Brother Husbands

I’ve written about polyamory, the practice of having more than one sexual partner in a relationship, on this blog before: here and here. The interest I have in this subject is mainly one of morbid curiosity triggered by my having inadvertently gotten to know a woman who spent most of her twenties in polyamorous relationships and I became fascinated by the mental gymnastics required to maintain one.

The other night I was flicking around through Sky looking for some rubbish to watch and I stumbled across a show called Brother Husbands on TLC. The show concerns an American woman who lives with two men, one of whom is her husband and the other her lover. The title of the show is a play on the term “sister wives” which Mormon polygamists use for their multiple wives. I decided to watch it to see if any of it married up (‘scuse the pun) with what I already knew about polyamorists.

The first, and probably only, surprising thing about the show is that the woman, who goes by the name of Amanda Liston, is quite attractive:

Although I keep reading articles explaining that women engaged in polyamory can be young and cute (and the woman I referred to earlier was not ugly), most of the time they look more like this:

I suspect the general attractiveness of the leading lady in Brother Husbands was the crucial factor in the programme being made. If she was a warpig, it is unlikely anyone would have watched it for long.

But that was about it in terms of surprises. Amanda’s two lovers look like this (the husband is the one in the middle):

It is almost a certainty that the men in a polyamorous relationship will be noodle-armed omegas of hipster persuasion (note the similarity with those in the other photo). On the odd occasion this rule doesn’t apply, he will be an astonishingly ugly, middle-aged man with a pot belly and wearing bad knitwear. As “The Inimitable Steve” once put it at Tim Worstall’s:

The males – “men” would be over-egging it – mostly look like they came straight out of central casting for a 1970’s Public Information Film warning kiddies about paedos.

The sleeping arrangements insofar as Amanda’s relationship is concerned is for her to sleep with one guy for three nights followed by the other for three nights, and then all three of them climb into the same bed for one night (Amanda goes in the middle). Amanda is in her mid to late twenties and has two children from the husband and triplets from the other fella. They live in a large house somewhere in what I guess is flyover country (I doubt they could afford to live on the coasts).

Both of the men were whiny as hell, and it was obvious that Amanda wore the trousers in that household. I speculated early on that the husband, Chad, was actually gay as he appeared about as straight as Graham Norton. Both he and Amanda mentioned a Christian upbringing, and I understand he was raised in a foster home (probably run along Christian lines). Sure enough, thanks to further investigation carried out by my research assistant who guffawed along with me while we watched the show, it turns out he is bisexual. My guess is that Chad is actually out-and-out gay but his Christian upbringing doesn’t allow him to express it, and so he got married to somebody from his church group. This is probably why he had few objections when this other chap called Jeremy entered their lives and announced one day that he was in love with Amanda. As far as Chad is concerned, having another man in his bed is all fine and dandy and probably what he wanted all along.

Jeremy looks as depressed as hell and is as whiny as Chad. I expect he entered into this relationship, also via this church group, because he has no chance whatsoever of getting laid any other way. He didn’t smile once during the entire show and if I read headlines in a few years saying he’s slaughtered the entire family with a large carving knife nobody will be less surprised than me. If part of the arrangement is an agreement to be Chad’s top for one night a week, we can bring this butchery forward by a few months.

The last non-surprise came yesterday when my research assistant uncovered this article, which reveals that Amanda and Chad got married on an MTV reality TV show, and she had been on another reality TV show called King of the Nerds. In other words, she’s an attention whore.

Back in June when I was trying to get my head around this polyamory lark I entered into some online discussions with people who had some experience in the practice, mainly via friends and relatives who’d gotten into it. They said the attractive people who enter into polyamorous relationships are generally Cluster B types, possibly with a history of mental illness and childhood sexual abuse. For the rest, a combination of their personalities, physical appearance, and low self-esteem means this is probably all they can get. One of the points mentioned was that polyamory can work, but those who make a success of it practice it in a very low-key, very individualistic manner to the degree that nobody other than their close friends and relatives would know about it. Baring all on a TV show, writing about polyamorous lifestyles in columns (see Laurie Penny, who fits the bill on almost every measure), joining polyamorous “communities”, and having weddings in Central Park with all the various lovers invited for group photos appear more like acts of desperate attention-seeking than an alternative to a normal, functioning relationship.

