a guest article by Cally of House Fidelis

So, your friend has just come out as plural? Or maybe you’ve known for a while. But perhaps there seems to be some tension – you’re really not on the same page. Sometimes, it can be really hard for singlets (non-plural folk) to accept that each member of a multiple system is their own person, with all the variations in opinions, memories and preferences that brings. In this article I hope to tackle the main belief that makes this a problem – that somehow a plural group is just one really strange person – and give a few hints and tips for both sides to hopefully move past this sticking point.

I think the fundamental issue here is the need for singlets to grasp that each of us is actually a person in his or her own right. Once that is understood, what at first glance looks like very erratic behaviour starts to make sense. Of course, us plural groups have some things we can do to help communication with others surrounding this subject too, so we’ll be having a look at the issue from both sides in this article.

We wonder how many plural groups have had this experience? Somebody who knows you are plural says something like this:

“But you took sugar in your tea yesterday!”
“We only talked about this last week, how can you not remember?”
“I thought you loved this kind of music”
“Can’t you just make up your mind?”

Or, if you are a singlet friend maybe you’ve said this sort of thing to your plural friends after they came out to you? This mindset can cause a lot of hurt and frustration, to both sides. And it all comes down to one simple wrong assumption. On some level, you believe your friends are “one person”, or that each person is a “part”, controlled by the “real person”. Perhaps on some level you think the “real person” is somehow imagining it all. Maybeyou believe them but can’t help thinking “surely my friend could have some control over all this weird stuff? No-one changes their mind that often!”

What needs to happen in this situation is a paradigm shift, which seems immense but will hopefully make life more harmonious. It is the acceptance that more than one person can and does exist in the one physical body that you consider your friend. It’s most likely taken them a lot of courage and thought to come out to you, and they have the right to be treated as individuals, if they have made themselves known to you and expressed that preference.

It’s very easy to assume that because the physical form you are looking at is the same from day to day, the behaviour must also match exactly. This assumption can cause problems for multiple groups who are trying to come out and be accepted by those around them. We ourselves have been told “yes, but you have to remember to me you are all the same person because it’s the same body.” While we can understand this – after all it’s not every day you are asked to process the fact that your friend or lover is actually one of a group of people – moving beyond this mindset is one of the keys to having a good friendship/relationship with one or more members of a multiple system.

Take me, Cally, for example. I like my coffee relatively strong, with milk and sugar. I’m vegetarian. And I really cannot stand loud metal or rock music, it just doesn’t do it for me. So, here I am, not harming anyone, enjoying my coffee and my cheese sandwich and probably something kind of chilled on playlist.com, or whatever. In an everyday setting that wouldn’t be a problem, right? But what happens the next time we’re hanging out together and Onyx or Tai is out? Onyx prefers his coffee completely black. Tai could happily listen to Nightwish for hours, but she really cannot stand dairy products. Do you somehow assume that “I” am just really fickle, or trying to be awkward? Now, obviously in situations where we are not out to someone we have to take steps to cover these inconsistencies (a subject for another article perhaps). But in situations where we are out, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to express ourselves and our preferences as we please. I can see how it looks from an outside perspective, but think about it for a moment. What is so strange about Onyx and I liking our coffee differently? Do you like to take your coffee the exact same way as your friend from across town?

If we could drop this assumption that somehow having access to the same body equals having identical likes and dislikes, singlet/plural relationships could get a whole lot more enjoyable.

I think the same concept can be applied to the issue of sharing memories. Some people refer to “losing time”, but that’s not a phrase I’m fond of. I don’t lose time. I know what I’m doing when I’m here, and what I did when I was last here, and most of the time I know what I’m doing when I’m not here, too. Some multiple systems do have shared memories, or continuous knowledge of everything that happens “to the body” if you’ll excuse the clumsy phrasing. For us personally, we don’t have shared memories as such, but we do tell each other important things and we try to keep vital information in a kind of mental filing cabinet, to facilitate sharing things. Still, at the heart of the matter is the fact that when I’m here I simply cannot remember what Tier did last week, or the conversation Tai had the other month. I think this can be hard for people to understand, because it looks like their friend is just really, really forgetful or strange. Again, the key to understanding is the acceptance that you are dealing with more than one person. It’s no more unusual for me not to remember where Tai went shopping last week than it is for you to not remember what your boss had for dinner last night (assuming you didn’t have dinner with him!)

Of course, this might not be the case with your friend or partner. Each group is different and has their own way of sharing information and so on. But no matter how things work for the group you know, my main points can be summed up really easily:

We all have different likes and dislikes because we are different people, same as you and your colleagues or relatives.

If we don’t happen to have the same memories, that’s because our system doesn’t work that way, for whatever reason. Let us decide whether it is a problem or not, and again, just remember that you don’t share memories with your boss or sister.

The key to all this is the simple acceptance that each of us is what we say we are – a person in our own right, an individual, someone with their own continuous history and preferences.

I’d like to close this article with some suggestions for singlets and plurals in this situation to help make things easier.

Advice for singlets:

Agree with your plural friends what would be comfortable for you both. Should you ask who is out if you’re not sure? Should you check before making a drink or something to eat?

Don’t act shocked or surprised when a different fronter expresses themselves and their preferences. Really, that’s just rude.

Take the time to get to know individuals – there may be good friends waiting to be made if you take the time to get to know different people.

Remember you are dealing with different people. Your friend isn’t just fickle or forgetful.

If you’re unsure how your friends’ system works, don’t assume that all information is shared. Responsibility for ensuring important information is shared rests with your plural friends, but that doesn’t mean each person will remember every little thing everyone else has done. Accept that sometimes you will just have to repeat yourself!

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something, and be willing to be open minded.

Advice for plural groups:

Take responsibility for your own information sharing and passing if you are not co-conscious.

Don’t expect your friend to be able to keep track of everyone and everything in your group. It’s really not their job.

Be forgiving, if your friend is really trying their best. Mistakes happen. Getting to know a plural group is a bit different from getting to know a group of people who each have their own physical body. It’s not a commonly talked about thing, so it’s unrealistic to expect your friend to accept everything right off the bat.

Try and work out some parameters that work for your group as a whole, socially, such as alcohol limits, food intolerances and so on.

Advice for everyone involved:

Talk it out, and really listen.
Accept that you won’t always agree on everything, and don’t try to force each other into agreement.
Be patient with each other!
Set some ground rules if you need them.
Get the whole mutual respect and tolerance thing going and build from there.
Have fun! Enjoy each other’s company and the fact that lots of people could be making new acquaintances here.