostly my parents who think it’s a phase – that I’ll grow out of it and settle down with a nice Jewish guy, lose all my intelligence and turn into a baby factory. :(

    • missamaranth says:

      Yeah…. it’s largely family who think it about me, too. Wishful thinking on their part, I think.

      Sorry to hear you go through the same things. I know how difficult it can be!

  3. Ludi says:

    ‘just a phase’ – after meeting up with an ex and informing him that I was living happily as an out and proud and practising bi, poly, switchy, feminist (etc), he said ‘you’re just trying to be different.’ I kinda feel like stepping outside of one social norm makes it easier to question others and so end up with a whole list, and it’s frustrating that so much of it is still seen as politically naive, statement-making, shallow faff.

    As for the age thing – I’m 23, and one of my partners is 44. And there’s a privilege gradient there with several other factors (more male, more wealthy (not difficult, that), more letters after the name, etc) – and he’s also a noisy feminist, and we work really hard to make things not suck. And I think that it would be really easy for them to suck, actually: it’s something which needs work. (I’d be interested in chatting about this more in-depth with you, actually, and sharing some stuff that I wouldn’t share with the entire internet!) I haven’t really had rubbish from other people, though – I think it helps that appearance and attitude-wise I can easily pass for mid-thirties. (Oh, and my other partner’s 30. Generally I’ve found that dating older people works out well. They’re just… better at communicating, more emotionally mature and more awesome. Feels more balanced that way.)

    Loving the blog, this is brilliant : )

    • Ludi says:

      addendum – I think it’s not just the young and poly thing, basically. It’s the combination of young and poly with being female, and in a relationship with a man (and you could probably go on there, and mix in kink and stuff.) Young poly men don’t get told they’re being taken advantage of, and, as we saw on This Morning, it seems that women will always be the ‘victims’ in poly situations regardless of how many partners or how much autonomy otherwise we have.

      • Maeve_sp says:

        Yeah, the it’s just a phase thing is tiring. I guess the best is to just wait it out until they finally figure out you’re just like that. I think my family figured out I was a radical quite a few years ago and keep quiet in the hope that they’ll not entrench it – or have given up completely. In any case they do not question things to my face.

        I’ve pretty much given up on dating anyone who is over 5 years older than me because of the power differential that always is going to seep into relationships, in my view. And the more it is denied the more it will be there. That’s why what you’ve said, Ludi, has really piqued my interest. You talk about these things and try to negotiate and work them out?! I want to know how!

      • missamaranth says:

        Yes…. I’m hoping people will get used to it after a few years! Though at the moment I think they’re wondering what I’ll come out as next….

        I’m interested in what you say about power differences in large-age-gap relationships. It’s occasionally been an issue (or something I perceived as an issue) in some of mine, but nothing that a bit of discussion/negotiation hasn’t sorted, and really never anything major.

      • Maeve_sp says:

        My experience has been that there are two main issues:

        1- Experience and self-knowledge. With a bit of luck, they’ll know themselves better, what they need, how they react and how to ask for what they want. All these things are excellent, but if you don’t to the same level (and that’s to be expected, if you’re younger) then they have a stronger position for negotiation. Negotiations nearly always turn better for you when you know your position well and can defend it. And this holds even in loving, cooperative negotiations.

        2- Difference in status. Older people have more money and are seen as of higher status in general (which is why they aren’t questioned). This is something that is going to affect you in one or more of three ways: a) Society affords them more status and looks at their opinions more favourably. b) You give them more power than is due because of their status c) They treat you/your opinions needs or wants as lesser/not as seriously/respectfully because of that. It’s something that’s quite hard to escape, even when we think we do. I’ve discovered that a huge chunk of the confidence I’ve developed in getting close to thirty was down to how society viewed me. If I see myself as an overgrown kid but my partner as a man, then that’s going to affect how I act in my relationship and what I get out of it.

        And well, there may even be more. That’s been my experience. I guess I realised I had never been an equal and that was quite shattering. Not being able to pay for things affected my relationship in ways I didn’t realise until I could actually afford to pay for them more than they could.

