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January 28, 2013 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Right now, though, you can google “polyamory” and get a whole lot of nearly-identical polynormative hype articles, and you can meet up with locals who’ve read the same articles you just did, and you can all get together and do polynormative poly exactly the way the media told you to. And if that’s all you ever bother to do then essentially you are selling yourself short. You are trading in the monogamous norm for polynormativity, which relatively speaking isn’t all that much of a stretch, and stopping there because you may very well think that’s all there is (and you already racked up a whole bunch of cool points anyway). You aren’t encouraged to really think about this stuff without any imposed models at all, which means you never get to figure out what actually might work best for you. As such, the most fundamental element of polyamory—that of rejecting the monogamous standard, and radically rethinking how you understand, make meaning of and practice love, sex, relationships, commitment, communication, and so forth—is lost in favour of a cookie-cutter model that’s as easy as one, two, three. The deepest and most significant benefit of polyamory has become increasingly obscured by media representation, and as a result, is getting farther and farther out of reach for anyone who’s just starting out.
the problem with polynormativity, at Sex Geek
posted by davidjmcgee (221 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Le sigh. There will always be pople who tell you "you're doing it wrong".
posted by ZeroAmbition at 9:16 AM on January 28, 2013 [24 favorites]


...most fundamental element of polyamory...

Are you sure it isn't a sense of pseudo-intellectual superiority that you are sufficiently different than the various flavors of "-normative"? I mean, because that's how this blurb sounds.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:18 AM on January 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


I'll wager that the essay is worth your time, even if I did a poor job of blurbing.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:22 AM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I read the article. It's thesis is that the mainstream media is stating to notice polyamory, but is mostly talking about it as A Thing Couples Do, usually only in the context of "this couple plays with a lady now and then".

Which was totally not my experience when I was in a triad for a while, so yeah, I went in there expecting to disagree from the chosen excerpt, and ended up agreeing.
posted by egypturnash at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every time we play Cards Against Humanity, and someone has the "Heteronormativity" black card, I wind up being the one to explain it. I hope CAH doesn't throw in a "Polynormativity" card, 'cause then I give up.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:24 AM on January 28, 2013 [14 favorites]


Second link when googling, after the inevitable Wikipedia one, is to the alt.polyamory site, which, whatever your opinion of it, isn't all that driven by media hype.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read this earlier, and I think it makes some good points. Especially the thing about 'poly begins with a couple'.

It seems like just about every poly guy who I've seen on dating sites is essentially just a dude in a long-term relationship looking for girlfriend-approved sex on the side, and it seems clear that they have no interest in making their 'side' partners a priority in their lives.

I know one person who was a secondary partner, and was falling in love but was not 'allowed' to express that sentiment according to the terms of the relationship. And this person felt like they had no right to object to that arrangement, so they just sat there being in love and lying about it because "that's how polyamory works". So much for the -amory part of polyamory...
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:26 AM on January 28, 2013 [32 favorites]


I'm just going to start throwing -normativity at the end of words to spice up conversations. Don't like it? Cut out your a-normative-normativity.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:30 AM on January 28, 2013 [18 favorites]


There will always be pople who tell you "you're doing it wrong".

Don't you mean, y'all are doing it wrong?
posted by Toekneesan at 9:30 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Apart from that, this is of course the very same sort of progress every recently outed kink/sexual group went through, from gay to BDSM:

1) they don't exist and those who do are criminal or sick
2) Oh, we just found out they exist; come look at the freakshow
3) Actually, it's not so bad
4) might try it myself
5) they're just people who want roughly the same as us
6) that old thing?

During which the group itself also evolves somewhat, not always to its own benefit, to become more mainstream: from lesbianism as necessary for the overthrow of the patriarchy to "we just want a white wedding like our straight friends"...

It must be incredibly frustrating to see that happen if you yourself are more of a radical bent, but it seems quite a few people in any out group like nothing as much as to be tolerated as one of the in group...
posted by MartinWisse at 9:30 AM on January 28, 2013 [30 favorites]


The "[random thing]geek" self-description meme trend is part of a cultural process which is fundamentally transforming the meaning of the base term itself.
posted by clockzero at 9:30 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think that media representations of most things are a fairly shallow monostory. Media representations of monogamy aren't much more accurate than media representations of polyamory, at least as far as my monogamous relationships and polyamorous relationships have played out.

Which is not to say that I don't agree with a lot of the points the article makes, because I think they're accurate as far as they go.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:31 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Interesting read and in all honesty I dont subscribe to the concept of poly. The few Ive known about seem to be highly dysfunctional (not all I am sure) and filled with drama. Shit one relationship is enough work. Between the jealousy issue and one partner seemingly a doormat I do wonder about the longevity of these arrangements.
But I am a fan of live and let live and different strokes for different folks. I just dont think its for me. The push for everyone to fuck everyone is a bit annoying at times as if every relationship problem can be solved with more partners in the mix is disingenuous.
posted by handbanana at 9:33 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The few Ive known about seem to be highly dysfunctional (not all I am sure) and filled with drama.

In my experience this is also true for most monogamous relationships.
posted by idiopath at 9:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [42 favorites]


This is not a polynormativity problem. This is a medialistentoicity problem. The sooner you kill your television, radio and newspaper, the better. Get news from humans, not corporations.
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Shit one relationship is enough work. Between the jealousy issue and one partner seemingly a doormat I do wonder about the longevity of these arrangements.

Like any other relationship, it really depends on the temperament of the people involved less than the validity of the structure of the relationship.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:36 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I could agree with that statement idopath
posted by handbanana at 9:36 AM on January 28, 2013


People sure do like to talk about the way they have sex, don't they?
posted by unSane at 9:38 AM on January 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


The "[random thing]geek" self-description meme trend is part of a cultural process which is fundamentally transforming the meaning of the base term itself.

Oh, stop being geeknormative.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


> This is a medialistentoicity problem. The sooner you kill your television, radio and newspaper, the better. Get news from humans, not corporations.

If only there was some way for you to propagate this message to people you don't even know. Hmmm.
posted by ardgedee at 9:40 AM on January 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


FWIW, the blurb I had up there first but replaced because it was a bit more tangential to the essay's thesis was:
What other solutions am I talking about? Trust. Plain and simple. Trust is the soil in which polyamory should grow, much like any other kind of love. Say what you mean, always, and all of it. Follow through on your commitments. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Assume positive intent. Ask questions. Listen, listen, listen. Ask more questions and listen some more. Soothe fears. Work on your own insecurities at the location from which they spring—inside yourself. Be kind. Be consistent. Be generous. Ask explicitly for what you want. State clearly what you need. Apologize when you fuck up, and try to fix it. Find strategies to compensate for your shortcomings, such as forgetfulness or anxiety or lack of emotional vocabulary or whatever else gets in the way of you being able to do all this stuff skilfully. Yes, this is going to be a lot of work. Do it anyway. Better yet, do it because the work itself brings you joy and makes you feel like you are moving through the world in a way that is profoundly right. If you’ve messed up on one of these counts, or any other, and it has hurt your partner(s), heal it. Do the work together. Get couples therapy. Practice new communication skills together. Invest your time, energy and effort to make the soil healthy and nourishing rather than in building fences around the garden.
but I want to mention it anyway because I think it's fucking awesome advice for pretty much All Human Relationships.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:41 AM on January 28, 2013 [39 favorites]


Someone used lesbians up-thread as an example of a group that has been moving towards more widespread acceptance, and at the same time is becoming more mainstream (just wanting a wedding from radical feminist was the example). This is interesting, because I have a number of lesbian friends who feel quite frustrated by this perception in very much the same way as the author here is frustrated about the perception of polyamory. There is a tendency for the wider culture to neutralize threats by accepting only the nonthreatening aspects of a group, and doing it so grudgingly that it even that minor acceptance feels like a win.
posted by Nothing at 9:45 AM on January 28, 2013 [35 favorites]


If only there was some way for you to propagate this message to people you don't even know. Hmmm.

I think I just did.
posted by DU at 9:47 AM on January 28, 2013


A lot of this makes sense, but the idea of throwing away firm rules for a relationship because "we should be able to just trust each other not to do anything that would hurt the other person" (and magically figure out what that is somehow) seems to take the concept of stupid naivete to a whole new level.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:48 AM on January 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


The few Ive known about seem to be highly dysfunctional (not all I am sure) and filled with drama.

So, I actually thought this for a while too, and then I had someone basically explain to me that, how often are you completely surprised that your monogamous, hetero friends broke up or got divorced? Like "oh, they seemed so happy! What a shock!" Reasonable people handle private relationship matters in reasonable (i.e. private) ways. With polyamory -- which the people who practice (?) it have very good reasons to keep under wraps -- the same thing applies. You have absolutely no idea who, in your social circle, is polyamorous unless they tell you. When they have Relationship Problems, you'll also have no idea unless they tell you, whether in confidence or via social drama. Assuming you're like everyone else, the "in confidence" part will not occur with particular frequency, especially with a preference that leaves people alienated when they reveal it to the wrong person. So that leaves drama as the primary means of you finding out that polyamorous people are having relationship problems, and there's your cognitive bias that leads to "poly couples are more-often-than-not dysfunctional."
posted by griphus at 9:48 AM on January 28, 2013 [40 favorites]


This is interesting, because I have a number of lesbian friends who feel quite frustrated by this perception in very much the same way as the author here is frustrated about the perception of polyamory. There is a tendency for the wider culture to neutralize threats by accepting only the nonthreatening aspects of a group, and doing it so grudgingly that it even that minor acceptance feels like a win.

