Normalising Polyamory

In the comments under a previous post on the subject of polyamory, Tui noted:

Once trans issues become passé, poly living will be the hot new fashion. Gotta keep the sexual revolution chugging along, after all. I’ve seen a few more enthusiastic pieces over the last year or so trying to stir up interest.

Tui wasn’t wrong. The New York Times is but the latest mainstream publication to ask:

Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?

Let’s see.

Daniel, then a 27-year-old who worked in information technology…

Now this may not be relevant, but both the former partners of the polyamorous woman I knew worked in IT. And it goes without saying that they, like the people in this article, lived in New York.

But as with any happy marriage, there were frustrations. Daniel liked sex, and not long after they were married, it became clear that Elizabeth’s interest in it had cooled. She thought hers was the normal response: She was raised by strict Catholics, she would tell Daniel, as if that explained it, and she never saw her own parents hold hands, much less kiss. It was not as if she and Daniel never had sex, but when they did, Daniel often felt lonely in his desire for something more — not necessarily exotic sex but sex in which both partners cared about it, and cared about each other, with one of those interests fueling the other.

So a man gets married and soon gets bored of banging his wife and wouldn’t mind sleeping with other women. How very unusual.

Elizabeth, baffled by Daniel’s disappointment, wondered: How great does sex have to be for a person to be happy? Daniel wondered: Don’t I have the right to care this much about sex, about intimacy?

Woman frets over whether she’s making her man happy in the bed. Man belatedly realises that getting married impacts one’s sex life. This is some groundbreaking stuff right here.

Occasionally, when he decided the answer was yes, and he felt some vital part of himself dwindling, Daniel would think about a radical possibility: opening up their marriage to other relationships.

Man fails to understand that being married is a trade-off.

He would poke around on the internet and read about other couples’ arrangements. It was both an outlandish idea and, to him, a totally rational one. He eventually even wrote about it in 2009 for a friend who had a blog about sexuality. “As our culture becomes more accepting of choices outside the norm, nonmonogamy will expand as an acceptable choice, and the world will have to change as a result,” he predicted.

Some of us are incapable of holding down a normal, functioning relationship and attempt to address severe self-esteem issues with meaningless sex. We demand the rest of society approves of our lifestyle.

He was in his late 30s when he decided to broach the subject with Elizabeth gingerly: Do you ever miss that energy you feel when you’re in love with someone for the first time? They had two children, and he pointed out that having the second did not detract from how much they loved the first one. “Love is additive,” he told her. “It is not finite.”

He’s using his wife’s love of their children in attempt to convince her to let him go and shag other women. Lovely.

He was not surprised when Elizabeth rejected the idea; he had mostly raised it as a way of communicating the urgency of his needs.

Man tells wife about his need to shag other women, wife doesn’t take it well.

Elizabeth did not resent him for bringing it up, but felt stuck: She was not even sure what, exactly, he wanted from her, or how she could give it.

Yes, she’s confused: that’s what happens when you’re stuck with a manipulative shit of a husband.

In the fall of 2015, Elizabeth met a man at a Parkinson’s fund-raiser. Joseph … asked her to tea once, and then a second time. They understood something profound about each other but also barely knew each other, which allowed for a lightness between them, pure fun in the face of everything. They met once more, and that afternoon, in the parking lot, he kissed her beside his car, someone else’s mouth on hers for the first time in 24 years. It did not occur to her to resist. Hadn’t Daniel wanted an open marriage?

Woman rejects concept of open marriage but cops off with a bloke offering her tea at a charity bash. Remember, these polyamory types are perfectly normal, just like you and me.

Elizabeth did not announce that the friendship was turning romantic, but she did not deny it either, when Daniel, uneasy with the frequency of her visits with Joseph, confronted her. That she intended to keep seeing Joseph despite Daniel’s obvious distress shamed him: He was suddenly an outsider in his own marriage, scrambling for scraps of information and a sense of control.

Man who wanted an open marriage fails to understand it’s a two-way street.

