Wednesday, August 26, 2009

(Warning: there is NO sex or naughty stuff in this post. And like Pascal, I made it long because I lacked the time to make it short.)

Mistress Manners

I asked for questions from the Twitter-spere, and here’s one I got...

(Can you address) poly etiquette issues like when do invitations include all the partners or selected ones - differences between etiquette for poly, kinky and mainstream that you have noticed.

I presume this refers to social invitations – parties and so forth. I am further going to presume that for the purposes of this post, we are talking about events held in someone’s home or any other private space controlled by them.

As a party-giver, this is a subject close to my heart. So first let’s talk mainstream etiquette, because I think even that is often not adequately understood. My theory is: because many poly/kinky people are also geeky, the Geek Social Fallacies sometimes come into play. I am only slightly geeky, and I’m actually pretty traditional when it comes to social etiquette. It’s my Southern upbringing.

Let’s start with the big one: With very rare exceptions, I think it is terribly rude and crass to say “Oh, I heard you’re having a party, can I come?”

If your significant other is invited to a social event, and you’re really and truly not sure the invitation included you, then it’s acceptable for the invited person to ask. For most social events, it’s nice to ask both halves of a couple. But there are actually people in the world who are close to my partners, but not to me – and vice versa. And it’s completely conceivable that they’d want to have him over for, say, an intimate dinner party with eight carefully selected guests, and I’m not one of the other seven. That’s utterly fine with me. If you host an event, you get to have it exactly like you want it.

The invited person should phrase the question in such a way as to give the host a graceful way to say, “No, that person is not invited.”

One may not pretend to misunderstand as a ploy to try to wangle invitations.

If the invitation – either verbal or written – says “bring a date,” or “you plus a guest,” then the invited person may bring ONE guest without further clearance from the host. One.

If you really feel that there’s someone that your-dear-friend-the-host would enjoy having, who hasn’t been invited, then you may go to the host, and verbally and charmingly grovel, and sweetly acknowledge that you’re being terrible, and then ask him/her if you may invite other people. The groveling/acknowledging part? Not optional. I have done this myself. If I can do it, you can do it. As before, you must give the host a graceful out.

(Also: if they say yes, bring an extra-nice host gift.)

If the invitations say anything like “Bring your friends - all are welcome - the more the merrier - feel free to forward this”, then obviously it’s fine to arrive with pals, or tell them about it and have them show up on their own.

Even when it's specified that you don’t actually need an invitation, I think it’s always nice to talk to the hosts and tell them you’d like to come. (Or drop them an email, or message them on Fetlife, or whatever medium seems appropriate.) But that’s extra credit.

That’s mainstream good manners. And this will shock you, but it’s not dramatically different for kinky people or poly people.

The only special thing kinky people need to remember is that social events may or may not be kink-friendly. Obviously if someone invites you to a play-party, you can assume that, at the very least, wearing your leather pants would be okay.

Other types of events may be more ambiguous. I was married once – not to Max – and we had two weddings. One was kinky, and one was family, and you would not believe the lengths my then-husband and I went to in order to make sure our kinky pals did not show up to the family one in chaps and leather corsets, tugging their submissives along on leashes. It was An Issue, believe me. If there is the slightest doubt in your mind, ask. If you can’t ask, err on the side of caution.

For poly people it’s slightly more complex. Here’s how I do it: For the purposes of most social invitations issued to me, Max = my partner. We are an easily recognizable social unit.

Monk is also my partner, of course. And in some ways we too are a social unit, but since we don’t live together, I feel that doesn’t usually apply to social functions. In that sense, Tambo is his partner.

There have been times when Monk and I, specifically, have been invited somewhere. That’s also happened with Max and Puck. That’s all perfectly okay, in my view.

If you do not have a spousal-equivalent, then I think it's all right to ask for clarification. (As always: give the host a graceful out.)

What is true is that Monk and Max and I all move in the same general circle. It’s rare for me to get invited to a large social event that Monk isn’t also invited to. That eliminates a lot of problems, because the main difficulty I see with polyamory and social interactions is “I got invited to an event with one partner, and I want to bring a different partner,” or “...and I want to bring ALL my partners.” That’s where it gets tricky.

Far be it from me to tell someone who is, and who is not, their partner. Never would I wade into such shark-infested waters. What I will say is: if an invitation was issued to Max and I, and Max elected not to go, I would not just show up with Monk – or anyone else - without asking my host if that was all right. I think it’s just basic courtesy to let people know who you’d like to bring into their home. And as a host, I would probably not be hugely offended by such a one-for-one request.

Extra bonus points: But before you ask for a social substitution, ponder: is there a reason why my other partner wasn’t invited? It might be because the host doesn’t know him/her. Or it might be, for example, because the host’s other partner had a bad break-up with your other partner six years ago, and still thinks he’s a giant prat. That sort of scenario is not at all impossible, in the often-incestuous world of poly. You’ll want to have the facts before you start that conversation.

If you want to bring multiple people who were not invited – you’re back to the charmingly grovel/sweetly acknowledge/give the host an out set of rules. But essentially, just because you are intimately involved with someone does not mean they should automatically expect to go anywhere you get invited. It’s the host’s privilege to choose who they want to entertain. And it’s sort of like sex – he/she doesn’t need a compelling reason not to want someone. If you ask, and the host displays any reluctance, mentioning not enough space, the amount of food, any social excuse at all, you should drop it. Only a boor would ask for further justification.

If you cannot bear the idea of attending a social event without all your partners, and your host doesn’t wish to invite them, then the solution is simple: don’t go.