Repeating for emphasis. Perfectly stated, Nothing.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:48 AM on January 28, 2013


I can't speak for the author, but trust and discussion does not equal magic. The point is not to throw away the rules, it is to examine the rules you want to apply to your relationships, and discuss them, and decide together what is important, rather than simply accepting imposed cultural norms.
posted by Nothing at 9:50 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


The sooner you kill your television, radio and newspaper, the better

Maybe. But what if they come back as zombies?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:50 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Between the jealousy issue and one partner seemingly a doormat I do wonder about the longevity of these arrangements.

My experiences have been that you mostly don't hear about the ones that are mostly long-term working because they just work and no one cares and other people's functional relationships are often boring in that "Happy anniversary, congrats you guys, now let's go out and have some dinner" way. Or people have poly relationships that may "present" as a couple who live with a roommate or something else and so people just don't know who is poly unless they're in your face about it in which case they may have other issues.

Plus it's a math problem because poly relationships are often a much smaller percentage of all relationships (and contain more people) so if you have 20 friends and eight are in three poly relationships and ten are in five coupled relationships and two are single, you can get a skewed version of the "problems" with poyamory even if there's just one problematic person in one poly relationship because it might affect a quarter of your friend group.

There is a tendency for the wider culture to neutralize threats by accepting only the nonthreatening aspects of a group, and doing it so grudgingly that it even that minor acceptance feels like a win.

This is a huge deal. The heterosexalization of lesbianism (i.e. porn made with people pretending to be lesbians (not just gals open to anything) that is intended for consumption by straight men) is another aspect of this.
posted by jessamyn at 9:51 AM on January 28, 2013 [26 favorites]


But what if they come back as zombies?

Actually, I think the ones we have ARE the zombies.
posted by DU at 9:51 AM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


the idea of throwing away firm rules for a relationship because "we should be able to just trust each other not to do anything that would hurt the other person" (and magically figure out what that is somehow) seems to take the concept of stupid naivete to a whole new level.

Hey, look, the paragraph goes on:
Say what you mean, always, and all of it. Follow through on your commitments. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Assume positive intent. Ask questions. Listen, listen, listen. Ask more questions and listen some more. Soothe fears. Work on your own insecurities at the location from which they spring—inside yourself. Be kind. Be consistent. Be generous. Ask explicitly for what you want. State clearly what you need. Apologize when you fuck up, and try to fix it. Find strategies to compensate for your shortcomings, such as forgetfulness or anxiety or lack of emotional vocabulary or whatever else gets in the way of you being able to do all this stuff skilfully. Yes, this is going to be a lot of work. Do it anyway.
Sounds like all that talking about what would hurt the other person takes care of the "magically figuring it out," eh?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on January 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


When polynormativity takes on the tinge of the new "normativity," than it's time to move on to polynormativity 2.0?

Yikes. With all this talking about feelings and hurts and potential hurts and reverse unintended misunderstandings and hurts, and feelings once assumed no longer the rule, but somehow unintentionally reversed to a new relationship state and blah blah blah....


Fucking hell, how do these people find the time to devote to anything else like sleep, and work and breathing even....I'm exhausted just reading about it.

Becoming a hermit is obviously the only way to go at this point if you want to accomplish anything in life, it would seem...
posted by Skygazer at 9:52 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think I just did.

Congratulations, culture warrior!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:52 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh, I just remembered it was jessamyn who explained that exact thing to me in the first place.
posted by griphus at 9:55 AM on January 28, 2013


> I think I just did.

Do I know you?
posted by ardgedee at 9:57 AM on January 28, 2013


Fucking hell, how do these people find the time to devote to anything else like sleep, and work and breathing even....I'm exhausted just reading about it.

You don't think plain old boring couples do that too?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:57 AM on January 28, 2013


and by "that" I mean "talk about issues" rather than sleep.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:58 AM on January 28, 2013


Do I know you?

I dunno, do you?
posted by DU at 9:58 AM on January 28, 2013


wolfdreams01: "...the idea of throwing away firm rules for a relationship because "we should be able to just trust each other not to do anything that would hurt the other person" (and magically figure out what that is somehow)..."

I think you missed the parts that talked about good communication. And the reason to throw away the old rules is because you are making your own rules. (says a guy who has been monogamous for years now)
posted by idiopath at 10:01 AM on January 28, 2013


Yes, you're the dude who asks annoying questions on MeFi, aren't you?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


There is quite a bit of polyamory in the city I live in (Cambridge/Somerville, MA) and I see very little normativity around those 4 items the essay has listed.

1. Starts with a couple. Nope, I can easily think of a bunch of people doing solo polyamory. In fact, the "hi we are a couple looking for a unicorn" theme has a level of ick to it, for many.
2. Hierarchical. Nope, maybe in some cases, though in others it's a bit of a free for all.
3. A lot of rules. I'd say there is a focus on communication more than rules.
4. Hetero, young, cute, and white. Once again, I can think of lots of people who are none of those things, and there are even a whole lot of bi/gay men involved in the community which is a big no-no in the normative media.

However, I think that there is a tendency for young, cute, hetero, white, cool, otherwise normative (for lack of a better word) couples to exercise their already overly-proportional power in relationship models, just like they exercise their power everywhere else. And in doing so, to in some ways usurp the discourse.

I've been a little poly here and there, though I'm not at the moment. My interest in polyamory comes from a "dreaming of a better world" sort of attitude where people are completely and uniquely valued as humans, all is negotiable, there is 100% empathy, and there is never any loss (and also we all fly on unicorns and shoot rainbows out of our nether regions). It is just glaringly obvious when someone has taken up polyamory, or is using a flavor of it, in order to do the opposite of that. Exploit more people, increase their already disproportional social power, whatever. I sort of ignore all that. The "I am a cute white tall rich hetero male who wants multiple pretty short term girlfriends on the side and is going to use this polyamory trope to achieve that" is not really subtle, and is also not getting any traction in my world (not that he cares about me, either).

I think that most people who are polyamorous for reasons like I am just ignore the polynormative bullshit as a mildly annoying mundanity. Just like people who are super into BDSM probably ignore 50 Shades of Grey.
posted by kellybird at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


You don't think plain old boring couples do that too?

Of course, but how does one do that across two or three partners, and still have any time leftover to do anything other than constantly "communicate our feelings."

I don't be to be facile about this, but I can't help seeing this as a bit of a tragic-comedic goldmine of unintended consequences. Entertaining to observe, but exhausting and simply silly, to take part in...
posted by Skygazer at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


wolfdreams01: "A lot of this makes sense, but the idea of throwing away firm rules for a relationship because "we should be able to just trust each other not to do anything that would hurt the other person" (and magically figure out what that is somehow) seems to take the concept of stupid naivete to a whole new level."

Unless you have a tracking chip implanted in your partner's ear, trust is ground level stuff, poly or not.
posted by boo_radley at 10:03 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Like any other relationship, it really depends on the temperament of the people involved less than the validity of the structure of the relationship.

No. Not like a bi-lateral relationship between two people. Sorry. This is simple marh. Once a third party enters the equation game theory will tell you that the result is anything but co-equal.
posted by three blind mice at 10:03 AM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


Lost me at the tired old trope of 'us vs. the mainstream.' Spoiler: mainstream bad.
posted by mrdaneri at 10:04 AM on January 28, 2013 [18 favorites]


if you have 20 friends and eight are in three poly relationships and ten are in five coupled relationships and two are single...

You have the swingiest SAT problem of all time.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2013 [67 favorites]


Yeah but the answer is still "D, None of the above."
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:14 AM on January 28, 2013



Of course, but how does one do that across two or three partners, and still have any time leftover to do anything other than constantly "communicate our feelings."


Well, hell, communication is part of any relationship. Even friendships. You have more than just one friend, right? And you talk things out when you've got issues, right? And you still have time left over to do stuff, yeah?

It's not like polyamorous couples have to have Daily Encounter Sessions or anything, but it's not like "magically everything will work out because of the power of luuuuuuv" either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:16 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


The one rule of the Polyamory Club is to always talk about the Polyamory Club.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:18 AM on January 28, 2013 [84 favorites]


This is simple marh. Once a third party enters the equation game theory will tell you that the result is anything but co-equal.

For your statement to have a coherent interpretation, you must be talking about a particular game (or set of games sharing... whatever property you're talking about). But the actual matrix of payoffs for different actions varies from group to group; it's going to take a pretty extensive argument on your part to define the set of games we're talking about, define what you mean by "anything but co-equal" in the context of game theory, and justify how your definitions apply to poly groups in the real world.
posted by Jpfed at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


You have the swingiest SAT problem of all time.

If one train A is travelling at 60MPH and another train B is travelling 10MPH, and one train has X amount of people in poly relationships and the other has y amount of poly-people, at which point would both trains come to a screetching halt so that everybody can talk (z) about their feelings and "concerns" (p) and "issues"(q)?