        A last thing to note is that if you don’t acknowledge this you can’t deal with it, and therefore continue to work according to its rules. I hadn’t even considered that people WOULD bring those issues to the table. Ludi, please let us know how you do it!!! I’ve never dealt with them, so I don’t know how. I just decided to give up large age gaps.

      • missamaranth says:

        Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, this is really interesting! If you haven’t already, you might be interested in Ludi’s comment about sharing some more thoughts on this by email, if you’re interested. :)

    • missamaranth says:

      Yes, I get the ‘just trying to be different’ a lot too. I think quite a lot of people believe I’m just trying to be as ‘weird’ as possible. Like I’m doing it for the shock-value. But, yes, I’ve noticed that once you step outside a social norm, you start to question a lot of things, some of which seemed perfectly normal before.

      I definitely agree with you about dating older people, too! I feel like I click with them better than people my own age most of the time.

      Thanks for reading/commenting, really glad you like it! :)

      • Nomad says:

        Quick note before bed:

        From my own experience, I have to disagree with an above comment about how “young poly men don’t get told they’re being taken advantage of”. This is _exactly_ what I got told when I was a young poly male. When my primary partner took another lover, my non-poly friends and colleagues were shocked and asked me how I could “let her do this” to me. They very much felt that advantage was being taken. Thankfully, these sorts of comments have stopped as I got older and _all_ the “this is just a phase you will grow out of” remarks ceased.

        I’m not surprised that the commenter was not aware of this, not having ever been a young male poly. But, given the remark, it seemed worth noting that my experience was rather different…

        Love you and see you tomorrow!!

        xxxxxx

      • Ludi says:

        Gah, I can’t reply to Maeve’s comment directly, where they ask ‘how do you make big age gaps not suck?’, so, well, here’s (some of) my answer.

        I really love how Maeve made a list of all the things that sucked with big age gaps: that’s brilliant, and really useful. Now, I wrote about 2000 words of thoughts and notes on my answers yesterday, and then tried to summarise it, but that still came to about 600 words. I don’t think turning this blogpost into a massive conversation All About Me is particularly polite, so maybe we could have a conversation by email? (and that’d also let me add a couple of TMI bits!) If you want to send me your email, Maeve (via the dropbox on my blog is fine), and Jess, if you want to be involved too, let me know, (and anyone else reading) and I’ll send over my notes and thoughts. (I’m hoping to get thoughts from my partner on this too, and write them up. Maybe there’s an article in there somewhere.)

        So, the summary of the summary:

        - it is bloody hard. Society is set up with loads of shitty privilege gradients. Denial makes it worse. Both of you being well-informed, and both of you talking about it *a lot*, helps.
        - the most helpful thing is his being really well-informed and radically feminist. We talk a lot about politics and privilege and I know it’s fine to call him out on stuff.
        - consider and acknowledge the ways in which personal stuff makes it harder to counteract societal rubbish, talk about it, work out how to make it suck less.
        - keep it practical: come up with practical solutions for difficult imbalances. (eg. we take turns paying for stuff, but I pay for small things like drinks and he pays for big things like meals. The act of paying for stuff feels more important than the absolute numbers.)
        - make sure consent is freely given, then trust that it is. That’s work from both people.
        - be awesome: be good at communicating, owning feelings, being emotionally mature, being kind. Negotiations aren’t battles, and experience isn’t the only source of knowledge. Be equals. If he doesn’t think you’re as awesome and knowledgeable as him (or more so), it prolly won’t work.

        That all feels kinda vague, but it’s a start!

      • missamaranth says:

        Ludi and Maeve – this is all really interesting stuff, so thank you both so much for sharing! So much in there that I hadn’t really thought about very much, or at all, yet it all makes a lot of sense and some of it rings very true with my experiences too. I’d very much like to know more of your thoughts on this if you’re happy to share with me. I’m really excited that discussions are starting from this! Yay! :-)

  4. missamaranth says:

    Fair enough! Thank you for sharing Love. I’ve just recalled also that you and I got collectively accused of ‘brainwashing’ A into thinking that us being together was okay…

    I think being female is something to do with it for me, in that people feel they need te be more protective because of my gender. They’ve said as much (which actually offends me on multiple levels, but that’s a different debate!) Out of interest, when you were younger and dating people older than you, did anyone suggest that they were taking advantage of you purely because of the age thing? I think this works differently for men and women as well, from what I’ve seen, but having never been male I can’t speak from experience.

