|For those new to this blog, polyamory is loving more than one person at a time, without jealousy or possessiveness. This was the way I lived throughout much of my young life (in the 1970s), and the way I have begun to live again since the end of my marriage in 2007.
Nothing I have espoused on this blog has stirred up more animosity than my position on this subject. I have been threatened and denounced whenever I’ve written about it. It’s clear that many people find the very idea of polyamory threatening. So maybe I should start by clarifying a few things about it.
First of all, a poly lifestyle requires absolute honesty. It’s vital that everyone you enter into a relationship with knows (a) that you are poly, and (b) the identity of the other people you love. No waiting until after you (or another person) has fallen in love. No concealing who and where your other partners are.
Secondly, poly is a behaviour choice, not something you’re “born” being, or not being. It’s not like being gay. We are all capable of being poly, provided we can develop compersion (the capacity to take pleasure in the enjoyment by someone you love, of their love for another). Some people think we would all be ‘naturally’ poly if it weren’t for the pro-monogamy religious and cultural indoctrination we receive from childhood. Whatever the reason for our culture’s insistence on monogamy, as a consequence love in our society is scarce, meted out stingily, and the inevitable result is jealousy, envy, despair and violence.
So the advantages of polyamory (to us as individuals, and to the world as a whole) are pretty clear:
There are a lot of misconceptions about polyamory (some of which I perpetuated in some of my earlier articles, since I didn’t know any better). It’s very rare for a community of poly people to love everyone that the people who they love, love. As the network diagram above illustrates, while there may be triads (groups of three people who all love each other) or quartets (groups of four, each of whom loves two of the three others), the more common situation is a far-flung network where many of the people in the poly community do not love or even know each other (though if they are partners of someone they love, it’s essential they at least know of them). In that respect it’s not that different structurally from networks of friends. Despite this, it’s important that people who love someone who is poly not misconstrue their relationship as a ‘couple’ relationship — the term ‘couple’ is one based in monogamy culture, and its use in poly relationships is potentially dangerous. Couple means two; poly means more than two.
Some poly people have identified ‘primary’ relationships — those that are acknowledged by all parties to be deeper and take primacy over their other ‘secondary’ relationships. This is again a personal matter, depending on each individual’s preferences and needs, and it needs to be clearly communicated. I have a loving relationship with a woman who I am not the primary partner of, and with another woman who is monogamous (but who appreciates that I am not). I personally am not looking for any primary relationship; I am looking for 3-4 loving relationships to fulfil what I am looking for, and to give expression to what I have to offer. I confess that being poly is demanding — time, the scarcest resource, needs to be managed carefully. Especially if the people you love live far away, there are limits to how many people you can sustain a loving relationship with at one time.
The issue of cohabitation can also be problematic. It’s not necessary to live with any or all of the people you love, but if you do, you can quickly run afoul of monogamy-based common law marriage regulations (which may rule you to be ‘equivalent to married’ if you cohabit for more than a certain period), or zoning regulations (that may restrict residency in any one house or apartment to one monogamous ‘couple’).
Likewise, a polyamory relationship may or may not entail economic sharing — this is up to the parties involved to negotiate (and they need to be aware of potential legal complications).
And despite our society’s preoccupation with sex, poly relationships do not have to be sexual. There are many forms of love, and I’ve had loving relationships that were non-sexual that were among the most profound in my life.
Chemistry always has a lot to do with who we love, but I think it’s possible to approach the decision on who, and how many, to love, pragmatically and analytically. Much the way monogamous singles compose ads for dating services identifying what they are looking for and what they offer, it’s quite possible for a poly person to assess what they’re looking for, and what they offer, in multiple relationships, and look for people to love with these factors in mind.
In my case, I’ve identified five things I look for (and offer) in loving relationships: exceptional intelligence, emotional strength, emotional sensitivity, imagination, and excellent communication skills (oral and written). I’ve also written about “the ten things I do” — things I love doing and do reasonably well (see diagram below). Five of those things are relatively social activities, while five are relatively solitary. So what I’m looking for are people with these five qualities that can be applied to the five social activities.