Wow, that's not an SAT problem, that's like a freaking Chaos Theory quantum physics problem for a post-doctoral fellow.
posted by Skygazer at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It must be incredibly frustrating to see that happen if you yourself are more of a radical bent, but it seems quite a few people in any out group like nothing as much as to be tolerated as one of the in group...

Well, also that the people who aren't brave enough to stand up for the initial struggle feel less threat and start to talk. They are very likely to be more conservative than the initial activists, and may not even think of themselves as part of a progressive group.

Stonewall and the Log Cabin Republicans are likely to poll differently, after all.
posted by jaduncan at 10:22 AM on January 28, 2013


Well, hell, communication is part of any relationship. Even friendships. You have more than just one friend, right? And you talk things out when you've got issues, right? And you still have time left over to do stuff, yeah?

Well, yeah, but when you're not 'gettin' down' with someone, there just seems so much less that needs to be talked about. I mean, if I share a love of live music with a friend, that pretty much right there sort of delimits what we're going to discuss to probably bands, who's going to be playing soon, and new songs and um, maybe band t-shirts, and err...maybe what we had for lunch. Yeah. Stuff like that. Nice and simple. Yep.
posted by Skygazer at 10:25 AM on January 28, 2013


I am a cute white tall rich hetero male who wants multiple pretty short term girlfriends

Cracker wants a poly?
posted by yoink at 10:26 AM on January 28, 2013 [202 favorites]


Like any other relationship, it really depends on the temperament of the people involved less than the validity of the structure of the relationship.

As someone with a tiny bit of systems engineering background knowledge, I'm inclined to point out this isn't necessarily so...

In systems engineering lingo, aren't there inherently more "integration points" in polyamorous relationships? It seems to me that like it or not from a strict relationship-engineering perspective, poly is likely to have more potential points of failure--and at least, from an engineer's POV, that implies they are more likely to fail and lead to problems that are irreducibly complex. Trying to make a complex relationship work seems like it would inherently get to be more challenging the more players are involved in the process of integration (just as with any complex system, the more parts you have to make work together, the more failure-prone the system is).

But then, of course, human relationships aren't really engineering problems. So maybe I'm just beanplating here.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:26 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or in other words, I don't often agree with three blind mice, but this time, maybe I do.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:28 AM on January 28, 2013


Well, yeah, but when your not 'gettin' down,' with someone there just seems so much less that needs to be talked about. I mean, if I share a love of live music with a friend, that pretty much right there sort of delimits what we're going to discuss to probably bands, who's going to be playing soon, and new songs and um, maybe band t-shirts, and err...maybe what we had for lunch. Yeah. Stuff like that. Nice and simple.

Are you confused because you think conflict negotiations need to REPLACE all conversation? Because that's not what people are saying. They're only saying that the way that you avoid pissing anyone off in a poly relationship is exactly the same way as you'd avoid pissing anyone off in a two-person relationship - by talking about it.

Just like you and your music-fan buddy would talk about it if you got tickets for the balcony section and he said, "wait, dude, I can't stand the balcony, just check with me next time, okay?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:29 AM on January 28, 2013


Sounds like all that talking about what would hurt the other person takes care of the "magically figuring it out," eh?

If most people were capable of doing this consistently, there would be no relationship problems.

I think that's the thing that raises the end of my eyebrow that quarter inch or so whenever I read about polyamory -- I think some people are capable of handling these relationships and some people need them because they'll never really be happy in a single relationship for all time.

But at the same time, I think you can't just wash, or wish, or talk away power dynamics in any relationship: sometimes --- a lot of the time --- people want different things and only one of them is going to get to have them, whether's it Chinese for dinner instead of Mexican or living in Seattle near my family or Boston near yours.

It seems to me that the more people you add as nodes onto the network, the challenges and opportunities for conflict ramp up exponentially, not linearly. So I mean, great, if you can find can find two or more people whom you want to fuck and/or enjoy spending time with and who are also, mature, kind people with the patience of saints, then you know, god bless and tip your waitress. I don't think such people are lying thick on the ground, however.

It's sound advice, her little speech. I just think we're not and never will be in a world where it'll be easy to follow.
posted by Diablevert at 10:30 AM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


As such, the most fundamental element of polyamory—that of rejecting the monogamous standard, and radically rethinking how you understand, make meaning of and practice love, sex, relationships, commitment, communication, and so forth

I'm pretty confident that the most fundamental element of polyamory is actually being in some form of relationship with more than one person at a time.
posted by jacalata at 10:30 AM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


It is more challenging. Of course so is having kids or doing shift work or enjoying renfaires when your partners don't. Life is full of challenges. Some people pick this one, possibly because monogamy is itself a challenge.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:31 AM on January 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Oh God, I am just not even jiving with the idea of not having veto power. When I hear that, what I hear is that I don't have a right to say "no" about things I am uncomfortable with my partner doing, unless I go 100% and walk away from the relationship.

There are so many ways that veto power protects me in my sexually semi-open relationship, because, like it or not, a lot of social capital is tied up in our sexual partners, and by extension who our sexual partners sleep with in addition to us. I don't want my partner sleeping with people who they trust but I don't, for instance, because I am handing that third party power over my health as well as, to some extent, my social capital. For instance, I tend to veto people who I think are exclusively gaming the open-relationship system in order to feel superior to me and use that for social leverage (trust me, it's come up.) SO is not in a position to realize that they're doing that; due to previous experience with that person, I am. And it's not like veto power means just screaming "NO" over and over again until he gives in. I will explain my reasoning. We will see if we can work out a compromise. But ultimately, if I did not have the power to just straight-up say "no" to my partner partnering with someone else, then I wouldn't feel safe. (Resentment be damned.)

But then, maybe it's different if you're in a true polyamorous relationship. I don't even consider what she's talking about in the article polyamory, and I don't think anyone else in my circle does either. A lot of us have open relationships, which means we are not sexually exclusive with our significant others. It probably gets a lot more complicated at higher levels.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:33 AM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


If most people were capable of doing this consistently, there would be no relationship problems.

Well, yeah. But that's true of all relationship problems, it's not an issue unique to polyamorous ones. (And if you want proof, check out how many relationship AskMes contain the advice to just freakin' talk to one's partner for a change.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:33 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: Trying to make a complex relationship work seems like it would inherently get to be more challenging the more players are involved in the process of integration (just as with any complex system, the more parts you have to make work together, the more failure-prone the system is).

Precisely. And so, anyone who would open themselves up to such a complex system, would have to go into it with the idea, and this would be mutual across the board that more complexity would mean each part would have much less responsibility a direct other part because it's serving a number of parts.

TL;DR: People in poly-relationships can't expect to give the same amount of commitment, or receive the same amount of commitment and concern, as a "normative" relationship.

That would seem to have to be a pre-agreed upon condition of such an arrangement.
posted by Skygazer at 10:33 AM on January 28, 2013


Er, rather, I should say, some of what she's talking about in the article seems to be polyamory, but there's some talk that also sounds a lot like just sexually open relationships, which I think are perhaps a slightly different thing.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:35 AM on January 28, 2013


I'm going to clarify my above statement, since a lot of you seem not to have understood my point. If you're talking about what your partner wants and doesn't want, and constantly communicating effectively about boundaries and limits, then what you have basically done is established a rule. You may not call it a rule, but that's exactly what it is. It's obvious that the author of this essay is a total fucking hippy, so obviously he'd phrase it in more "loving" and "touchy-feely" terms, but ultimately a rule means "Here's what you do (or don't do) if you want me to be happy - and if you cross these lines, we're gonna have problems."

Obfuscating the fact that hard-and-fast rules exist is both hypocritical and disadvantageous to a relationship, because it lets people act in bad faith while pleading ignorance - due to the fact that explicit rules are cut and dry, whereas this "empathetic understanding" BS is not, and therefore allows a lot more room for exploitation and crappy "but I totally didn't know that would hurt you!"-style pleadings.

And yes, obviously you need a certain baseline level of trust in your relationships, otherwise you shouldn't be involved in the first place. But the fact is that manipulative people are out in the dating world exploiting people (just read AskMe to see some excellent examples of such) and having explicitly clear rules help you recognize and insulate yourself from such abusive human beings by reducing their ability to plead ignorance, thus making it much more clear when they are breaching trust and otherwise not acting in good faith.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just like you and your music-fan buddy would talk about it if you got tickets for the balcony section and he said, "wait, dude, I can't stand the balcony, just check with me next time, okay?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:29 PM on January 28 [+] [!]


Holy crap. Now you got me feeling terrible about getting balcony tix without discussing it with my music-fan buddy...
posted by Skygazer at 10:37 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


*sigh* skygazer, you're coming across a little obtuse here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on January 28, 2013


what is with all the bolding
posted by desjardins at 10:39 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Don't oppress us with your fontnormativity, desjardins.
posted by Etrigan at 10:42 AM on January 28, 2013 [33 favorites]


Sorry EC, just having some fun....
posted by Skygazer at 10:44 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


How you relate to the person/people you relate to has a lot more to do with your relationship's radicalism and discursive power than how many people you relate to or the circumstances through which those relationships came about.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:45 AM on January 28, 2013


Wow, the scolds even got to the poly community.

