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.)

18 thoughts on “More on Polyamory

  1. No experience of polyamory, I’m afraid.

    Only comment I would make is that (in the west at least) I suspect that it is a vanishingly small number of people who have tried it (as in tried actual polyamory, not the sneaking around/cheating by another name/psychological abuse form), and a smaller still number who have made it work.

    I further suspect that anyone who actually wants multiple significant others is more likely mentally ill than anything else.

    Having said that, there’s nowt more queer than folk, and everyone’s I’d makes fools of them now and again.

    (Seriously- I have a deep rooted suspicion that-sex wise- there’s bollocks all difference between the drives and desires of men and women. I think we are much of a muchness under the hood. The apparent differences are most likely to come from the fact it’s really bloody hard to be objective about this stuff)

  2. John,

    Thanks for commenting (I see everyone else has given it a wide berth!).

    and a smaller still number who have made it work.

    As part of my research I discussed polyamory on a few online forums. Of course it’s hard to filter out all the self-congratulatory bollocks about how wonderful it is, but there was one comment that stuck in my mind: there are some people, a very small number, who make it work, and they are very, very discreet and you won’t even know they do it unless you happen to be close friends or relatives. If they are writing articles about it, mentioning it to strangers, or having polyamorous weddings with the whole gang-bang in attendance, it’s probably not going to last very long.

    I further suspect that anyone who actually wants multiple significant others is more likely mentally ill than anything else.

    Funny, the same person who made the comment I referred to above said much the same thing: a lot of the practitioners have personality disorders (which was almost certainly the case with the one who I knew). As he put it: people think polyamory doesn’t work mainly because most of them who try it would fuck up pretty much anything.

    I have a deep rooted suspicion that-sex wise- there’s bollocks all difference between the drives and desires of men and women. I think we are much of a muchness under the hood.

    When it gets down to actual sex, I would agree.

  3. “…conflating it with merely shagging around.” To be honest, isn’t “polyamory” merely a nice word for that? Not that there’s anything wrong about sleeping around nowadays, assuming condom use and background checks. It must be a huge waste of time and energy, not recommended for people trying to achieve something in life outside the bedroom, but some exceptional individuals are good at everything.

  4. To be honest, isn’t “polyamory” merely a nice word for that?

    That’s what my previous post was about. Although when I suggested that, albeit in rather robust language lubricated by too much bourbon, to the woman I used to be friends with, she went fucking apeshit. According to her, it was all based on love. The most frightening thing was that I think she believed it.

    It must be a huge waste of time and energy

    A common complaint. All in the book. 😉

  5. @TN

    “As he put it: people think polyamory doesn’t work mainly because most of them who try it would fuck up pretty much anything.”

    I can see how this would be the case. I’m not sure how the dynamic of a poly relationship with 3 (say) people in it would work. We are probably too culturally conditioned for it to be very easy.

    This raises the counterpoint to your interviewee’s stance- perhaps the only people who can make this work are wired differently upstairs. Anyone else would struggle.

  6. I’m not sure how the dynamic of a poly relationship with 3 (say) people in it would work.

    From what I was told it can’t work with 3: it has to be an even number, or somebody gets left out. One of the biggest issues is one of the partners not “playing by the rules” and going off with somebody else leaving their No. 1 partner on their own. This is a big no-no, apparently.

    This raises the counterpoint to your interviewee’s stance- perhaps the only people who can make this work are wired differently upstairs.

    The crunch point I make in my writing about this is that somebody who is capable of the mental gymnastics required to be in a poly relationship is likely to struggle in a normal, functioning, monogamous relationship. And if that person has no track record of doing so following a poly relationship, particularly a disastrous one, then the onus is on that person to demonstrate to potential future partners that they have moved on, engaged in some self-reflection, and are ready for the trials of an ordinary relationship. And this doesn’t take the form of getting drunk and screaming “Fuck you, how dare you judge me, I don’t have to justify myself to fucking anybody!!” at the top of their lungs when the perfectly reasonably question is asked.

  7. You have narrowed down the definition to only those relationships that include sexual intimacy. I also cant help you much with any direct experiences in that regard. I do think that in my youth that there was instances whenn I was very close to my other friends partners in a completely open and more enjoyable and closer way than the “norm” to the extent that the only difference from a girlfriend was that it didn’t extend to sexual relationships.

    My wife commented that she suspected that a long lost close friend of mine and his wife had an “open”‘ relationship. His wife had previously seduced me in my single days, I had a massive guilt trip about this and the very next day the three of us embarked on a camping trip and that evening sitting by the campfire under the starts she started palying footsie with me and said that we had unfinished business when my mate was close by but out of earshot, I didn’t feel good about it at all and didn’t engage and maybe she cooled off. My wife never had a close relationship with that couple and she only met them briefly being Australian during a couple of holidays on one of her visits to the UK. She did tell me much later on in life, about a year ago, that my ex mate had propositioned her, given his wife’s previous seduction and some other things might suggest that they now are in an open relationship but that is just speculating on my behalf. If she had told me at the time about his intentions back then I would have probably bailed him up about it big time in the kind of throw him out of a window way, even if I did have a guilty conscious about my little secret about his wife.