This was not at all what Daniel had in mind when he proposed opening the marriage.

No, he thought he’d be banging waitresses and cheerleaders. Instead he’s been cuckolded.

They had not agreed on anything ahead of time; they had not, as a couple, talked about their commitment to each other, about how they would manage and tend to each other’s feelings.

That’s because they weren’t in an open marriage: he suggested it, she said no, and then she went and had an affair. Hubby is now playing catch-up and trying to apply labels which don’t fit.

“It wasn’t like we had a conversation about it,” Daniel said the first time I met him, in April 2016, when they were just starting to put that painful period of their relationship behind them. “It was more like: This is what I’m doing — deal with it.”

Wonderful. What a lovely couple. I’m at a loss to decide who is the bigger selfish, narcissistic, shit here.

Elizabeth’s intransigence, and Daniel’s pain, had brought them back into couples therapy. After several months of surveying the situation, which seemed to be deadlocked, the therapist told them in early March 2016 that she thought they were most likely heading for divorce.

I wonder how much they paid their therapist before she reached this conclusion?

For several nights following that therapy session, they talked in their bedroom, with an attention they had not given each other in years, sitting on the strip of rug between the foot of their bed and the wall. The sex, too, was different, more varied, as if reflecting the inventing going on in their marriage. Elizabeth was still someone’s wife, still her children’s mother, but now she was also somebody’s girlfriend, desired and desiring; now her own marriage was also new to her.

Hmmm. I think the journalist ought to have expressed a little skepticism at this point, don’t you?

When I met Elizabeth and Daniel, Elizabeth had already received Daniel’s permission to keep seeing Joseph

She was seeing him anyway, IIRC.

Daniel was contemplating how he might, in turn, meet someone.

I bet he was. Like a lot of middle-aged men who bail on their marriages in the hope of getting hot and sweaty with pretty young things, he found the reality to be somewhat brutal. I only hope he didn’t grow a pony tail and start wearing hoodies.

Their marriage had already strained to accommodate another person, someone whom Elizabeth would meet while Daniel was at work, whom she texted in the car while her husband drove.

This must do wonders for the self-esteem, which likely wasn’t very high to begin with. I wonder how his “love is not finite” analogy is holding up at this point.

But Daniel said he was past the point of fear. “Basically you could say maybe we loved each other before all this — but maybe we were just asleep. And maybe being asleep is more dangerous and worse to you as a person than what’s going on right now. I want to be married, and I don’t want anything to happen to us. But I have no idea what would happen either way. Would you rather be asleep and have things fall apart? Or rather be alive and have things fall apart?”

Yeah, that therapist really helped, didn’t she?

“The new monogamy is, baldly speaking, the recognition that, for an increasing number of couples, marital attachment involves a more fluid idea of connection to the primary partner than is true of the ‘old monogamy,’  … Within the new notion of monogamy, each partner assumes that the other is, and will remain, the main attachment, but that outside attachments of one kind or another are allowed — as long as they don’t threaten the primary connection.”

In short, the “new monogamy” accepts “But she meant nothing to me!” at face value.

The spectrum of those attachments included one-night stands and ongoing relationships; as she understood it, honesty and transparency, rather than fidelity, were the guiding principles underlying the healthiest of these kinds of marriages.

I wonder just how healthy the healthiest of these marriages are?

The couples did not perceive their desire to see other people as a symptom of dysfunction but rather as a fairly typical human need that they thought they were up to the challenge of navigating.

Well, yes. Everyone would like the freedom to fuck whoever they want if the opportunity arises, but that’s something you give up in order to be in a relationship. You hope that the overall benefits of being with one person are greater than being single and free to do what you like. Nobody says monogamy is easy, but it’s a trade-off. If you could get the benefits of a monogamous relationship without the downsides, everyone would do it.

Terms have long existed for arrangements similar to those she was seeing — they could fall under the category of polyamory, which involves more than one loving relationship, or the more all-encompassing term, consensual nonmonogamy, which also includes more casual sex outside of marriage or a relationship.