Always somebody with an opinion on how to do something the "right" way.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:48 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Being the only person that you are emotionally and physically intimate with is a whole lot of work and commitment! I can't imagine how much more difficult it would be if we each had other people to turn to as well."

Ever have a partner with no friends? It's a huge burden - you constantly have to mediate between that person and your friends, you are the only one they can talk to so you have to do so much mundane listening...

Polyamory doesn't increase the burden, it spreads the load. Sometimes you have more time/attention available, sometimes someone else does. In my experience it works out (and the more I talk about this the more I miss it, frankly).
posted by idiopath at 10:50 AM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, yeah. But that's true of all relationship problems, it's not an issue unique to polyamorous ones.

Oh word, totally. But I think that if you're doing poly then, you know, it literally adds another dimension upon which communication/trust/"me acting a selfish asshole" problems can exist.

That most people have trouble being considerate and unselfish with regard to one other person says to me that being considerate and unselfish with regard to two or more other people at the same time is inherently more difficult, simply because when you add a second person you create the possibility "A want this, B wants that, whichever C chooses will hurt at least one of them."
posted by Diablevert at 10:54 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bleh. I can barely bring myself to pretend to care about one person at a time. I have important books to read in the bathtub, ffs. I don't want to hear how your day was unless you are an intergalactic ninja spy.
posted by elizardbits at 10:57 AM on January 28, 2013 [38 favorites]


elizardbits: "Bleh. I can barely bring myself to pretend to care about one person at a time. I have important books to read in the bathtub, ffs. I don't want to hear how your day was unless you are an intergalactic ninja spy."

Some people would think I was a doormat in my poly relationships, but really I was selfish and coveted the extra time alone that I would get if my partner saw other people.
posted by idiopath at 11:01 AM on January 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


Polyamory doesn't increase the burden, it spreads the load. Sometimes you have more time/attention available, sometimes someone else does. In my experience it works out (and the more I talk about this the more I miss it, frankly).

I think the whole "poly relationships won't because of this" or "monogamy won't work because of that" conversation assumes a lot more commonality between what people want out of relationships than there is. For me, this thing you've said makes zero sense. I have one partner, who I basically want to spend all my time with. The idea of "spreading the load" seems weird and backwards to me, and trying to manage that load spreading seems like an ordeal.

That said, I 100% get how it works that way for other people. Trying to convince those people that my way is better seems silly because my way is premised on my needs and relationship skills, not theirs.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:01 AM on January 28, 2013 [23 favorites]


Maybe the problem lies with compulsive pseudo-scientific personalities who want to categorize the infinite range of human behavior in order to fit people into little boxes with names and then say that they have "discovered" something. Lo and behold, some people do not fit neatly into those boxes, so they start new categories within the original boxes, and so on. These people have what is known as borderline educationally directed anxiety & unilaterally needy obsessive compulsive categorization with underlying personal insecurity excessivity disorder, aka "bored and unoccupied", if you wish to join the club.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:03 AM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Some people would think I was a doormat in my poly relationships, but really I was selfish and coveted the extra time alone that I would get if my partner saw other people.

Oh man suddenly I have seen the light. That actually sounds awesome.
posted by elizardbits at 11:03 AM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


That most people have trouble being considerate and unselfish with regard to one other person says to me that being considerate and unselfish with regard to two or more other people at the same time is inherently more difficult, simply because when you add a second person you create the possibility "A want this, B wants that, whichever C chooses will hurt at least one of them."

Again, that's true if you have a group of friends too.

I should probably issue the disclaimer that I'm not, never have been, and not personally had any interest in being, in a polyamorous relationship. But I honestly can't see why it would be any different than negotiating any other kind of relationship - familial, platonic friends, romantic, etc. In all kinds of relationships you have to find ways to work out conflict and there's always the potential for someone who's just having a shitty day and gets cranky at the others, and yadda yadda yadda.

We think nothing of it when there's one of a group of friends that's begun acting like a chode and the others finally sit him down and go "dude, what the fuck," and you work it out - but if it's a polyamorous situation suddenly that exact same kind of dynamic seems like it's an exotic skill. And it's not - it's the same thing. And I'm not not understanding why the kind of basic "when you're disagreeing about something, talk it out" stuff they talk about on Sesame Street seems to be something exotic and rare just because it's a poly situation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:04 AM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Some people would think I was a doormat in my poly relationships, but really I was selfish and coveted the extra time alone that I would get if my partner saw other people.

Paradoxically, and all kidding aside, there does seem to be a certain amount of narcissism inherent in polyamory relationships. Not judging here, as either good or bad. It's just an observation.
posted by Skygazer at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2013


I mean, if a poly relationship consists of me telling whoever I'm halfassedly dating that I don't care if they see other people, then I guess I have been in a lot of poly relationships.
posted by elizardbits at 11:12 AM on January 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


What typically happens when a woman in a poly relationship gets pregnant, or decides she wants to get pregnant?
posted by jamjam at 11:14 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Normal" is indeed a moving target. MartinWisse's list above ...

1) they don't exist and those who do are criminal or sick
2) Oh, we just found out they exist; come look at the freakshow
3) Actually, it's not so bad
4) might try it myself
5) they're just people who want roughly the same as us
6) that old thing?


...is intriguingly parallel to the Overton Window, a political theory which sorts ideas by acceptability. It can illuminate how to change what's acceptable.
posted by naturetron at 11:17 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Paradoxically, and all kidding aside, there does seem to be a certain amount of narcissism inherent in polyamory relationships

Narcissism, or selfishness? I get called "selfish" all the time because of my open/poly relationship, and then people get annoyed when I don't get offended because I think selfishness is actually a good thing. The traits that some other people see as selfish--going after what I want, taking responsibility for my own needs--I consider to be part of being a well-adjusted human, irrespective of relationship type or status. And, paradoxically, I think that sort of selfishness makes one a better partner, because you're not expecting or demanding that other people to take care of your own needs.

Which, now that I type it out, I can see how that could be interpreted as narcissistic, too. After all, like RuPaul says, if you don't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love anybody else?
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:18 AM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, if poly is good for narcissists, then I guess I'm not one, because what little experience I've had in non-traditional relationships taught me they're not right for me. I barely have the relationship management skills to stay on good terms with myself.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:22 AM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


rhiannonstone: And, paradoxically, I think that sort of selfishness makes one a better partner, because you're not expecting or demanding that other people to take care of your own needs.

Like anything else, its a continuum, from too little selfishness to too much selfishness. In the middle is good, but get too far out along, and you will have difficulty relating to other people because of it.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:23 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


jamjam, there's no "typically" when it comes to poly relationships. I have four sets of poly friends with children (ranging in age from infant to teen) as part of their relationships, and each handled the decision to have (a) child(ren) completely differently.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:24 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


RockSteady: Like anything else, its a continuum, from too little selfishness to too much selfishness. In the middle is good, but get too far out along, and you will have difficulty relating to other people because of it.

Oh, absolutely. I've struggled a lot in the past with being so fiercely committed to my own independence that I kinda forgot that other people were there to help me when I needed it, which made me a crappy partner for awhile. But the happy medium between "U R MY EVERYTHING" and "I refuse to acknowledge that I might need others" / "My needs are the only needs that matter" is, well, happy.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:28 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


We think nothing of it when there's one of a group of friends that's begun acting like a chode and the others finally sit him down and go "dude, what the fuck," and you work it out - but if it's a polyamorous situation suddenly that exact same kind of dynamic seems like it's an exotic skill.

Because lovers are more important to people than friends?

I mean, obviously, caveats galore --- friendships are very important to longterm mental health, if you have good enough friends you can rely on them for important things, etc. All that. But on the whole? If I'm in a coma or need a kidney or break my neck and become quadriplegic or need to get bailed out of a third world prison? Then, in order, the people I'd expect to be sitting at my bedside/meeting with the transplant surgeon/wiping my ass for the rest if my life/bribing the border guards are my spouse, my kids, my family and then my friends. It is to be hoped that if there's an empty slot in the batting order the people one rung below will step up and fill in, but not to be counted on. My friends, as great as they are, have their own lives and responsibilities; I have not the right to demand that they give those up to care for me when the chips are down, though if I'm lucky they may. I do have that right of my family, and most especially of my partner.

Now in reality, hopefully none of those terrible things will happen to me. And they won't to most people. And there are people who break their bonds with their families and their kids or vice versa for good reasons, and whose friends are a second family, whom they understand would take on that role. So I'm not saying my batting order has to be everybody's, or that in most everyday dilemmas and crisis the world can't be handled with a lot more fluidity of responsibility. People are adaptable.

But on the whole? I want to know someone has my back, forever and ever, amen. And I just think that if you're poly there's a level where you're saying to that partner "you are never going to be sufficient to me, alone; I always want to retain the option to seek the affection of others. And though I care for you, they too have claims on me which my sometimes override yours." And you can say that that same thing is true of kids and stepparents and they seem to rub along alright. And I agree that's so --- but on the other hand the hierarchies and claims of a partner vs one's child are far more well established in our society, and still fairy tales have evil stepparents for a reason.

