I am an ethical non-monogamist; most of my close friends are monogamous. Sharing any updates at all on my love life – in response to their direct inquiries (!) – makes them supremely uncomfortable. This is compounded when I happen to be seeing someone who is in a committed relationship and also (openly) seeing me. Either my friends need advice on how to not be jerks in this situation, or I do. Which is it?
Mostly your friends (hence the post title), although there are things that you can do if you want to make it easier for them not to be assholes.
But first, for readers who aren’t familiar with the idea of ethical non-monogamy:
“ Ethical non-monogamy is a blanket term for all forms of transparent, consensual personal relationships in which some or all participants have multiple marital, sexual, and/or romantic partners and in which clear boundaries and agreements are observed.”
I’m willing to bet that some people — including your friends — judge the decision to be an ethical non-monogamist. I’m also willing to bet that this might comes from a fear that their own way of viewing relationships is threatened when others do it differently.
If they’ve spent their whole lives believing that monogamy is the best — and only — option, it might be confusing to see another relationship model work out. They might be skeptical, as they can’t imagine a situation in which they would feel comfortable in an ethically non-monogamous relationship, so they don’t see how you could be. Or they might be fearful that if their partner thought non-monogamy was on the table, they might want to pursue it.
Regardless, it is not okay for your friends to be judgmental of or act uncomfortable around you because of the number of your romantic partners. However, this may be a totally new concept to some of your friends, and they may not yet have the skills to respond properly to this idea. Shit, they may not even fully understand why it makes them uncomfortable in the first place.
Given that, I think it is somewhat understandable that in the beginning, your friends might not be great at processing their feelings about this. But that’s a one-time — or maybe a two-time — deal. After that they need to get their shit together and stop acting like an eight-year-old boy who just learned what a tampon is for.
It would be cool (although not obligatory) for you to answer their questions, and I think you should keep in mind that you may be the very first person they have encountered (openly, at least) with this relationship model. That doesn’t mean they should ask you inappropriate questions, but they may legitimately not quite know what is inappropriate to ask. If there are websites or books you think are particularly good at explaining your point of view, consider suggesting they read them if they are really interested in learning more.
Basically, the non-jerk move for your friends is for them to approach this as they would any other component of your life that is unfamiliar (like, say, your job or religion), and be as respectful as possible with their curiosity. Your friends just need to keep in mind is that your relationship choices are not up for their approval.
Moreover, it’s definitely appropriate for you to initiate a discussion if they keep acting like jerks. If they are uncomfortable with your choices in life, then need interrogate why it bothers them so much…and then get over it. Even though this concept may initially be new, it’s really not that hard to get a handle on.
If, in the end, your friends end up thinking that ethical non-monogamy can’t work, it’s still really none of their concern, because they aren’t the ones in the relationships. They should just stick with Amy Poehler’s approach: “Good for you; not for me.” It’s okay to have different preferences! Different does not mean bad.