The people I love now have these qualities. But I’m still open to more loving relationships, especially if they’re people physically close to where I live, or hope to live. Some people probably think that’s greedy, or shows an unwillingness to make a commitment to one person. But if we can create a world of abundant love in place of today’s world of scarce love, why should we limit ourselves to one, or ration our own love to just one other?
Category: Being Human
poly relationships do not have to be sexual you wrotel – what would distinguish non-sexual
I’ve been a big fan of threesomes, and for the few short times in my life I was blessed with them, I found them very challenging, and, unfortunately, ephemeral. Unless there is a social support for this sort of thing, they fall apart. Still, if I were to live over again, that would still be my dream.
polyamory is a good idea and is definitely good for the world!and jealousy has no place in civilized society.a wonderful instance of this sort of thing (to some extent) appears in hilton’s lost horizon in shangrila where courtesy overrides carnal catechisms.besides, how else can we get on with important things like writing comments on blogs if we didn’t have a bit of help? ;)
This post is most revealing. What it reveals is – and could only have been written by – a middle-aged man who isn’t getting enough nooky, coupled with severe sexual identity issues (like, you set my gaydar off like an air raid siren). I showed this post to my co-worker who not long ago went through a difficult divorce because her husband decided that poly-groupie-gropies were now the ticket to his happiness. You should have seen her face while she read this post. Priceless!
I remember the story you wrote about the two young girls and the two middle aged men in the restaurant. I understand it was fiction or a metaphor on how you’d like to be enveloped in a constant loving community.Here is the thing. The metaphor that some writers use is a sexually sophisticated younger woman who has something that he (the character or author, not saying you) didn’t have access to in his youth.In my reality I stand at the crossroad of the middle passage and men my age run pass me and their 30 years of acquired life to the mythical young girl of liberation. I do understand and have accepted that feature of some men. I also know it is real hard to get people to be honest on what they want, love, romance, sex, companionship and filling emotional cavities. Finding one truthful & honest person is a blessing, adding three or more to the mix? I don’t know how that works in the long term. Maybe it is not a long term kind of love. In that case perhaps love needs to be redefined again. Maybe a new kind of companionship is evolving.Will there be such communities? Yes I think there already are; there is sexual activity among healthy seniors and since the male population decreases faster that the female there is unspoken sexual sharing and bonding.Boomers will not let this go so perhaps the commune will make a come back. We are still looking for Shangri-La from the outside instead of inside ourselves. I hope you find yours and send the rest of us a postcard.
“Butterflies are free, and so are we.” Your post makes perfect sense to me, Dave. Good luck with trying to convince everyone else! The term ‘unconditional love’, comes to mind. I love my three children–four in September– equally as much. If there’s room for more than one child . . .
Secondly, poly is a behaviour choice, not something you’re “born” being, or not being. It’s not like being gay.I’m not so sure about that one…We are all capable of being poly, provided we can develop compersion (the capacity to take pleasure in the enjoyment by someone you love, of their love for another).You make it sound so simple ;-)Some things you might want to consider for your future polyamory stories… first, humans are slightly polygamous, not polyandrous. Those polyandrous stories just sort of grate on my ‘suspension of disbelief’. Second, monogamy does have it’s “use”… recent research has shown that monogamous societies tend to have a propensity for higher population density. The reasoning comes from finding that almost all male suicide bombers come from polygamous societies and are lower status — meaning they have no sexual/reproductive opportunities. Their potential lower status female mates are going to older, wealthier men. The point being that this heightened violence leads to lower population density.
I also didn’t mean to contradict your comments about violence stemming from monogamy… in college I worked at a women and children shelter and saw that violence first-hand.
Lol, I didn’t see the violence first-hand, I saw the effects of that violence. Urgh!