    I think both men and woman who are young and poly very often get these kind of accusations…. just probably in different ways, and for slightly different reasons.

    I love you very much, and will see you in a few hours! xxxxxxx

    • Nomad says:

      “Out of interest, when you were younger and dating people older than you, did anyone suggest that they were taking advantage of you purely because of the age thing?”

      No, this is one that I did not get. At least as far as I can remember. Though it may have had less to do with gender than it did with the age gaps of my relationships. C is only six years older than me — not fifteen! Likewise, my first secondary was only five years older than me.

      By the time I did have a relationship where the age gap broke the decade mark (I was twenty-four when P and I got together; she was thirty-six), I had already been polyamorous for nearly three years. So I think that the people who knew were less inclined to see this as a “taking advantage of” situation, as they were already as accustomed to my being polyamorous as they were going to be. Also, thirty-six and twenty-four _almost_ meets the rule of thumb for acceptability — the “half your age plus seven” rule says thirty-six and twenty-five is okay — whereas nineteen and thirty-four is nowhere near close! You and I won’t satisfy this “rule” for another eight years!! :-D

      See you soon! Love you!!

      • missamaranth says:

        “You and I won’t satisfy this “rule” for another eight years!! ”

        Well, then, we’ll just have to stay together another 8 years to satisfy the ‘rule’ then, won’t we? (And all the rest of the years after that!) *bounces and kisses you*

        Love you! xxxxxxx

      • Ludi says:

        Couldn’t reply above to the comment about young poly men, so –

        - so sorry for assuming, and thanks for bringing that up and explaining it! I think my experience matches Jess’ – it’s a protectiveness thing, but yeah, it’s important to consider that these kinds of preconceptions and assumptions suck for all genders. So, noted, and ta : )

  5. Martin Roell says:

    Seen from a distance, *life* is “just a phase”. So I take no offense in people telling me that my way of relating to people is “just a phase”: It is – although one that might last a long time. Usually, I just smile and nod and say: “yeah, it might be. Let’s enjoy it together while it lasts.” :-) You think it will pass? Let’s find out… (“You know: thinking like that is probably also just a phase. When do you think you will stop?” ;-) I should try that one some time. :))

    • missamaranth says:

      Hi Martin! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      It’s true. *Everything* might be a phase. People change over time, things change over time. As I wrote a couple posts back, four/five years ago I was horrified by the idea of poly and wouldn’t ever have imagined my life going this way. But it’s great! I agree with the caption at the beginning of this post: “life is just a phase….” :-)

      Hope you’re well, it was lovely meeting you at OpenCon :)

  6. pajamapaati says:

    I don’t think you grow out of things like your sexual orientation, not believing in invisible men with long beards crawling about on top of the clouds, or thinking that people don’t own exclusive rights to other people’s genitals.
    I do think you grow out of giving a rat’s arse what other people think about it :-)

  7. I’m sorry to say that there is *no* age at which you won’t get atypical life choices dismissed as silly dalliances. If you’re under 30, it will be blamed on your youth & inexperience. 30-40, especially if in a long-term relationship, and you’ll be told it’s the 7 Year Itch. 40s-50 it will be classed as a mid-life crisis. Older than that, and you’ll be told it’s probably the menopause, hormonal unbalance or early-onset senility.

    So you may as well reap the rewards of a lifetime of “emotional immaturity” (ahem!) – at least you may retain your sense of humour ;-)

  8. Margot says:

    Soo sad, but soo true!!! I just turned 27, but have been poly since I was 19. I definitely agree, dating older people has been easier due to maturity and better communication. Being young, bi, female and poly makes everyone think that something is wrong with you or you are just going through a phase. Well, most of a decade of being poly and far more than that of knowing I was bi tells me it is not a phase, but it is truly who I am.

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