Polyfuckery would be a better description for a lot of these arrangements. Or simply shagging around.

Divorce, or not marrying in the first place, might seem like a more logical response to a desire for openness. But even as marriage rates have declined in this country, the institution has retained a seductive status for Americans.

People still believe in marital arrangements that have gone on for millennia. Who would have thought?

And yet the tradition is nonetheless at odds, he argues, with the country’s emphasis on individualism, a tension that leads to high rates of divorce but also to remarriage, with worrisome outcomes for finances and children.

Ah, this old chestnut: traditional marriages often fail so polyamorous ones are worth considering. What nobody ever does is closely examine the rate at which polyamorous relationships fail, the mental state of the people involved in them, and the effect on any children unfortunate enough to be caught up in them.

And yet open marriages — and to a lesser degree open but nonmarital committed relationships — are still considered so taboo that many of the people I interviewed over the last year resisted giving their names, for fear of social disapprobation and of jeopardizing their jobs.

Here’s my own position: I have no objection to consenting adults doing what the hell they like, but don’t try to sell me polyamory as a viable option for those seeking a normal, functioning relationship.

It is no surprise that most conservatives would perceive the concept as a degradation of marriage, of a key foundation of society.

And you know what, perhaps they’re onto something?

But even among progressives I talked to, the subject typically provoked a curled lip or a slack jaw. The thought bubble, or expressed thought: How? How could any married person be comfortable with, or encouraging of, a spouse’s extramarital sex? The subject seemed offensive to many at some primal level, or at least ridiculously self-indulgent, as if those involved — working, married people, people with children — were indecently preoccupied with sexual adventure instead of channeling their energies toward, say, their children, or composting.

An admission, at last, that those who practice polyamory are rather different from the rest of us and are capable of mentally accepting things which most people would find abhorrent.

It was several months after he posted his profile that Daniel went on a date with a woman he met on the site, someone who was also in an open marriage. … Drinks flowed, and around midnight, Daniel found himself in a Ford Explorer, kissing a woman who was not his wife for the first time in 25 years.

Two middle-aged people copping off in an SUV on the first date after meeting online. Anyone who thinks polyamory lacks class better think again.

They were still making awkward conversation at a bar when a woman sitting nearby asked how long they had been together. Daniel and his date exchanged glances; Daniel shrugged, as if to say: “Go ahead.” “He’s married to someone else,” his date said. “I’m married to someone else. We’re on our first date.”

The first rule of polyamory: advertise it to the whole world.

Susan Wenzel, a therapist in Winnipeg, Canada … felt equipped to manage the arrangement, and she and her boyfriend cautiously agreed that they could see other people, so long as those relationships remained casual. Susan did not feel it detracted from the strength of their relationship when she started seeing someone who is, like her, an immigrant from Kenya. But when that faded and her live-in boyfriend started dating someone, she found that jealousy hijacked the relationship.

Meaningless extra-marital sex with African immigrants have detrimental effects on the marriage. Who knew?

She sought therapy with Nelson, working by Skype to identify the source of her own jealousy.

I have no words…

She also had two young children from a previous marriage who lived with them…

Lucky them. And let me tell you how surprised I am to find that a practitioner of polyamory has a feeble track record in holding down a lasting, stable relationship.

She eventually wrote her boyfriend’s female friend a note of apology, adding that she had resolved a lot of her own insecurities.

All perfectly normal, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

The chief adjustment she and her boyfriend made was the one that seemed the least likely: They married, a year and a half after they first opened their relationship. Her boyfriend felt, for the first time, happy to commit to a woman he loved, knowing he had the freedom he wanted; and the symbolism of marriage gave Susan enough security that she could grant him that freedom, and exercise it herself.

Or, more likely, it was a vain attempt to put  a veneer of respectability on a degenerate lifestyle that was causing them to be shut out of ordinary society.