During some of my online discussions (which David Thompson generously hosted in his comment section) somebody mentioned a documentary made in 2002 called When Two Won’t Do about polyamorous relationships in Canada and the US. I haven’t yet seen it, but I am contemplating purchasing it from Vimeo (this discussion on polyamory forms part of the book I am writing, hence all of this is research in a way). The producer is a woman from Montreal who covers who own polyamorous relationships as well as others. Here is how I saw it described:

People in the poly community praise it as a realistic and positive treatment of the lifestyle. Normal people see it for what it is: a collection of deeply dysfunctional people with severe self-esteem issues desperately self-soothing with meaningless sex. One of the subjects commits suicide during the filming; that’s included in the film with virtually no impact or comment despite it being directly related to the stress of trying to maintain the fiction of the non-monogamous relationship.

Back in April I had barely heard of polyamory, but as I said, the subject was kind of forced on me one evening. Since then, nothing I have seen has convinced me that the following statement, offered by the same person who I quoted above, is untrue:

Broadly, the best way to describe polyamory is that it’s a coping mechanism, not a lifestyle choice.

Don’t judge!

“Men are so judgmental!” she wailed.  “They are always judging us!”  This was relayed to me by a woman in her mid-thirties who had been single for a while and was looking for a partner.

“I know,” I nodded sympathetically. “It’s most odd that a middle aged man who has accumulated substantial assets and enjoys a certain reputation both professionally and socially should carry out some sort of character assessment on those who he is looking to share his entire life with. Me, I just don’t get it.”

There is a phrase I hear and read quite a lot these days, and when I hear it I find it is always worth looking at who is saying it and why.  That phrase is: “Don’t judge!”

On one level I can agree with the sentiment behind it.  As I wrote here, one of the principles of freedom and liberty is that two consenting adults ought to be able to do what the hell they like with one another (provided they don’t frighten the horses) free of societal judgement that comes in the form of laws and penalties.  So from that perspective I quite agree with the sentiment behind the words “Don’t judge!”

Unfortunately, that’s not how the phrase gets used.  Usually it is deployed against an individual who might be about to reach a conclusion as to somebody’s character that is at odd’s with the person saying it.  Two things annoy me about this phrase.

Firstly, let’s be honest here.  Everybody judges everybody, all the time.  It is as reflexive to humans as breathing: any kind of interaction between people involves the gathering of information, categorising it, and drawing conclusions based upon it.  Some of these processes are entirely subconcious and happen in milliseconds.

He’s handsome. He’s tall. She looks happy. That man wants my attention. I like her glasses. She likes me. He is trustworthy. We could get along. Nice coat. Awful hair.

Human interaction is literally impossible without judging people.  So saying “Don’t judge!” is like saying “Don’t look and think!” 

Also, take a look at who is using this phrase the most often.  Chances are…nay, scratch that.  It is a guarantee that those who use this phrase are themselves the most judgmental people you’re every likely to come across.  Next time you hear somebody saying “Don’t judge!” ask them what they think of white, male Republicans in South Carolina.  Or people who own guns.  Or Leave voters.  What they mean is “Don’t judge us, but we will judge you!”

But that’s the minor point of this post; the main one is what I referred to in the opening exchange.

It is one thing for society to judge and impose laws restricting individual freedoms.  But as Maggie pointed out, society is merely the term used to describe the aggregate of individual actions and behaviours.  And on that basis I don’t think there is anything wrong whatsoever in individuals judging the behaviour of others and treating them accordingly.  Indeed, it is perfectly consistent with the rights of free individuals to do so.  And if this aggregates across society to mean society as a whole judges certain behaviours, then so be it.  Provided no laws are passed banning these behaviours, then the principles of freedom and liberty are upheld.  Each individual makes their own choices regarding who they interact with and on what level, and if they have judged certain behaviours to be beyond the pale then that is their right.  You wouldn’t expect a hardcore, third-wave feminist to associate with an anti-abortion campaigner.  And you wouldn’t expect somebody with a functioning brain to associate with a hardcore, third-wave feminist.