So I think the demands are different because partners, and what you get from them emotionally and what you rely on them for legally and financially are a lot more important to people than what they get from their friends.
posted by Diablevert at 11:34 AM on January 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


One of the things that becomes clear when you are having any kind of nontraditional relationship is that you can't make assumptions. Even when it is uncomfortable, you have to figure out how to talk about things, even basic things. This is also true in monogamous relationships, but it is easy to have blind spots because so many of your assumptions, being backed by dominant social norms, will be the same as your partner's. Or almost the same, but with important differences that are hard to see until they blindside you. In some ways, this makes poly relationships easier. You are forced to talk about potential conflicts early and often. Basically, something that is a good relationship practice for anyone becomes pretty much a requirement. It's like setting your compiler to strict. This is where I agree the most with the author: simply replacing one set of norms with another puts you right back in the situation of making assumptions. Where I disagree is that I don't actually see very much of this in the poly relationships I am aware of.
posted by Nothing at 11:41 AM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can assure you all that my poly relationship is just as complex and banal as my non-poly relationships. No hostage negotiations. No jealous flair ups. Just a lot of "hey, darlings, what do you want for dinner?"

We are over thinking a plate of beans because there are more than two beans on it.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:42 AM on January 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


But on the whole? I want to know someone has my back, forever and ever, amen.

A marriage license doesn't guarantee this. Genetic relationship status doesn't guarantee this.

Honest communication and leaps of faith by those involved nudge things closer to surety that someone will always have your back. Those are things that should exist (explicitly, and not just assumed to exist) in monogamous and non-monogamous relationships.
posted by rtha at 11:49 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


We are over thinking a plate of beans because there are more than two beans on it.

So, like beans, polyamorous people just lie there the whole time, being more or less identical and having exactly the same needs and desires, and not particularly having any sort of special relationship to each other then?

I guess that explains my own (again, fairly limited) bad experiences in this area: I should have been getting it on with a plate of beans instead of with people. Maybe that explains my more recent fondness for beanplating.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:51 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can assure you all that my poly relationship is just as complex and banal as my non-poly relationships. No hostage negotiations. No jealous flair ups. Just a lot of "hey, darlings, what do you want for dinner?"

We are over thinking a plate of beans because there are more than two beans on it.


That's how your relationships work. It doesn't mean that they'll work like that for anyone else, no matter the number of beans or how good at communication they are.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:54 AM on January 28, 2013


I have met more than one "monogamous" date who was put off by the idea of polyamory but who was already in multiple secondary-type relationships (but who would label them as "that friend I sometimes sleep with" or similar).

I think that perhaps there are many people who would suddenly "become" polyamorous, as in recognize the term applies to them, if it were a mainstream-acceptable label without the misinformed stereotypes that people seem to treat as synonymous with all polyamory (libertine swinger couple, guy with harem, etc.)
posted by zippy at 11:59 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


What typically happens when a woman in a poly relationship gets pregnant, or decides she wants to get pregnant?

The legal system makes sure that one person is considered the legal father even if the social system may be a situation with multiple parents of varied genders. I know a lot of poly situations wit kids, it's not that unusual.

I feel like this discussion is implying that there needs to be a new desginator where there are monogamous people, polygamous people and "I can barely handle being with one person so I have sort of maybe a partial relationship" folks. Fractional. I am fractionalous? Not to make light of the real issues people in poly relationships face, I just hadn't known there were so many folks like me.
posted by jessamyn at 12:08 PM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


I have one partner, who I basically want to spend all my time with. The idea of "spreading the load" seems weird and backwards to me, and trying to manage that load spreading seems like an ordeal.

How long of a relationship has this been? My basic argument against long-term monogamy is that this sort of dynamic is simply not healthy when carried on between two people for more than perhaps a few years at the outside. There are so many different people in the world with whom we could share important parts of our lives and learn and grow from, and the idea that you maybe look around for a while while young but then pick the best possible match and just stick with that permanently seems nuts.

It would be like a code of ethics where one should only ever have a single friend at a time, and then having any sort of non-profession interactions with other humans is seen as disgusting. Sometimes people would leave their old friend and cut off all social contact, and then go on little coffee chats with others to see how they got along, then they'd select one and just have that friend for decades, and tell everyone how that was the best friend they'd ever had, and how they would stay each other's one and only friend forever.

It's really pretty sad.
posted by crayz at 12:12 PM on January 28, 2013


> It's really pretty sad.

Yeah, my happy marriage is really pretty sad. Which is to say, your statement is garbage and is omitting the whole fucking aspect.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:16 PM on January 28, 2013 [32 favorites]


It's really pretty sad.

I'm the other half of that relationship. We've been together for ten years and married for five and it is the most hilarious relationship/marriage I can possibly imagine. Bulgaroktonos is unbelievably kind and funny and supportive and I couldn't imagine my life without him. It certainly wouldn't be as fun.

I understand that this style of relationship may not work for you and that's fine, but please don't attack my relationship or refer to my marriage as "simply not healthy". We have other friends and family members about whom we care a great deal and with whom we spend time but yes, he is the most important person in my life and I am (I hope/believe) the most important person in his. Saying "it wouldn't work for me" or "I'm curious how this works because..." would both be fine but please don't tell my relationship, which brings me unspeakable amounts of joy, is "really pretty sad". I acknowledge that polyamory is not how I personally am built and thus it wouldn't work for me but I don't feel a need to attack other people's relationships and I would be grateful if you could extend me the same courtesy.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:19 PM on January 28, 2013 [58 favorites]


crayz, I could not disagree with you more. "Monogamy is unhealthy in general" is, to me, just as silly and reductive a statement as "polyamory is unhealthy in general". Different people have different relationship orientations.

I do think that more people would be better served by explicitly negotiating their monogamous agreements rather than assuming "everyone knows" what is and isn't appropriate in monogamous relationships; that is a place where open and polyamorous relationships, on the whole, have better practices in terms of explicit negotiation of relationship agreements.

And to the extent that this article is taking issue with a media/oral culture creation of "standard polyamory", I agree that that's a problem. But I think it's also a (longer standing) problem with media/oral culture creations of "standard monogamy" as well.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:20 PM on January 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


How long of a relationship has this been? My basic argument against long-term monogamy is that this sort of dynamic is simply not healthy when carried on between two people for more than perhaps a few years at the outside. There are so many different people in the world with whom we could share important parts of our lives and learn and grow from, and the idea that you maybe look around for a while while young but then pick the best possible match and just stick with that permanently seems nuts.

It would be like a code of ethics where one should only ever have a single friend at a time, and then having any sort of non-profession interactions with other humans is seen as disgusting. Sometimes people would leave their old friend and cut off all social contact, and then go on little coffee chats with others to see how they got along, then they'd select one and just have that friend for decades, and tell everyone how that was the best friend they'd ever had, and how they would stay each other's one and only friend forever.

It's really pretty sad.


My relationship has been working pretty spectacularly for me for a decade. In the grand scheme of life, that's not that long, but it's long enough that I'm pretty sure it'll keep working for me. I don't find your relationship style disgusting, and I would appreciate if you didn't feel a need to tell me mine was sad.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:21 PM on January 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: We've been together for ten years and married for five and it is the most hilarious relationship/marriage I can possibly imagine.

Bulgaroktonos: My relationship has been working pretty spectacularly for me for a decade

Sheesh, get a room, you two.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:25 PM on January 28, 2013 [20 favorites]


...then they'd select one and just have that friend for decades, and tell everyone how that was the best friend they'd ever had, and how they would stay each other's one and only friend forever.

Yes, I agree. If you grossly and willfully misinterpret the facts of the matter and phrase the situation to specifically showcase your pity, monogamy is very much like that.
posted by griphus at 12:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yeah, sorry, that wasn't meant to happen. We try not to flirt through Metafilter even though I'm always REALLY tempted.

Also I've calmed down a bit but, crayz, no one takes kindly to having their relationship attacked and, unless something is actually abusive, I don't think it's particularly productive to tell anyone they're managing love wrong.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: Yeah, sorry, that wasn't meant to happen. We try not to flirt through Metafilter even though I'm always REALLY tempted.

I was totally kidding, Mrs. Pterodactyl! I thought it was adorable. Seriously, though, if my wife was a MeFite I'd be tempted to go and have a bit of a cyber in some dusty old MeTa thread somewhere, just because we could.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Also, does Mr. Pterodactyl know about what you and Bulgaroktonos have going on?
posted by Rock Steady at 12:30 PM on January 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Seriously, though, if my wife was a MeFite I'd be tempted to go and have a bit of a cyber in some dusty old MeTa thread somewhere, just because we could.

And suddenly, we have a new MeTa thread about getting rid of the Recent Activity button.
posted by Etrigan at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


My basic argument against long-term monogamy is that this sort of dynamic is simply not healthy when carried on between two people for more than perhaps a few years at the outside.