In August, Elizabeth and Daniel made a road trip to a Lower East Side bar in New York to attend Poly Cocktails, a monthly event founded in 2007 for people who are interested in nonmonogamy, or practicing it.

A pickup party, in other words. Not exactly low-key types these polyamorists, are they?

For the most part, the socializing was studiously nonsexual, but a young woman with a retro look — red lipstick, baby-doll dress — was flirting with a tall man in a sleeveless T-shirt, a 45-year-old dad from brownstone Brooklyn, a musician with a corporate day job.

Brooklyn. Where else? And what’s the betting the girl in question has some sort of severe Cluster B personality disorder and enough daddy issues to fill a book? Can we come back and see how she’s doing in ten years time?

Elizabeth and Daniel had ostensibly come to be among people who would not judge them.

Meaning, form opinions as to their chosen lifestyle and characters.

Instead he spent most of the evening talking to a married woman who complained that she felt underappreciated by the crowd at the bar.

Woman who goes to a party for those who practice indiscriminate sex feels underappreciated.

Conventional wisdom has it that men are more likely than women to crave, even need, variety in their sex lives. But of the 25 couples I encountered, a majority of the relationships were opened at the initiation of the women; only in six cases had it been the men.

Sorry but…

When I last wrote about polyamory I said:

It is almost a certainty that the men in a polyamorous relationship will be noodle-armed omegas of hipster persuasion. 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.

Look at the pictures in the article then tell me I’m wrong.

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31 thoughts on “Normalising Polyamory

  1. “They understood something profound about each other”: that reminds me, have you considered my advice that you learn your new trade by writing a bodice-ripper for Mills and Boon? Or the NYT, as it’s now known.

    P.S. How can you write that whole post without mention of French customs in these matters? Or will that be a follow-up?

  2. that reminds me, have you considered my advice that you learn your new trade by writing a bodice-ripper for Mills and Boon?

    I have, but I want to finish and publish my current effort first.

    How can you write that whole post without mention of French customs in these matters?

    The French have affairs, but they keep them discrete. Most of the polyamorists I read about are Americans or (less often) other Anglos for whom discretion is a word unknown.

  3. Good fisking, Mr Tim. I had a look at the photos in the NYT and I have to say… I didn’t fancy any of them. I think the phrase ‘sad bastards’ sprang to mind.

    Also: “He would poke around on the internet and read about other couples’ arrangements.” Yeah, sure. Like people on tinterwebz don’t tell porkies and pretend to be what they aren’t and would never, ever make up stories about how life is a joy for them.

    As for polyamory, I always thought we Brits simply called it ‘dogging.’

  4. “I don’t have many jealousy triggers. But I don’t like it when someone my wife is seeing takes the parking spot in front of my house.”

    Uh…. Phrasing.

  5. I’m in an open relationship; if I even dream about fucking around, Charlie will open my skull with a skillet.

    As you say, getting married is a trade off. It’s actually hundreds of thousands of years established for us mammals too; if you want to give your genes the best chance to continue, you need to hang around for a long while after shagging, and we’re not talking about making coffee the following morning.

  6. Sex? Oh right…yes…I think I can recall what that was…vaguely…wasn’t that what we used to do all night on the wasteground ‘where the supermarket used to stand’ with our own body weight in Merrydown Cider intus or on some disgusting ‘mattress’ in a squat somewhere in Islignton surrounded by a weeks worth of plates of vegan ‘food’ remains and jam jars full of Old Holborn butts(look, all the HOT girls of my youth were ‘right on’ Vegans and part time lesbians who didn’t mind an audience, I was young and ‘hard dick, soft brain’)? The days when we’d awake in a mess of arms, legs and genitals, soaked in vomit and other peoples bodily fluids looking like a Bosch painting if you’d chucked a tin of fruit salad over us. In the days before I had to get up 3 times a night to piss, the days when a hangover didn’t last a week and when a day spent babysitting granddaughter didn’t mean 2 days mainlining paracetamol after. Or as a mate, the archetypical “Festival Dad” said to me recently: “First time I’ve spent all weekend at Glasto and the only drug I took was ibuprofen”.
    The older I get the more I agree with Churchill.

