Any relationship can be tough. Compound those challenges by multiple connections in a polyamorous dynamic, and you’ve got the makings for possible weirdness – especially around the holidays. As someone who practices polyamory, there are a lot of moving parts that go into tending to my various relationships on a daily basis, which can make celebrations a little more complicated.
What It's Like to Be Polyamorous Around the Holidays
Here’s the thing: I don’t really care much about the holiday season. I’m an orphan and what little family I have left lives 2,700 miles away. I haven’t given holiday gifts in more than two decades and, to be frank, I’m kinda Grinch-like in my contempt for the season.
So, what I find odd is how I handle the holiday season with my partners. I don’t care much about the fa la la la la of the season, but somehow, I always feel left out and less than. For example, I was invited to six different friends' homes for Thanksgiving dinner this year. I told everyone I would make a game-day decision based on my mood (it wasn’t good) and ended up opting out of everything. I made a conscious choice to stay at home, to essentially isolate myself. It still didn’t stop me from pining for my partners, who were spending the holiday with other partners and family.
There is a stupid amount of loss in my life, so my calendar is riddled with markers of remembrance. It’s a constant battle to de-emphasize the days that society deems important, but don’t mean much to me (aka holidays, except for birthdays, because I love to celebrate loved ones like it’s nobody’s business). The barrage of marketing reminders somehow creeps in and gives these days far more power than they deserve. Like, I loathe holiday parties and white elephant gift exchanges; Christmas carols make my skin crawl. Plus, if you get past the expensive fuckery of it all and take a look at the fine print, Christmas is a Christian holiday, and I do not buy into organized religion.
I think one of my biggest issues about being polyamorous around the holidays is not being able to spend time with the people I care about most. (I don’t like rules or being told what I can or cannot do – period.) This isn’t always the case but has often been the case in my relationships. This can be even harder when the people your partners care about most don’t even know you exist. It’s not the end of the world, but it can reek of advantage, and it can really sting. I want to know all of the people my partners care about, but it's not always possible.
In my perfect world all partners, families and metamours would co-exist in sweet, copacetic harmony, but as any polyamorous person knows, compersion is not compulsory. So, I frequently find myself taking a backseat to couples who are publicly acknowledged in the name of work, social and familial celebrations. I despise labels and hierarchy, but if I ever feel like a “secondary,” it’s usually during the holiday season.
I have to remind myself that I don’t really care about the actual holidays and that I feel an abundance of joy with my partners in the day-to-day, whether we’re together physically or not. My needs are being met, and I'm happy. When it comes to the grand scheme of my polyamorous dating life, I have few complaints. Of course, I want all my loves with me as much as possible, but in polyamory, we have to make decisions on how to prioritize time. Love may be infinite, but time most definitely is not. So, I completely understand why one person would opt to spend the holidays with someone for whom it really matters.
In recent years, I’ve organized a pre-or post-holiday chosen family gathering. This year, 14 of us went to see a gay burlesque show. Although not all of my partners could attend, they were invited. Much to my boyfriend’s credit, he even blocked off Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day to spend time together. We’ll grab Chinese food on Christmas Eve and cook Southern food staples on New Year’s Day. He’s even snuck in a few thoughtful non-holiday gifts on the sly, which have tickled me immensely. Another partner is hosting a Winter Solstice party, and I cannot wait to welcome back the sun with him, his partner and their friends.
Being polyamorous during the holidays can feel sad and isolating – but it doesn’t have to. One of the things I love most about being poly is being able to create unique relationship models and go off the societally-mandated (almost always, cis-heteronormative) script. Why should how I spend the holidays be any different? There really isn’t a standard issue go-to guide for any of my relationships and, although I consider my partners family, I do understand there are circumstances that make it tough to spend certain days together. I just ask that partners who have the advantage of couples’ privilege acknowledge this and bestow a little extra kindness on the days they can’t be present.
Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. Over the past two decades, her work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets including Marie Claire, Playboy, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Thrillist.
She adopted a pseudonym and was AVN’s (Adult Video Network) first female porn reviewer – while penning children’s books at the same time. More recently, she is the author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating (2019). She lives in Seattle with her rescue dog, Mimi. You can find her on Twitter @rynpfeuffer or IG @ryn_says