My argument against long-term polyamory is that I have observed that women tend to sleep with men more frequently when there is an emotional attraction rather than a sexual one (whereas with men it is usually the other way around), and consequently I get a lot more sexual opportunities when I am perceived as single rather than partnered. This means than when I negotiate terms and conditions with a polyamorous partner, I am effectively making a sacrifice on her behalf by allowing her to define us as being in a "relationship", which will result in me getting fewer mating opportunities than if I simply called her my "friend with benefits" or something like that. This means that setting conditions for a poly relationship is generally an uneven negotiation for me unless my S/O is willing to make special effort to make me whole in terms of ensuring a level playing field for both of us. In my experience, most poly women don't recognize this inherent disadvantage and therefore don't seem to understand why they should offer more in the negotiation to compensate. (To be fair, there are definitely some who recognize this inequality, but in my experience it is rare.) Of course, this is all anecdata based on my personal observations and I would be curious in hearing what other people's experiences are in this regard, especially people who are like me and have a flexible orientation where they can be either poly or monogamous. I find a lot of close-minded people tend to assume that being polyamorous or monogamous is some sort of deep-rooted choice, but I've found my own leanings towards monogamy is based more out of the logical desire to avoid unequitable situations, rather than any innate aversion to poly relationships.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:34 PM on January 28, 2013


Offer more of what in the negotiation?
posted by rtha at 12:38 PM on January 28, 2013


Offer more of what in the negotiation?

Offer more opportunities to make sure we both get an equal quantity and quality of sex outside of the relationship.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:39 PM on January 28, 2013


I just hadn't known there were so many folks like me.

I probably qualify, and I've met plenty others who do too, generally people with really busy careers, or who want personal down time, or have kids (or all three).
posted by zippy at 12:40 PM on January 28, 2013


It would be like a code of ethics where one should only ever have a single friend at a time

I think of it more like having one doctor or one therapist. But I am pretty seriously fucked up. My main concern in relationships is not dragging more people down with me (and why I entered marriage very reluctantly--nobody needs my problems.)

I would appreciate if you didn't feel a need to tell me mine was sad.

Yeah. Monogamous relationships can evolve and grow through the years, just like any other. And some people like large circles of friends; some have 1-2 very close friends.

Ever have a partner with no friends? It's a huge burden - you constantly have to mediate between that person and your friends, you are the only one they can talk to so you have to do so much mundane listening...

For introverts, the flip side can be a problem. Ever have a partner with too many friends? Just keeping me updated on all of them is way too much.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:41 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


My basic argument against long-term monogamy is that this sort of dynamic is simply not healthy when carried on between two people for more than perhaps a few years at the outside. [...] It's really pretty sad.

My parents spent the last 20 years of their life together working side-by-side. They drove in to work together and drove back together. They did have their own outside interests, but in general enjoyed being together, even if that meant my mom knitted while my dad watched boxing. There's a good chance that the only sex they ever had ever was with each other. These things did not make them sad.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:43 PM on January 28, 2013 [22 favorites]


I think that perhaps there are many people who would suddenly "become" polyamorous, as in recognize the term applies to them, if it were a mainstream-acceptable label without the misinformed stereotypes that people seem to treat as synonymous with all polyamory (libertine swinger couple, guy with harem, etc.)

I think that's kind of the point of the linked article, isn't it?
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:51 PM on January 28, 2013


My grandparents were sweethearts from age 15 until my grandfather's death at age 83. (They didn't get married until their 30s because of World War I and family pressure against their marriage.)

There was nothing "sad" about their relationship, or about their lives. They were the two happiest people I've ever known, except maybe for my grandmother's sister and her husband (also married for about 50 years).
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:52 PM on January 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


My basic argument against long-term monogamy is that this sort of dynamic is simply not healthy when carried on between two people for more than perhaps a few years at the outside.
lol

"My basic argument is that everyone is the same."

Basically always a poor argument.
posted by kavasa at 12:53 PM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


I have met more than one "monogamous" date who was put off by the idea of polyamory but who was already in multiple secondary-type relationships (but who would label them as "that friend I sometimes sleep with" or similar).

....Hmmm. I wonder how much of that may be more due to the garden-variety nebulousness about when a "relationship" is happening? I mean, is the person you hook up with every couple weeks your "boyfriend" yet?

I'd chalk a lot of that up to what I assume is a difference between full-on polyamory - in which, as I've always understood it, you are in a more serious committed relationship to more than one person - and "playing the field", in which you're dating around because you're not quite ready to be really full-on committed and serious just yet. You know? Polyamory is different than "playing the field", I always thought. Or - at least, it is for me, and I imagine it is also thus for other people. Hence that apparent contradiction.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:53 PM on January 28, 2013


A marriage license doesn't guarantee this. Genetic relationship status doesn't guarantee this.

Very true. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. For me, and this is my personal morality --- the key phrase in all the verbiage I spewed above is "have a right to demand". If I'm part of a dyad, then I have a right to demand that my partner treat that relationship as the most important one in their life, and they have the right to ask that of me. If I'm only one of three or four co-equal partners, then the balance shifts --- I don't necessarily have the the right to demand that they value their relationship with me above those others. And that matters when it comes to something like moving far away for a job or letting my elderly parent move in with us or quitting my job to stay at home full time.

Those are all rocks on which any relationship can founder, monogamous partnerships or familial ones too. This shit is hard, yo. I just think it's inherently more difficult to balance the competing needs of several partners than one.
There's a price. There's always a price.

There are tons of people, of course, for whom that price may be well worth it ---- for whom they'd pay it gladly, for whom it's obviously far cheaper than any alternative. I get that. Having the option to add more people to your intimate life is a necessity, to some. I just don't think it's an easier choice for all.
posted by Diablevert at 1:15 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are so many ways that veto power protects me in my sexually semi-open relationship, because, like it or not, a lot of social capital is tied up in our sexual partners, and by extension who our sexual partners sleep with in addition to us. [...] For instance, I tend to veto people who I think are exclusively gaming the open-relationship system in order to feel superior to me and use that for social leverage (trust me, it's come up.)

Hah! You know, this is exactly how I'd imagine a poly/open relationship would turn out. A lot of drama. And I don't even mean that in a bad way -- a lot of people like drama. I'm just not one of them.

Poly people talk about how liberating the whole thing is, but really it sounds like it'd be pretty limiting. What are the chances any given person you're interested in will be poly? I mean, that's a really limiting criteria. For one, it would mean that I'd never have wound up dating my girlfriend. And I love my girlfriend!

Also, a term like "solo polyamory" gives me a serious case of the chuckles. Isn't that just called "being single?" If you're single, you can fuck anyone you damn well please. No need to give it some fancy new name. Really, the whole poly thing seems like it would work out fine if there wasn't anyone you were seriously crazy about. And if you can be deeply in love with someone but would be okay with sharing them, well ... shit, you're a better person than I. Or a doormat.

I mean, like anything else, I'm sure it has its pros and cons. I just can't imagine the pros (MY GIRLFRIEND FUCKING SOME OTHER DUDE!) could possibly outweigh the cons (OH JOY, I GET TO SLEEP WITH SOMEONE I DON'T LOVE!)
posted by Afroblanco at 1:15 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


You have absolutely no idea who, in your social circle, is polyamorous unless they tell you

This is so true! I recently came out as poly on my blog, and was astonished by how many people then e-mailed me to tell me about their poly relationships. People I was close enough to to think of as friends, I mean.
posted by not that girl at 1:20 PM on January 28, 2013


Also, a term like "solo polyamory" gives me a serious case of the chuckles. Isn't that just called "being single?"

A rose by any other name, would be just as single.
posted by Skygazer at 1:25 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


My ideal romantic relationship is one of perfect harmony and monogamy; one in which your partner really is like your other half and you're so finely in tune with one another that it's almost an eerie twin thing. People imagine things like that, and relate it to the kinda creepy, unhealthy stereotype of identical, bland, suburban Ken-and-Barbie couples but, having actually experienced something like that, it's more like your life becomes a full college curriculum in Everything. When you have someone so like you in your life, you end up learning more through them than any other person, perhaps simply because they know how to teach you. You grow taller as a person when someone is able mirror your soul.

Most relationships aren't that, though, and most people don't understand when I try to explain it. Most people don't want anything--they're just killing time and being led by their noses. People who do want something probably won't get it, if only because the want and the thing are too different. Life is really messy and I'm really dysfunctional and every interesting person I've ever known has been really dysfunctional and I think our whole society and probably whole species are really dysfunctional. So, I cut everyone a lot of slack.

Mostly I just want to be left alone in a comfortable bed with a pile of interesting books, now.
posted by byanyothername at 1:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, a term like "solo polyamory" gives me a serious case of the chuckles. Isn't that just called "being single?"

This sounds a lot like being told that I'm straight when I'm dating a man and gay when I'm dating a female. I just am what I am whether single, monogamous or polyamorous.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


I know a few poly folks who seem to honestly believe that monogamy is harmful. Most that I know, including myself, simply see it as another option. But being an option that is vastly and overwhelmingly presented as the only right way to have a relationship, it's not hard to understand how people can be defensive about being poly, even to the point of believing that it's a better or more natural or more moral way to live. For those who are defending their monogamous relationships here, I understand where you are coming from, and I absolutely believe that they are healthy and fulfilling and loving relationships. But it might be worthwhile to consider that you felt the need to defend them when faced with the criticism of just one person. And then consider what it would be like if you were told every day that you must not really love your partner(s), and you must not really be happy. If this message was in the movies you watched and the books you read.

I wanted to mention a couple of other things based on the comments above:

Many (though not all) poly people can be perfectly happy in monogamous relationships. It's all about what works for you and your partner, and sometimes that is what works.