    …and even incorporating ‘food’ into sex games doesn’t make TVP eadible btw.

  7. Tim
    First class for Eng Lit or Critical Studies or whatever they call it these days.
    Fail for really boring post, explaining everything.

    If you’re writing a novel, you don’t care what your reader takes away from it, so long as you get the royalty.

    Try reading War and Peace (acknowledged by many to be the best novel ever) backwards. I must be the last living hominid who got through the last, incrediblly boring, explanatory 200 pages.

    Show, don’t tell.

  8. james,

    I appreciate the input, but this must be the first time in the history of blogging that the maxim of “show, don’t tell” has been mentioned in a critique of a fisking. Sorry you found it boring, but fiskings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

  9. Yikes! What specimens indeed. I suspect many of these fellows desperately cling to the “polyamory” angle in hopes of saving face* once they realise they’re actually not in a monogamous relationship after all and lack the character to walk away.

    (* wouldn’t save any face in my circles, but your mileage may vary…)

  10. I read through this whole thing thinking “oh, I’ve got something you might find interesting about that…” only to end up with “…oh, no, you’ve already got it. Carry on.”

    That whole lifestyle is such a trainwreck of denial, self-delusion and painfully transparent emotional dysfunction.

    Oh: Now this may not be relevant, but both the former partners of the polyamorous woman I knew worked in IT.

    It’s relevant. The tendency of people in IT towards the autistic end of the spectrum means they’re much more likely to rationalize their way into emotionally destructive relationships. Poly, kink, BDSM, you name it is rampant in the IT circles around here.

  11. OK Tim

    As the Latin has it, life is short, arse is longer.

    The solution to these exhibitionist cvnts is not to read their shit in the first place.

  12. I knew someone who auditioned for Mills and Boon. In software terms, M&B design the story and the writer (hardly author) codes it up. Sounded awful.

    Incidentally, I can never encounter the phrase “perfectly normal” without smiling. For the reason why, see Robbie Coltrane’s movie of the same name.

  13. That was funny, but I’ll never get rid of the creepy feeling I get from these guys. I get the feeling most of them are, under the skin, screaming for someone to save them.

  14. Tim,

    This was the worst blog post I’ve ever read. I demand a full refund and a $100 voucher for Ashley Madison.

    Regards

  15. ” have no objection to consenting adults doing what the hell they like”

    Except one of the most important points of marriage is to get a solid binding contract in place BEFORE you bring a entirely unrevokable contract (a child) into the world.

    Your consenting adults in this example are, IMVHO, quite deliberating harming the resulting children due to their own sexual incontinence or other form of selfishness. Wider society usually ends up with a tab to pick up.

    So I do have an objection to this. It suggests to people who might be led astray that they don’t have to knuckle down and make a solid commitment if they want their marriage and family to be happy. It’s suggesting that there is a neat trick to losing weight when there isn’t and we should up front and say so.

  16. I read through this whole thing thinking “oh, I’ve got something you might find interesting about that…” only to end up with “…oh, no, you’ve already got it. Carry on.”

    Yeah, the nature of these folk might seem obvious to most, but there is a serious attempt being made to normalise it. The point of this post was to show that they come out as complete weirdos even in articles which are generally positive about them.

  17. I demand a full refund and a $100 voucher for Ashley Madison.

    Sorry, they’ve all run out. I have added $100 to your Grindr account instead.

  18. So I do have an objection to this.

    I fully agree: once kids are involved, then it is no longer between consenting adults. Hence my objection to trying to get this normalised by endless puff-pieces such as this one.

  19. Fab – that’s exactly the point. Because it vastly increases the chances that it will indeed subsequently involve children. Especially because it’s about shagging around for people with self-control issues…

  20. […] even in articles which are generally positive about them.