Wow, great discussion. Let’s add to it Max Neef’s 9 Basic Human Needs: subsistence, identity, understanding, participation, protection, affection, leisure, creation, freedom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_human_needs). Neef argues that these co-exist in mutual exclusivity and that each individual has unique satisfiers for each need. A common flaw in many societies is to use a false satisfier, something that a person thinks is satisfying their need, however it’s only a short term fix. More relevant to this discussion is the idea that a poverty of any need can exist, thus our standard understanding of “poverty” is only a poverty of subsistence and/or protection. However, an individual can experience poverty of leisure, poverty of creation and poverty of affection. In the event of “poverty” (of subsistence), we tend to acknowledge that violence, crime, anger etc. errupt , however rarely do we acknowledge that crime, violence, war and anger are a consequence of a poverty of affection or creation in a place where subsistence is met. This connects to your point, Dave, that we have a deficit of love and compassion in our society and if we learned to love eachother and act out of love rather than fear, our society has a chance to provide more than we can currently fathom. Another reader brought up an interesting point that I have begun to experience in my own life of more than one loving relationship and that is that as I move, shift and transform in my own life, my partners tend to do the same and we don’t always remain in the same geographical location. Thus, there is no requirement or expectation that our partnership will take priority over our individual passions and callings, and as we love, we let go, wanting the most and best for our partners.
Hi,(I tried to post this last night, but my internet connection got wonky.)Interesting assortment of ideas. As a long-time poly-identified person, i find i agree with some and disagree with some of what you’ve written here. No big surprise there, i suppose.I agree that the most important thing is the honesty. Since stats on infidelity show that it is fairly widespread, i actually consider honesty rather than sexual behavior to be the factor that distinguishes polyamory from the dominant relationship model.You can say that polyamory is a choice and not something you are born with, but my experience has been that some people seem to be “wired” poly and others don’t. That is, for some people jealousy runs so fierce that the chances of them ever happily sharing partners is probably too low to be worth trying. For other people, while jealousy may arise occasionally, it feels more situational than inherent. I consider it good luck that i fall into the second category.As a bisexual who believes that most people are naturally bisexual, i don’t buy your contrast between polyamory and gayness. Like the rest of the nature/nurture debate, it’s a mix. (Remember that most men in ancient Rome had sex with each other, right?) Internally my polyness *feels* like an orientation as much as my bisexuality does; while acting on either one is a behavioral choice, since i have sometimes gone years without having additional partners and/or without being lovers with someone of the second gender.I would add to your list of advantages of being poly that it makes you more likely to grow, because while you may be inclined to defensively blow off from one partner, when you have two (or more) partners telling you the same thing it kinda makes you take it more seriously! Which is not to say that poly folk are necessarily more evolved; obviously we can be as dumb as anyone else. ;-)I get really tired of the heterosexist assumptions. Like if there are 4 peoplein a polyfidelitous relationship then that means each one has 2 sexual partners. Duh, this is only true if all 4 people are straight, and how likely is that? In this day and age, other laws that are probably more likely to cause trouble than cohabitation/residency laws. Try dealing with a child custody case, it is bad news–the courts assume poly people are worse parents than monogamous (or more likely, pretend-monogamous) people, it is discrimination that at this time remains fully socially acceptable. I recommend Solot & Miller’s book Unmarried to Each Other <http://www.unmarriedtoeachother.com/> for good info on all kinds of legalities and how to handle them.I don’t understand the point of calling a nonsexual relationship polyamorous. You are the only person i’ve ever heard define the term that way, and i hang in poly circles a lot. It is the desire to cross sexual boundaries that generally sets people off, and leads to the hostile behavior such as that you described receiving as a result of your positive writing on this subject. It sounds like maybe you need a new word to describe your personal relational affiliations.Thanks William for the comparison to childrearing, which i’ve always thought to be an excellent one that clearly shows the arbitrariness of current social customs. No one disputes that it is possible to love two or more kids, so why the double standard when it comes to lovers? Cheers.
^^””double standard whe it comes to lovers”…gosh where do you come from, don’t you know it’s highly frowned upon to have sex with its own children => incest is not socially acceptable in most cultures!!