From what I have seen, drama in poly relationships is not more common than in monogamous relationships. And people prone to drama are prone to drama no matter what their relationship looks like.

Someone was talking about inequality in polyamorous relationships because it's easier for already-attached women to meet men (or something like that): Not addressing the assumption of heterosexuality, most people I know aren't really in it to keep score.
posted by Nothing at 1:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Not addressing the assumption of heterosexuality, most people I know aren't really in it to keep score.

Sorry, I didn't mean to be heteronormative. My point was simply that "keeping score" is one potential method (among many) to ensure equality, and I assume that equality would be important to people who profess to love each other. So while it's certainly true that some people might not care about keeping score, I don't see how keeping score (for those who are so inclined) could in any way be considered an unreasonable expectation.

More significantly, I was expressing an interest in hearing the analysis of those who (like me) are open-minded to either polyamory or monogamy, but also (like me) think it's important to keep score in order to ensure complete fairness.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2013


But it might be worthwhile to consider that you felt the need to defend them when faced with the criticism of just one person. And then consider what it would be like if you were told every day that you must not really love your partner(s), and you must not really be happy. If this message was in the movies you watched and the books you read.

That must be awful, but I would hope my reaction to that would not be to decide that there was a different model that must be the One True Way of relationships and be hostile to people who have different relationships than mine; that doesn't make any more sense than attacking polyamory for being unhealthy or horrible.

Everyone should realize that people are different, what they want from relationships is different, no model works for everyone, and no one comports exactly to the model of movies and TV shows, even us monogamous heterosexual types.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm seeing too much 'construct X is Y under these conditions' and not enough 'We are, now bugger off'.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:06 PM on January 28, 2013


Sorry, I didn't mean to be heteronormative. My point was simply that "keeping score" is one potential method (among many) to ensure equality, and I assume that equality would be important to people who profess to love each other.

That presumes that both partners have the same sex drive. Also, there's more to relationships than the sex, and partners often value those things differently. Keeping 'score' to ensure complete fairness would then have to involve a lot more than just counting the amount of sex each partner has, and I'm not sure how valuable it would be in the first place.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, a term like "solo polyamory" gives me a serious case of the chuckles.

Most people I know who identify this way are trying to be more honest and communicative with their partners, and keeping them all informed, than is the standard in dating. I actually think there is a difference there.

Even if solo polyamory is pretty much just dating, I think there are different ways you can comport yourself and polyamory does have certain norms that are useful to label as such. Now, the way people apply these can be wildly different from person to person, so the label is less relevant. However on a case by case basis I think it can be useful.

Sometimes it means, "I want to have a significant physical and emotional relationship that lasts a longish time, but I am not just doing that with you. However I am not two-timing you, I want you to be ok with it, I am being upfront about it, I'm trying to meet your needs, it's ok if you do it to, and maybe you can even meet the person if you want to."

That is not at all like traditional dating. In fact I think that scenario could elicit a big What The Fuck in the standard dating model. This is especially true in the standard dating model where you are dating multiple people because you are seeking The One who you will be monogamous with.
posted by kellybird at 2:08 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


wolfdreams01: My point was simply that "keeping score" is one potential method (among many) to ensure equality, and I assume that equality would be important to people who profess to love each other.

Why would you assume that? Equality in the sense of having an equal number of other sexual and/or romantic partners has never been a goal within my relationships, and isn't a goal within most of my friends' open/poly relationships. (Especially for the ones for whom their relationships aren't hierarchical--there's not really any one to have equality with, unless it's all of their partners, and that doesn't really make any sense. Human desire just isn't consistent and predictable enough for everyone to want/have the exact same number of partners) My partners and I have different sex drives and different desires, and while I'm happy with several "other" partners, including some I have loving, long-term, committed relationships with, some of them are perfectly happy with no other steady partners, or just one, or just having the option to take advantage of opportunities for sexytimes as they arise. I'm not competing with any of my partners. It doesn't make me feel any more or less secure if one of my partners has more or fewer other partners than I do. This is all true for the two partners I love as well as more casual partners.

The only equality that's important within my relationships is equality of opportunity--that is to say, that whatever rules we have about being able to see other people apply equally to all of us (ie., if I can have sex with other people, then so can my partners). And there are even open/poly relationships that don't have that (and while I don't understand it, those aren't my relationships to understand.)

In fact, I've found that for many newly open/poly relationships, having a goal of equality can lead to undue stress and drama and unhappiness, because they're trying to make people fit into a preconceived notion of what a relationship "should" look like rather than letting the relationships develop according to the needs and desires of individual people.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


(And I really don't mean to be all "This is how my relationships work and therefore this is how relationships work," because that's definitely not the case. But all the above is why striving for that sort of equality doesn't make any sense to me, and I'm curious about why someone might think it would be important.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:30 PM on January 28, 2013


I think the main trouble can arise when one defines "equality" as "sameness," when they are not the same thing. If there are two people in a non-monogamous relationship and one of them has three dates in a week and the other has two, they may still be "equal" even if they are not having the same number of dates.
posted by rtha at 2:32 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only equality that's important within my relationships is equality of opportunity--that is to say, that whatever rules we have about being able to see other people apply equally to all of us (ie., if I can have sex with other people, then so can my partners).

I think we're talking past each other. My point is that equality of opportunity does not naturally exist in polyamory because as soon as two partners present themselves publically (on Facebook, among friends, etc) as "in a relationship" the quantity of available women interested in hooking up with the man drops significantly, whereas the quantity of available men interested in hooking up with the woman remains relatively constant. So unless the woman offers extra incentives to compensate for this discrepancy, the opportunities are not truly equal - the man is disadvantaged by publically entering into such a relationship.

Why would you assume that? Equality in the sense of having an equal number of other sexual and/or romantic partners has never been a goal within my relationships, and isn't a goal within most of my friends' open/poly relationships.

Well, good for them - I won't judge their metrics for happiness if they don't judge mine. However, this type of sexual equality is most definitely a goal for me, and I don't see how any reasonable person could consider this an unfair thing to ask for. I realize that you trying to be helpful and answer my question, but it seems difficult considering that you're not recognizing it's validity.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:33 PM on January 28, 2013


My point is that equality of opportunity does not naturally exist in polyamory because as soon as two partners present themselves publically (on Facebook, among friends, etc) as "in a relationship" the amount of available women interested in hooking up with the man drops significantly, whereas the amount of available men interested in hooking up with the woman remains constant.

This assumes that for your average man, the definition of "suitable partner" consists solely of "someone who is willing to have sex with me". I think most people take a few more nuanced traits into account beyond simple sexual willingness when considering whether they have an opportunity for a sexual encounter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:37 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


the quantity of available women interested in hooking up with the man drops significantly, whereas the quantity of available men interested in hooking up with the woman remains relatively constant.

This is anecdata. Your example is mercenary and bizarre.
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [24 favorites]


This assumes that for your average man, the definition of "suitable partner" consists solely of "someone who is willing to have sex with me".

Not at all. However, if you diminish the quantity of people in the set (women willing to sleep with the man) then statistically speaking, the quantity of people in the subset (women he is mutually interested in sleeping with) will also diminish correspondingly.

This is anecdata. Your example is mercenary and bizarre.

I already admitted it's anecdata based on personal experience (though other Mefites have noted a similar observation in past discussions). If you have a source of more valid statistical data, I would love to hear it.

As for mercenary and bizarre, please be a little more mature about this. Asking for equal treatment (based on the parameters by which you measure it) isn't mercenary. And personally I've always found you pretty bizarre, but there's this thing called "common courtesy." Consider extending it to me, just as I've done to you.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:40 PM on January 28, 2013


I think we're talking past each other. My point is that equality of opportunity does not naturally exist in polyamory because as soon as two partners present themselves publically (on Facebook, among friends, etc) as "in a relationship" the amount of available women interested in hooking up with the man drops significantly, whereas the amount of available men interested in hooking up with the woman remains constant.

Ah, you're right, I think we're talking about different kinds of "opportunity." And we also have very different experiences of the world and how men and women are treated by others once they come out as poly. But I think I get where you're coming from now, thanks for the clarification.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:40 PM on January 28, 2013


Yeah, I would question the accuracy of your premise, wolfdreams01. Not to get into a Battle of Anecdata, but that isn't my observation of how poly relationships work at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:43 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to get into a Battle of Anecdata, but that isn't my observation of how poly relationships work at all.

That isn't my observation of how any relationships work, while we're at it...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:47 PM on January 28, 2013


It smells like exaggeration, to be honest.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2013


I am not certain that things are so unequal as you think, on a couple of levels:

1. The inequality of opportunity you are talking about really only holds true for hooking up. I have seen no such gender bias in the pool of people open to being in poly relationships.

2. There may be more men willing to hook up with people in relationships, but that does not mean there are more men you'd want to hook up with. Or to put it another way, back when I was doing online dating, I'd get one message for every ten my partner got. But of those I got, far more were from people I thought were interesting, and I actually ended up going on more dates than my partner.

3. I think the real equality here is, as previously mentioned, not one of numbers or even opportunity, but of freedom and support. I know people in poly relationships who don't want to see anyone besides their partner, and love that they get to have time to themselves when their partner is with another partner. We all have different needs.
posted by Nothing at 3:05 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


and personally I've always found you pretty bizarre.