    It seems almost impossible to track down, but there’s an independent film called When Two Won’t Do, about a polyamorous Montreal woman, her hapless boyfriend, and her struggles to reconcile her poly nature with her boyfriend having none of it.

    All the poly people I know rave about this movie for being an honest, fair and positive portrayal of their lifestyle and the challenges and benefits that it involves. All the normal people I’ve shown it to come away with the same reaction: “every single one of these people is severely damaged goods, aren’t they?”

    At one point one of the people being followed by the film commits suicide as a result of the strain her husband’s poly lifestyle puts on their marriage and her low self-esteem. This is glossed over as if it’s an unfortunate accident, she’s not mentioned again, and certainly no one connects the suicide to the incredibly emotionally unhealthy behaviour on display.

  21. Daniel,

    Funny, I was thinking of watching that very documentary tonight. It was actually you who first told me about it: if you recall, we had a discussion on the subject at David Thompson’s place last year. In fact (and I’m glad you’ve turned up here) I have drawn heavily on your input on that thread when including a discussion on polyamory in the book I am writing. I hope you don’t mind, but I found it invaluable.

  22. Polyamory is wrong! You simply cannot mix Greek with Latin.

    It should be either multiamory or polyphilia.

    Why, yes. As a matter of fact I DO need to get out a bit more at night …

  23. The NYT’s flirtation with normalizing polyphilia (H/T Phil B), is part of the larger progressive agenda to destroy the institution of marriage and the family in order to facilitate the state to step in in loco parentis. (Oops, mixed the Latin with Greek. My bad.) At its core, marriage is about loyalty to one’s spouse and offspring. As noted above, precious little time is spent discussing the effects of these arrangements on the kids. Personal expediency and “self-actualization” trumps marital fidelity and ultimately one’s children, as well. When there is no spouse and no children with which to be concerned, then what’s left? Only the all-powerful state as caretaker.

    Of course, I don’t think any of the individuals discussed in the NYT piece have thought about it in those terms. Rather, there just weak-minded dupes being pushed along in social currents which they neither understand nor appreciate.

  24. Yep nail on head. And how would this polyamory thing have worked out prior to the arrival of modern day contraception.

  25. The way you’ve parsed it, the story reads like a morality tale worthy of Chaucer. “This was not at all what Daniel had in mind when he proposed opening the marriage.” Ha, ha! Indeed. The only ones who probably didn’t find it funny were the kids.

    I’ve learned a new word: metamour. In the polyamorous world, it means your partner’s partner. It seems they took “paramour” and put “meta-” in the place of “para-.”

  26. I hope you don’t mind, but I found it invaluable.

    By all means, steal away.

    I have a good friend of some twenty years who is evangelically polyamorous; while his relationship issues are transparently obvious to just about anyone but him, he’s found a lifestyle that seems to make him reasonably stable and happy. I try not to be concerned for his children :-/

    As a result, I hear a great deal about this community and the various goings-on and peccadilloes in it, all of which merely confirms my existing bias towards seeing the whole thing for the trainwreck of unaddressed psychological dysfunction it is. But I also have given up hope of this knowledge ever deterring anyone from this path, since an ironclad lack of self-awareness appears to be the ferryman’s fee.

    As much as I would love to believe your book will simultaneously burst into the zeitgeist and burst the bubble of narcissistic self-absorption that surrounds this subcommunity, I suspect even Joseph Smith wasn’t that good a writer.

  27. >”I have no objection to consenting adults doing what the hell they like, but don’t try to sell me polyamory as a viable option for those seeking a normal, functioning relationship.”

    You Tim, and a lot of your commenters, have set up a straw man to knock polyamory, mostly with no understanding of how it actually works (which is when it’s done with love rather than lust.)

    This example in the NYT isn’t an example of poly – it’s more an example of a mono couple who failed to communicate, and slipped, badly, into cheating and then an open marriage.

    Poly is about multiple loves, not about “shagging around”. It takes *enormous* amounts of love, communication, ethics, and trust to be done successfully. It’s bringing the ‘A’ game to relationships.