Only what’s happened is some people have been encouraged to adopt certain behaviours that are frowned upon by most of society, and later on discover that this is causing them some problems, particularly when it comes to finding a partner.  This is partly what I was referring to in my post about chivalry:

Now I’m something between a libertarian and a classical liberal, and so I believe that if these women – or any others – want to drink themselves into oblivion on alcoholic mouthwash and make idiots of themselves in kebab houses at 3am, that’s their business.  But such liberties are also extended to those of us who observe such behaviour and pass judgement, which includes deciding how such women ought to be treated in terms of subsequent personal relations.

Similarly, if a young woman is going to exercise her right to be promiscuous in her twenties and do things which most of society considers shameful, then she is going to struggle to find somebody to take her seriously as a partner in later years.  All of this depends on the individuals concerned and the specific circumstances of course, but my general point is true enough that those who are running into such problems have had to invent the refrain “Don’t judge!”  (For all those who might be thinking a double-standard is at play here, would any woman take a man seriously if he said “I spent the past ten years shagging around, mainly with much younger girls, but now I want to settle down. Hey, don’t judge!”?  No, they wouldn’t.)

What they are effectively doing is admitting they have done something shameful and they don’t want this taken into consideration by anyone evaluating their suitability for a relationship – be it romantic, platonic, or business.  By using the phrase “Don’t judge!” they are implying the other person is doing something wrong: he or she is being “judgemental”, which to some is a sin worse than infanticide.

But as I implied at the beginning, you’d be incredibly foolish not to judge if you’re considering a serious relationship with somebody.  Some say judge, others say carry out sensible due diligence.  It’s an odd idea that somebody’s past behaviour and overall character shouldn’t be taken into consideration in such circumstances.  People change, people move on, unfortunate things happen.  In my experience folk can be pretty forgiving, and a willingness to compromise is one of the foundations of any relationship.

But if somebody is telling you “Don’t judge!” when you barely know them or – worse – they are telling you “Don’t judge!” in relation to their friend, then the best course of action is to start running in the opposite direction and keep going until you reach the sea.

Life, Liberty and…er…Some Bloke’s J*zz?

It was only a matter of time before our masters started tying themselves in knots due to their own stupidity:

Single men and women without medical issues will be classed as “infertile” if they do not have children but want to become a parent, the World Health Organisation is to announce.

In a move which dramatically changes the definition of infertility, the WHO will declare that it should no longer be regarded as simply a medical condition.

The authors of the new global standards said the revised definition gave every individual “the right to reproduce”.

Until now, the WHO’s definition of infertility – which it classes as a disability – has been the failure to achieve pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex.

But the new standard suggests that the inability to find a suitable sexual partner – or the lack of sexual relationships which could achieve conception – could be considered an equal disability.

That’s generally the problem with insisting somebody has the right to do something that requires the cooperation of one or more people.  It’s why the right to get married was so stupid: what if you’re too damned obnoxious to find a willing partner?  Have your rights been violated?  Apparently so:

Dr David Adamson, one of the authors of the new standards, said “It puts a stake in the ground and says an individual’s got a right to  reproduce whether or not they have a partner. It’s a big change.

“It fundamentally alters who should be included in this group and who should  have access to healthcare. It sets an international legal standard.  Countries are bound by it.”

Okay, marvellous.  So what do we do about this?

In the UK, it is illegal to pay surrogates, resulting in a severe shortage  of women wanting to take on the role.  Similarly, there is a national shortage of sperm and eggs, with donors only  able to receive expenses.

There is a shortage of sperm and eggs – which I suspect exists pretty much everywhere – and now the WHO is saying everybody has a right to somebody else’s, and countries are legally bound to provide them.  Presumably if they can’t make up the shortfall in the private sector, governments are going to have to create state enterprises in which people are employed to sit around doing nothing but wanking all day.

Business as usual, then.

More on Polyamory

James Higham made the following remark on his blog which reminded me of something I’d had occasion to think about at various points this year:

There’s another factor and I’ve left it to the end – it seems peculiar to women – and that is the need – nay, almost the necessity – to be ‘torn between two lovers’.

The reason for this I believe has to do with something I read over at Chateau Heartiste about a year ago, and that is the idea that it is rare for women to be able to sleep with two men concurrently.

Okay, women cheat.  We all know that.  But if a married woman is cheating on her husband by shagging the pool boy, it will either occur a few times and then she’ll end it, or she’ll not be having much sex with the husband.  And if she is, she’s going through the motions to avoid raising his suspicions, but most likely she’s not.

