Recently, I was talking to a good friend about a woman in whom I was interested and some of the issues that meant navigating. After a while my friend, who identifies as gay and at least says he'd never be interested in polyamory, commented, "Wow, I'm really glad I'm not bisexual."
At the time, we had both been drinking so I didn't bother to clarify, but I thought about it a bit more and realized: It is a common misconception, and one I've encountered frequently among people who identify strictly as gay or lesbian (but not bi or omni/pan), that bisexual means non-monogamous. Before getting married, I cannot count the number of times I'd have a woman to whom I was attracted turn me down saying, "I'm really into you, but I just don't want to have to share you." This, before I had ever heard the word polyamory or ever considered ethical non-monogamy as a lifestyle.
It's just not fair. When I'd approach a woman, I'd get the "I don't want to have to share you" or "what if you leave me for a guy" reaction. When I'd tell a guy I was into or newly dating that I was bi, I'd often get either the same response, OR the "hey, cool, can I watch?" Watch what? Us in the mirror? At that point in my life, all I wanted was to find someone nice, settle down, and be happy. The idea that I had to have BOTH a man AND a woman at any given time just because I was bi seemed absurd, and still does, actually.
But then, I remember. I remember a guy in a bar trying to talk me into following his wife into the restroom to ask for her number. I remember one of my best friends being asked by her bi girlfriend's boyfriend to join them for a wild night because, "hey-- it's her birthday, and this would be the best present ever." I remember being invited MYSELF a few times to join someone as their human sex toy, because "my husband allows me to get some action on the side as long as he gets to be there." (I declined, by the way, and quite grouchily.)
I can totally get how some people mistakenly assume bi=poly (or open marriage, to be more specific). There are enough straight folks out there pimping out their partners for their own enjoyment, and bi folks out there using that as an excuse to be non-monogamous (ethical or otherwise), it makes sense. Plenty of folks looking for the perfect Mythical Bi Babe who can fulfill all their Unicorn Relationship Fantasies-- all sex, no emotion, be satisfied with the fact that you get to have sex with us with no level of commitment at all or consideration of your needs/feelings from us. W. T. F.
And really, I'm not opposed to Unicorn Relationships, if that's what's meeting everyone's needs. I once had someone tell me she enjoyed dating a couple and knowing it was secondary because she wasn't in an emotional place to have a strong primary relationship but didn't feel a need to be alone. I'm also not opposed to someone being an occasional human sex toy, if that's meeting their needs and sex for sex's sake is the goal. As long as what is happening is mutually respectful, meeting everyone's needs, and not keeping anyone from finding their own unique joy, I'm down with consenting adults doing what works for them.
But for the love of Zeus, can we please just abandon this fantasy that someone having the capacity to be in relationship with someone of either gender means that they WILL BE, no matter what? If someone who is bi asks you out or comes on to you, don't be afraid to ASK if they are looking for something exclusive or open instead of just assuming. If you ARE bi and doing the open or poly thing, make sure you don't misrepresent yourself and cause lots of lovely monogamous bi folks a lot of stress by presuming to speak for all bisexuals.
I don't struggle with the emotional and practical challenges of attempting to have multiple relationships because I am bi, pan, or omnisexual. I struggle with that because my husband and I have allowed our marriage to be opened up, not just to cheap sex, but to polyamory, loving other people, and dating. Sometimes that's with someone who identifies as a woman. Sometimes that's with someone who identifies as a man. But it's because I'm poly, right? For almost 12 years, we've been monogamous without any unfaithfulness, and it wasn't a hardship for me to miss out on women, any more than it's a hardship for a hetero person to be monogamous for that long.
Orientation does not define my relationship structures. I do.