    >”Some of us are incapable of holding down a normal, functioning relationship and attempt to address severe self-esteem issues with meaningless sex”
    Well, maybe some of you are incapable.
    Some of us are extremely happy and secure in multiple simultaneous relationships, and in some of those there’s no sex involved anyway – meaningless or otherwise.

    Poly requires a lot of talk up front. It can’t be done unless the existing relationship is rock solid and loving. Every single possible future scenario needs to be discussed as a hypothetical, just in case it comes up, so that there are no nasty surprises and upsets. You’re probably thinking “Sounds like a lot of work”. Yep – it is. But it’s worth it.

    My network of poly friends is just as stable – and emotionally a lot stronger – than many mono couples. Any relationship fails when the partners don’t communicate problems, wishes, desires, and bottle them up.
    And you know, of course, that 40-50% of US marriages end in divorce? So mono isn’t exactly a successful comparison. Many other couples just stay together because they are afraid of the alternative and being alone. They trundle on, as Pink Floyd put it so well, “living lives of quiet desperation”.
    Poly forces constant communication, checking in, assessment.

    Divorces often happen when each partner still loves much about their partner, but there’s something missing – and yes, sometimes that’s a missing sexual relationship.
    Poly wins when one loving partner provides 90% of perfection, and another partner provides a different 90% of perfection – but each covers the missing 10% of the other.

  28. Martin,

    Thank you for your comment and counter-argument, it is most welcome.

    You Tim, and a lot of your commenters, have set up a straw man to knock polyamory, mostly with no understanding of how it actually works (which is when it’s done with love rather than lust.)

    I’m just going off what is said and written by people calling themselves polyamorists. I may be persuaded that they are not representative, but these are the ones who are appearing in the media.

    This example in the NYT isn’t an example of poly – it’s more an example of a mono couple who failed to communicate, and slipped, badly, into cheating and then an open marriage.

    I quite agree, but they are presenting themselves as polyamorous. We’re in No True Scotsman territory here, so often applied to socialism, when polyamory in practice is dismissed as being polyamory because it doesn’t live up to the theoretical ideals.

    Poly is about multiple loves, not about “shagging around”. It takes *enormous* amounts of love, communication, ethics, and trust to be done successfully. It’s bringing the ‘A’ game to relationships.

    And if people can manage to pull this off, good luck to them!

    Some of us are extremely happy and secure in multiple simultaneous relationships, and in some of those there’s no sex involved anyway – meaningless or otherwise.

    As I have said before, if there is no sex why is it considered a polyamorous relationship? Most monogamous folk have dear, close friends with whom they share much but don’t have sex. What makes polyamory different, other than endless chat about rules and turns?

    Poly requires a lot of talk up front. It can’t be done unless the existing relationship is rock solid and loving. Every single possible future scenario needs to be discussed as a hypothetical, just in case it comes up, so that there are no nasty surprises and upsets. You’re probably thinking “Sounds like a lot of work”. Yep – it is. But it’s worth it.

    Yes, I’m sure it is. And while I’m prepared to believe some people can manage this, the ones I have encountered were incapable of communicating effectively, had severe anger issues, and have adopted polyamory as a coping mechanism. If there are normal, functioning polyamorists out there, they might want to police their ranks a little better: most of the ones in the media belong to some sort of polyamorists society, so presumably they endorse their behaviour to some degree.

    And you know, of course, that 40-50% of US marriages end in divorce?

    And how many poly relationships fail? I bet it’s more than 50%, once you include the large number of mental cases who seem to practice it. So whereas monogamy is difficult and no guarantee of success, polyamory is not a viable alternative except for a small minority of people.

    Many other couples just stay together because they are afraid of the alternative and being alone.

    And how many go into polyamorous arrangements to address personal issues? This cuts both ways.