It is also not uncommon for young women to be “seeing” two or more men concurrently in non-serious flings, but this is often for a relatively short period before she chooses to settle with one.

What I am talking about is a sustained, sexual relationship lasting several months or more with multiple partners.  I have only met one woman who admits to having been in this situation – prostitutes excepted.  Which is what makes female polyamorists – who I have written about before – so unusual.  I’m not saying they can’t do it, or it is wrong, or they shouldn’t do it, I am just pointing out that, in my experience, it is highly unusual and probably requires a certain mindset which most women don’t possess.

Contrast this with men who – guilt aside – are easily capable of continuing full, concurrent sexual relations with a whole harem of women, should they get the opportunity.

I understand that polyamory is becoming more popular with the young folk, although I get the slight impression it is the tiny minority of practitioners that are telling us this and/or are conflating it with merely shagging around.

(I’m posting this partly because polyamory and women’s ability to participate in it is one of the themes I am exploring in a book I am in the process of writing, and I’d be interested in any feedback or readers’ thoughts/experiences.)

Keep Talking

This caught my eye in the wake of the Brangelina fallout:

But perhaps the flow of headlines about unhappy endings actually gives us the wrong impression about Hollywood relationships, because there is a long list of high-profile couples who have proved stars can have staying power.

The Sex and the City actress has been married to the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off star for 19 years. The couple have three children.

Parker has admitted their marriage has been through “some rather treacherous train rides”.

But in 2014 Broderick said: “We really are friends beyond everything else and we talk a lot.”

Asked his advice for other couples, he said: “Just keep talking I guess. I know how cliched that is. Too much silence is definitely not a good idea.”

There is probably more wisdom in those last two paragraphs than there is in ten thousand dollars’ worth of marriage guidance counselling and a decade of contemporary opinions on what a modern relationship should look like.

When I look back at the relationships I’ve had that have worked, and compared them against those that haven’t, the differences between them can probably be linked to communication.  I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, and I believe problems can be solved by talking about them (and writing about them, hence the blog).  I start any relationship – platonic or romantic, male or female – by talking three times as much as I’m supposed to and keeping that up indefinitely.  Listening is also important, and I have often been accused of not doing so.  Although every serious instance of that has been in a professional capacity when a manager has mistaken “listening” for “agreeing”.  There may have been a time when I thought I didn’t listen to people in relationships, but that long ago gave way to a confidence that I know the people close to me very, very well indeed.  And you don’t get to do that by not listening, and thinking about what they’ve said.

Communication is everything in a relationship.  When things are going well, communication tends to go well.  But when things go wrong it often suffers, and you can quickly see who is in it for the partnership and who is in it for themselves.

Whatever the issue is, no matter how bad, keep the lines of communication open.  Sure, take a ten minute break, or take a couple of hours to reply to a message.  But tell the other person you’re doing that, and let them know when you’ll reply.  The moment one party or the other decides they’re going to fall silent for a period of more than a few hours, or (worse) a few days, or (even worse) an indefinite period; or they’re going to completely ignore a message or an email; the relationship is over.  Dead.  It won’t recover.

Sure, I get people say nasty things, and if a situation breaks down into a slanging match of hate-filled invective and insults then it is wise to take a step back and have some time off.  But the lines of communication must stay open: clearly say you’re having a break, and that you’ll be ready to talk again the next day at the latest.  Get back to talking as soon as possible.  Stomping off into indefinite silence and dragging it out over days will result in only one thing: a failed relationship.  If one party doesn’t want to talk then better to just end the whole thing right there and then, because the outcome is inevitable.

And if you are stupid enough to think that adopting a position of silence and ignoring a partner who is reaching out to you in order to punish him/her, and require that they come grovelling back with an apology and take all the blame regardless in order for you to respond, then you deserve all the misery that is coming your way.  A decent partner wouldn’t do this, and Matthew Broderick is right again when he says:

We really are friends beyond everything else

Your partner might not be your greatest ever love, but if they’re your friend they’ll not fuck you over and will keep talking to you no matter what.  If he or she stops communicating, they’re not your friend, they don’t have your interests at heart, and they’re in it for themselves: walk away.

Keep talking, as the BT ads used to say.

(No, this is not related to any current personal issue I have.  I just saw Broderick’s remarks and decided to look back on relationships I’ve either been in myself or those of others I’ve been around.)