Navigating Holiday Events with Multiple Partners
When you have more than one loving relationship, navigating holidays can be somewhat tricky. There’s the question of how to make time for everyone, the difficulty of dealing with (possibly judgmental) family members, and the potential expense of purchasing gifts. So how do you manage the holidays with multiple partners?
For all the many holiday movies in the world, there’s not a lot that deals with this particular scenario: talking to whomever’s hosting that big meal about how to bring not just partner A, but also partners B and C (and possibly partner A’s other partner as well…). Or how to gracefully decline seeing family, because they were rude and unwelcoming last time. Or how to arrange your own celebration with all the people you love, and that they love. Or how to navigate a celebration day alone, as your partner has prior obligations with their other partner…
For many polyamorous people, or those in open relationships/consensually non-monogamous, the lack of models and stories that aren’t couple- or monogamy-oriented has meant working all this out for the first time – and while many polyam people have shared how they’ve made it work with others in their community, the wide variety of polyam dynamics and polycules means that what works for one person or group may not work for another. What’s suggested here may provide a starting point for things to consider and to discuss.
1: What do you want? Given an ideal world, what would you like to do on the holiday days? Are there people you’d like to have a meal with – or spend time with at an event? Would you prefer to hang out at home and play boardgames and read books, or to go to the beach and surf? Is it important to you to see your partners on particular days, or simply at some point? Consider this, and then…
2:… talk to your partners. Do any of them have plans already? It might be that they’re travelling to see family, or busy for an annual brunch but free in the evening, or taking relatives to a midday picnic. Do they want to try to see you on particular days? This is where shared calendars can come in handy, as people try to mesh their desires with the practicalities of time limitations.
3: Are there any potential conflict areas? This could be wanting (and able) to take multiple partners to a family event, but the family not being aware of the importance of each person to you. Consider if this is a situation where it’s worth being upfront and bearing the possible judgement, or if you can stand a day where yourself or a partner is considered ‘just a flatmate’ or ‘just a friend’. There’s no right or wrong answer here; it’s about what’s the least stressful for those involved.
Even if everyone in the family knows that you’re polyam, and who your partners are, there can still be awkwardness. Are you comfortable holding two partners’ hands on the sofa? Is your great-grandmother comfortable with it? Even if she is, it’s possible your family will step too far in the opposite direction and attempt to minimise her assumed discomfort – which then increases yours as they make it clear that it’s not okay for you to do this. (This is an ongoing issue for queer people as well, with actions that are ‘fine’ for a heteronormative couple taking on more ‘sexualised’ overtones, even when functionally identical.)
Another potential conflict area is a partner or metamour feeling unacknowledged during discussions, or that their plans aren’t considered as important as your own. Balancing everyone’s needs can be difficult at the best of times, and this is where open communication and checking-in becomes important. If you’re in a hierarchical relationship, make sure your secondary’s plans aren’t subsumed into your own – they have rights and needs as well.
4: Consider your budget. Some social celebrations can become potential blow-out times, with multiple people to (possibly) purchase for – birthdays at least are staggered throughout the year! Do you want gifts? Do your partners? If so, take into account what you and they have to spend, and if it needs to be a costly present. Some people adore homemade gifts, assuming a person has the time, energy and desire to make them. Often an experience can have more memory-value than an ornament. And there’s always the option of purchasing a tree or giving to a charity in their name.
Different people and households have different discretionary spending, and this can be brought into sharp relief when exchanging gifts. One option is to discuss together a price range for all to stick within, or if various partners can go in together to get a combined gift.
Again – there’s no right or wrong way of handling this. There’s just figuring out the best way for you and your polycule.
5: Alone for the holidays? Sometimes despite best efforts, it’s not possible to be with the people you love during celebration days. If that’s the case, perhaps a phone call or video chat can be arranged. If you’re seeing family or friends, you can make note of funny or memorable experiences that you can share with your partners later (as they can share theirs with you). If you’re staying home, be gentle with yourself, and remember you’re loved and cared for – these are people who appreciate having you in their life.
So that’s a few ideas. If you’ve been polyamorus for many years you’ll have worked through a variety of scenarios by now – some will have worked, and some probably won’t have! But whether you’re new to this or have had some practice, we at PolyamProud with you the best of luck with however it goes.
Family Holidays for Non-Anchor Partners - Phoebe Philips
Poly Survival Guide for the Holidays - Kathy Labriola
All I Want for Christmas… Is You, You, You, and You - Marianna Zelichenko
Polyamory at the Holidays - Lara Boyle
Polyamorous holidays: When you’re the secondary - Noël Figart
Polyamory Holidays - Jess Mahler
Poly for the Holidays - Elisabeth Sheff