    Divorces often happen when each partner still loves much about their partner, but there’s something missing – and yes, sometimes that’s a missing sexual relationship.
    Poly wins when one loving partner provides 90% of perfection, and another partner provides a different 90% of perfection – but each covers the missing 10% of the other.

    Look, I don’t deny it can work. But I am guessing this would be kept very low-key and only close friends or family would even know about it. But those who bellow it from the rooftops – which seems to be a lot of them – appear to be doing little more than attention-seeking and/or trying to put a veneer of respectability on what is simply shagging around. If you’re one of the former, then good luck to you. But I will not be convinced that articles in the media portraying polyamory as a viable option for most people – and using headcases in their examples – should go unchallenged.

  29. Thank you Tim for a thoughtful reply. I know we’ll have to agree to differ on many things about poly.

    The problem with the English language is that people use words as labels, and once anyone is so labelled, the pigeonhole they find themselves in feels very small.

    Within poly there are arguments all the time about how to use labels for different relationships so I won’t really expect the NYT to recognise it when they see it.
    For example – your comment
    >”if there is no sex why is it considered a polyamorous relationship? Most monogamous folk have dear, close friends with whom they share much but don’t have sex. What makes polyamory different…..?”

    There’s a _lot_ of sexual activities, as you know, that span the wide gap from an aunt’s peck of the cheek to full-on intercourse. You could even imaginatively map them onto the bases of a baseball ground if so inclined, though there are far more than four bases in the real world.
    Some poly people have multiple (non-sexual) partners with whom they engage in interesting ways – ways that would (rightly) lead to a slap and a divorce from any spouse who expected and had been promised monogamy.
    The key is communication and ethics.

    Rightly, a mono person who’s partner promise to never even look at another would be upset if the even gaze upon a good-looking stranger.
    Similarly, a poly couple who, for example, promise each other to always use condoms with new partners might break up over a breach of that.

    Every couple (or triad, quad, etc, since we’re here) is different – you’re absolutely right about the ‘No true Scotsman…’ problem. But the common strand in successful poly is the frank and open negotiation of the limits of the relationship(s), and then the absolute honouring of those limits. Dishonourable? – the door is over there.

    You’re certainly right that the media shouldn’t be portraying poly as a viable lifestyle for most people – it’s too tricky for that, and needs more communication, empathy and self-awareness than many might be willing or able to put into it. It’s just the latest Big Thing for the media to get excited about (just as homosexuality used to be but is now passé.) Not really bothered – it will pass, once something new comes up.
    (Personally I’m looking forward to when the Vulcans detect our first warp drive signature, just so that the Daily Fail can move onto excited arguing over whether inter-species sex is immoral.)

  30. @Bardon:

    >Yep nail on head. And how would this polyamory thing have worked out prior to the arrival of modern day contraception.

    It’s certainly relevant.
    The arrival of women’s employment, modern day contraception, and thus by implication increased women’s independence has made it so much more possible.
    If you think about it, this maps pretty well with the cessation of the treatment of wives as the property of their husbands – both socially and legally. Negotiations on relationships aren’t really negotiations if one partner is so financially dependent that they don’t have a viable way to leave the other.
    In Georgian times, it might have been possible (even common) for a gentleman to have a wife _and_ a mistress – he could afford it. But the commoners couldn’t. And the Lady might have been able to maintain a gentleman caller, but it happened less because…well, she’d be left holding his baby.

    It just goes to show that society (and technology) has moved on. The past is a foreign country – they do things differenly there. Their morals might have worked for them, but they’re not necessarily all relevant today.

  31. Martin,

    Thanks for your comments once again. Might I ask you one question regarding polyamory: would you concede that an awful lot of people are attempting polyamorous relationships (or what they believe are polyamorous relationships) who ought not to on the grounds that they are seemingly incapable of having even simple, monogamous relationships?

    I ask this because, as I have said before, I don’t doubt that some people are able to practice polyamory successfully, but an awful lot of those who try or have tried appear to be rather messed up individuals for whom things like communication and empathy – which are key to any relationship – are things they barely know the meaning of.

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