  8. I do think that in my youth that there was instances whenn I was very close to my other friends partners in a completely open and more enjoyable and closer way than the “norm” to the extent that the only difference from a girlfriend was that it didn’t extend to sexual relationships.

    Oh absolutely, and that still occurs with me now. It was what I meant when, in my previous post, I wrote:

    Conversations, texts about birthday gifts, making tea, and having sensible discussions are indeed pleasurable social activities. But you don’t need to be having sex with multiple partners to enjoy them, do you?

    If the best part of those experiences have been clothed ones, then why doesn’t she do what most normal people do and keep the clothes on permanently?

    I have very close, intimate relations with both men and women which don’t go anywhere near even wanting to have sex with them.

    And thanks for that snippet of your history. 🙂

  9. There was a spate of articles about 5-10 years ago in the usual magazines – Nerve, Vice, Salon, Sunday Times, etc. – about polyamorous relationships, although they were actually exclusively about polyandrous couples. Every one, and I mean every one, involved an unattractive, solipsistic woman in a relationship with two even more unattractive milk-fed dweebs. Despite their attempts to demonstrate their open-minded, liberated and sexually fulfilling lives, it was clear and apparent that the women despised and bullied the men, and sex was prominent by its absence. It was also clear and apparent that none of them stood a chance of lasting longer than 18 months.

    “I have a deep rooted suspicion that-sex wise- there’s bollocks all difference between the drives and desires of men and women. I think we are much of a muchness under the hood.”

    If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

  10. Every one, and I mean every one, involved an unattractive, solipsistic woman in a relationship with two even more unattractive milk-fed dweebs.

    Uh-huh.

    Despite their attempts to demonstrate their open-minded, liberated and sexually fulfilling lives, it was clear and apparent that the women despised and bullied the men, and sex was prominent by its absence.

    Another uh-huh.

    It was also clear and apparent that none of them stood a chance of lasting longer than 18 months.

    And a third.

    You still have these articles, by the way. This one was in Elle magazine last March. Look at the guy’s photo on his wedding day and tell me any other outcome was possible!

  11. That photo. He is of the type, but she is a lot better than most.

    Sorry, haven’t got any of the articles. If they were online, I would just growl at the screen. In print format they would be hurled towards the bin. There is a lot of stuff out there, though. Having said which, you would have to be far more tolerant an individual than me to wade through it.

    God, people really are their own worst enemies: if you had time I could regale you with the sorry tale of my female friends and acquaintances, now in their forties and fifties, who spent their twenties and thirties being ‘fun’, ‘a laugh’, and ‘just like another one of the chaps’ and are now desperately sad singles who don’t know why they are single. They never understood that who men want to have a laugh with and who they might want to marry are two clear different things; their fathers never having – if they were around – drummed that into their heads at the formative age.

  12. He is of the type, but she is a lot better than most.

    True. But I noticed they didn’t include a pic of what she looks like now.

    Having said which, you would have to be far more tolerant an individual than me to wade through it.

    I had to sit there and listen to it. I have to say, morbid curiosity played a big part in my sticking around to do so.

    God, people really are their own worst enemies…They never understood that who men want to have a laugh with and who they might want to marry are two clear different things

    Absolutely. Oh jeez, someone could do a PhD on this. I know of at least two girls – one of whom I am using as the basis for the prologue of my book – who still hadn’t figured this out into their mid-30s. I’ll email you the snippet if you’re interested.

  13. I’ve spent most of their lives – currently 24 & 25 – drumming the message into my two girls’ heads: it seems they have got it. Having said which, the penny only really dropped in the last two years. I do think fathers are to blame in a lot of cases: they take the route of least resistance or, worse, try and be ‘friends’!

    Would be interested in looking at the “snippet”, as long as you don’t mind a response!

  14. “This one was in Elle magazine last March.”

    Fuck me, what a terrible sight, and a Buddhist ceremony to boot. I got married next to the duck pond in the botanical gardens, most of the guests gave us six months max. But somehow our dysfunctional family, that is nowhere near as cosy as their family is, is still limping along.

  15. I do think fathers are to blame in a lot of cases: they take the route of least resistance or, worse, try and be ‘friends’!

    I have no skin in this particular game, but I would say that indulging girls in their teenage tantrums and continuing to bend over backwards in the face of rank ingratitude is not the way to go either. Daddy Issues can take several forms, but the results are the same and obvious.

  16. But somehow our dysfunctional family, that is nowhere near as cosy as their family is, is still limping along.

    We may have had our differences over at TNA’s gaff, but I’ve always thought you came across as somebody who kept his family in good shape. Good for you.

  17. Have you considered women who were either very attractive or attained a “highly desired” status and used that power over men to keep two or more as partners for years? I’m thinking of Lady Hamilton and of Dalí’s wife but I’m sure there are quite a few other examples from the past three-four centuries.

  18. Alex,

    No, I’d not actually thought of that. Perhaps Katherine the Great could qualify, too? But I think this would only reinforce my point that this is highly unusual.

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