I am extremely new to the poly scene and am still learning community ‘norms.’ In relation to that, I recently read the post on this blog from October 6, 2013 entitled, “Should I let my partner read my emails?”
It was alarming.
If a partner of mine asked to be allowed to read my emails (or whatever communications) and I said “yes,” I would be guilty of betraying the confidences of everyone who ever had sent and everyone who ever does send me email (or whatever communications).
My family sends me deeply personal messages. Friends send me deeply personal messages. It is MY responsibility to protect those confidences. They send those messages to ME, not to me-and-whatever-suspicious-partners-I-might-ever-have.
I know there is no “general policy,” but is this something of a community norm? To be expected to demonstrate trustworthiness by fundamentally betraying the communications of everyone I’ve ever known?
Is the notion that one should “always act as if everyone you’d ever met and cared about was watching” interpreted to mean that I should actually ENABLE everyone to watch? Should I put a video camera in my bedroom and distribute the live feed and recordings to anyone I care about – present or future – who wants it?
I feel like that would be betrayal on a grand scale. Furthermore, if I have a friend who behaves that way, I would certainly want to be made aware in advance that anything I send that friend might also be seen by any of his/her partners.
Please help me understand how poly people deal with this in real life. Do people actually give their partners this kind of access? If they do, do they make any effort to inform everyone else they communicate with that their communications are NOT private? How do people handle ‘crazy ex’ issues with this?
Loyal For Real
Since I practice open email communication with my partner, and wrote much of what likely surprised you about that post, I’ll explain my personal perspective.
First off, there is no workable universal policy for openness within a relationship, whether poly, traditional, or otherwise. The best policy is the one you and your partner/s decide works best for you, and that may change from time to time. What I recommend is the optimal scenario from my perspective: open and honest communication to an extreme, the logical conclusion to the underpinning of ethical nonmonogamy.
Put into practice, however, total transparency isn’t realistic in all situations. I see a difference between SECRETS with which you’ve been entrusted, and COMMUNICATIONS.
Let me pose it this way: if you received a message involving an interesting / problematic / curious / emotionally charged topic, would you feel comfortable discussing that topic with your best friend? I don’t see any real difference between discussing the contents of a conversation with my partner, and actually sharing that conversation with my partner. If there’s an expectation of secrecy within a specific message or conversation (whether implicit or explicit), then I would tell my partner there was something personal or private that wouldn’t be appropriate to share, explain why, and ask that partner to avoid that particular area; perhaps I’d even delete it after reading, with my partner’s knowledge I was doing so and why. But barring extenuating circumstances, I think it reasonable to expect that anything you tell, write, or message another person these days is likely to be shared, especially to a significant other if they have one. The only question is where any of us draw the line between what we consider private, and what we consider fair game for sharing.
While I understand my position might not meet your particular needs or beliefs, I explained why I do it that way and why I consider it ideal, even if untenable for some. So is this a betrayal at all, let alone one of epic proportions? I don’t think so at all, although your mileage may (and likely does) vary. Mischa?
As Leon pointed out, if the topic of the message is so secretive that you can’t talk about it with your partner, then you probably can’t have the kind of open relationships that Leon and I do – and that’s totally okay! FBI, CIA and NSA people can be poly too, as long as they are up-front about their reasons, LOL!
Personally, my partners have access to my online calendar and my messages (their fingerprints unlock my phone) and I have the same access. Do we pick up each other’s phones and scroll through texts and emails? Absolutely not, because we respect each other’s privacy. Giving each other access is one way we show that we have nothing to hide from each other.
For example, to think about it another way: If people expect me to hide something from my partners, I feel that’s a big “ask” and it’s incumbent upon them to inform me of that expectation so I can arrange a phone call or a meeting, or tell them I’m not comfortable with keeping something from the people closest to me.
That’s a 180-degree flip from your belief that people expect you to keep all their communications confidential. But the problem with that assumption is that you won’t know for sure what you can share with your partner(s) and what you can’t because EVERYTHING is assumed to be confidential. If your relationships never intersect then I guess you’re fine, but what happens if your partners and friends meet? How will you know what you can share so they don’t remain strangers?
In the end, it all boils down to consent. Your worldview is that nothing can be shared without consent, but I’m guessing that people end up sharing some of it anyway and violating that non-consent. Our worldview is that everything is shared unless WE consent to keep it secret from our partners. This ensures that whatever needs to be kept private is handled appropriately and leaves us free to share everything else without violating anyone’s privacy expectations.
Thanks for writing in and giving us a chance to once again address this sensitive topic!