Most thought-provoking post, Dave, it’s got me a-soul searching. How much relationship have I left gone begging because of my f-ed up notions of couple-ness? That doesn’t necessarily make coupleness lesser than polyamory – perhaps there’s a healthier relationship to coupleness. Positives I see in monogamy are: relationship to finiteness; the opportunity to grieve the kinds of relationship one will no longer have; and the practice of de-cision.I get your distinction between non-sexual poly relationships and friendships – there’s a qualitative difference between what friendship allows and what ‘a relationship’ does, and the gap between is where there is the greatest cry more intimacy, imo: though some have found strict celibacy a path to this non-sexual personal love.Something tells me the really outside-of-cultural thing here, the thing that’ll get a lynch-mob chasing you up the hill, is not the multiplicity of partners, but the assertion of responsibility for honesty and negotiation in relationships.Someone once told a group I was in discussing peace, that in her view, peace IS negotiation. I think she was right.So more power to you on the path you’ve chosen.
I put off commenting in order to think on this one a while; Tree Bressen covered most of the points I would have made (with the exception of comparing love of one’s children to love of partners). The reason this topic rouses more animosity in responses is a point that really deserves more examination. I concur with Tree that there is a wiring component to being poly, just as other aspects of our sexuality are hardwired; it makes sense that it is, since the success of our genome requires a distribution of modalities of relations just as it relies on a diversity in expression of sexuality.My gut also tells me that you are personally avoiding the issue of hardwiring, wet-wiring and the flexibility of human memetic programming. Why we do anything as humans fits within a complex matrix of presets and limited dip switches and highly fluid software and is necessarily so to ensure our survival as a species. But embracing that means giving up the concept of agency, or compromising on limitations to agency. As a bit of an exercise, imagine that you are compelled to be poly, that you actually chose not to be poly rather than the other way around; digest the notion that a majority of the human genome’s distribution fits under a compound, three-dimensional curve wherein some are hardwired to be solitary (to the point of non-reproductive), some are poly (to the point where they may have no idea how many children and whose they have parented), and all of us fall under this umbrella somewhere with a strong tendency towards monogamy being the mean (and by tendency I don’t mean absolute monogamy). The problem, if all of this can be seen as normal (when not actively hurtful to other humans), is that no group, no person can claim that any particular type of relationship is perfect; they are what they are, essential to the continuity of humanity. The animosity the topic stirs is bound up in the innate sense each person has about normative behavior, not only because ofculture (which tends to reflect memetically what genetics hardwire), but because their hardwiring says this does not compute for them. Seems quite simple.And the one point made in thread here with which I take exception is the comparison of relationships to multiple partners to that with one’s multiple children. Partners have a completely different function in adults’ lives than one’s children; for the overwhelming majority of parents, we are hardwired to care deeply for our children because they are the vehicles of our own genetic propagation. Partners are not, unless they are also the co-parents of our progeny.
Interesting discussion — thanks everyone. Don’t agree with all of this, but it’s a lot more insightful and even-handed than the response to my previous posts on the subject. I will accept that neither poly-mono nor gay-straight are either-ors, and that they are both probably ‘normally’ (heh) distributed. But my guess is that the mean of those distributions is skewed more to the poly and to the straight. I think the reason more people appear to be hard-wired mono than poly is because of our culture’s social conditioning, which has at least as much to do with our self-identity as our genetic wiring. So many animals (even most of the ones that are romanticized falsely as ‘mating for life’) are mostly poly that it just doesn’t seem logical to me that humans would be genetically mostly mono. Doesn’t seem Darwinian either.
But I think you are confusing genetic distribution with pairing, Dave. The concept of “mating for life” and infidelity aren’t just artificial social constructs; they mirror approaches to genetic and memetic dispersion.Let’s say you have a female who needs a mate with plenty of resources but poor genetic material; she’s a candidate for a life-pairing with the resource-laden male, but a candidate for infidelity by which she can obtain better male genes. Or the case of well-matched resources and genes, which could lead to pairing for life, or the case of serial monogamy where disruptions in resources or genes are “corrected” sequentially.Our self-identity is not something developed in a vacuum; it’s hard to part the culture in which it is formed from the genes which create culture to their own end.