You seem to not know the difference between someone arguing with your example and someone calling you names. We have now reached the point in this thread where I bow out.
posted by jessamyn at 3:14 PM on January 28, 2013 [23 favorites]


nthing that monogamy is not automatically equality, and viewing polyamory as inherently unequal is similarly perhaps not the most helpful or generally accurate lens to view it through.

Consider that, in a monogamous relationship, the partners are almost certain to have different needs and levels of happiness, as is true in any relationship.

For this thought experiment, imagine one partner is totally happy with say the amount and quality of ... it could be division of chores, or childcare, or satisfaction of emotional or physical needs. And the other is less happy.

In other words, they may both be on average happy enough to stay in the relationship, and yet have unequal levels of happiness. One is just OK, the other is totally taken care of, along one or more dimensions.

And I think that's perhaps the general case, that it is a rare thing where two people exactly satisfy each other to the same degree as they themselves are satisfied. Because people have complex and varied needs, and these needs shift over time.

So I'd like to propose then that the notion that monogamy = equality is more equality along a fairly narrow quantifiable axis (number of partners: 1=1) rather than equality of experience for both partners.
posted by zippy at 3:22 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry that this thread seems full of skepticism and flames.

Just though I'd share an observation from someone who has been happily poly his whole life, and for whom a shared polyamorous outlook is foundational to my happy marriage: I find it strange to see relationships framed so negatively by some people. I certainly don't view having a relationship as some sort of minefield of potential miscommunication and mishaps, which must be multiplied by having more than one of them. I think of relationships as a source of support and solace. Adding another, to me, adds to the stability of my life.
posted by DrMew at 3:23 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


You seem to not know the difference between someone arguing with your example and someone calling you names.

Jessamyn, normally I respect you quite a bit, but in this case I call total bullshit. When you refer to somebody as "mercenary and bizarre" simply because their approach to relationships differs from your own more normative standards, you are not "debating" - you are name-calling and making the argument much more personal than it needs to be.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:25 PM on January 28, 2013


When you call somebody "mercenary and bizarre"

She called your idea mercenary and bizarre. Not you. It seems perfectly reasonable to characterize ideas and theories without indicting the person who said them. You're overreacting, IMO.
posted by jess at 3:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


Hair-splitting is hair-splitting. It was insulting and unnecessary.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:28 PM on January 28, 2013


So unless the woman offers extra incentives to compensate for this discrepancy, the opportunities are not truly equal - the man is disadvantaged by publically entering into such a relationship.

This seems to be approaching polyamory with a preexisting grudge about the ladies hypothetically getting more hypothetical sex than you. The idea of a couple keeping a strict count ("You had sex last week! I have to get laid again before you get another one!") of that kind of thing is.. amusing and pretty non-functional. In fact, in my experience older polyamorous men are quite in demand, particularly if they're looking for a secondary (or tertiary or whatever) relationship and not just a sexual encounter.

On a slightly different tangent, I find it frustrating that polyamory is so often shoehorned into being an entirely sexual practice. Some people certainly approach it as an opportunity to sleep with lots of people or to have many different sexual experiences while in a LTR. However, for a lot of people it's not just about the extra nookie -- it's long term, committed relationships at the same time. I wish that was more prominent in these discussions, but I see why it's often not.
posted by jess at 3:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos is unbelievably kind and funny and supportive

I think that's what they call eponysterical.
posted by ersatz at 3:31 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Afroblanco: "I mean, like anything else, I'm sure it has its pros and cons. I just can't imagine the pros (MY GIRLFRIEND FUCKING SOME OTHER DUDE!) could possibly outweigh the cons (OH JOY, I GET TO SLEEP WITH SOMEONE I DON'T LOVE!)"

So, is it your girlfriend who is a libertine sex harlot, or you who is a righteously self-abnegating ascetic?

Some people like to sometimes fuck other people who they don't love. Some people find themselves capable of loving more than one person at the same time. Many people do both, at some point in their lives. It's perhaps an interesting fact about your psyche that you imagine the tradeoffs involved in a particular way, but I hope you realize that not everyone experiences them the same.
posted by dendrochronologizer at 3:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jess: hear hear. I think that non-poly people tend to focus on the sexual aspect of polyamory, but for me (and many other poly people I respect), sex just isn't such a huge deal. It's an aspect of some relationships, and life is richer with a variety of intimates in it (whether sexual or not).
posted by DrMew at 3:35 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hair-splitting is hair-splitting. It was insulting and unnecessary.

I can see mercenary being taken that way, but calling someone's example bizarre is way, way lower on the scale of offensiveness than calling the person bizarre, which you did.

I think it's not a stretch to view your engagement here as less than positive, in that you've been calling people who don't have the same view of relationships you do as: hypocritical, guilty of magical thinking, ...

There are real people in real relationships here who differ from your viewpoints on relationships.
posted by zippy at 3:35 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


It was insulting and unnecessary.

So was your comeback, which was actually directed at her personally and not at an idea she expressed.

What I wanted to ask was about this comment from earlier: Offer more opportunities to make sure we both get an equal quantity and quality of sex outside of the relationship.

What I'm wondering is, what is your partner's responsibility in making sure you get not just equal quantity but also quality of sex from other people? What opportunities exactly is she supposed to offer? Presumably, you also have this responsibility towards her opportunities, so what do you do to ensure that her opportunities (quantity and quality) are equal to yours?
posted by rtha at 3:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


totally don't want to reply to this line of inquiry due to the namecalling. bizarre? really? what? metafilter is really too cool for ad hominem. at least i'd hope.

but b/c i had already typed a reply...

when two people are negotiating they have some type of internal equation or metric that defines their happiness w.r.t. the parameters. this is obviously different person to person. it's not just gender based, of course.

wolfdreams01 notes that in some cases there are unequal opportunities for sex. i think the phenomenon he describes has some veracity to it in at least some cases. however, i think this is an incomplete and narrow accounting of benefits, costs, advantages, disadvantages, risks, and rewards of a potential poly relationship. unequal sexual opportunities (or outcomes) at time t, t being now, doesn't imply an unfair situation. the equations each person brings to the negotiating table probably include much more than current opportunities for physical sexual encounters at time t.

other gender based factors that might matter to a person:
- the fact that statistically speaking, women bear more risk in the case of a divorce because they tend to have fewer dating opportunities in older age, and tend to get greater custody time of any children. therefore: if opening up a relationship adds volatility which adds risk, a woman might bear more of it. the older single mother with 3 children and no partner, while the husband is gone with a new partner, is so commonplace as to be a cliche. i don't know about the real statistics. i do know many people in this scenario though.
- the fact that women's dating options decrease with age, even without divorce, so more partners now might balance out fewer later
- the fact that men (in folklore) are more attracted to the physical, so opportunities for younger and more attractive partners might create a risk disadvantage for an older/primary female partner in a poly relationship, in the longer term

a woman might want to have more sex right now, and more partners, to balance the lifetime risk and opportunity inequity. that is just me handwaving about gender differences though.

most of the factors that come into play are probably person specific, which might include:
- a man who is turned on by his female partner having sex with others (i know a few guys like this, their equations are going to be very different)
- introvert vs extrovert
- differing sex drives
- differing emotional needs
etc

some of it is timing specific. e.g., this past year my thesis was my 2nd boyfriend. therefore i had no pragmatic sexual opportunities even if had them hypothetically. how would that apply? unclear.

finally, in a marriage, you are in the illogical, non-analytical, "i will stay with you even if you are disabled" scenario. at least many people are. in that setting, much of the analytic accounting doesn't come into play. to borrow a term from polyamory, even in the non-poly marriage case (ideally), you are in a "compersion" scenario where your partner's happiness is your own, and you want your partner to be having as much fun as possible. therefore, trying to achieve equality is less important. (that is idealistic, of course, though i think it's sometimes not far from the truth. you're in the upper left corner of the prisoner's dilemma to use an analogy from game theory.)
posted by kellybird at 3:42 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, like anything else, I'm sure it has its pros and cons. I just can't imagine the pros (MY GIRLFRIEND FUCKING SOME OTHER DUDE!) could possibly outweigh the cons (OH JOY, I GET TO SLEEP WITH SOMEONE I DON'T LOVE!)

LOL. Okay, I realize now that I typed that backward. (no, my girlfriend fucking some other dude is not a 'pro'). Too bad the edit window is 5 minutes and not 2.5 hours!
posted by Afroblanco at 3:43 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hair-splitting is hair-splitting. It was insulting and unnecessary.

So take it to metatalk if you must. Metatalk is, of course, where you will notice a) the star against jessamyn's name and b) her status as generally beloved.
posted by jaduncan at 4:11 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So unless the woman offers extra incentives to compensate for this discrepancy, the opportunities are not truly equal - the man is disadvantaged by publically entering into such a relationship.

This seems awfully reductive of people's motivations. People are not solely motivated by sex when it comes to intimate relationships - there are a host of other factors.

And frankly, I find the notion that people are solely motivated by sex to be insulting and unnecessary.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:23 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


davidjmcgee, your blurb bears a strange resemblance to a conversation I had the other day. I could have cut a couple of paragraphs if I'd read this first!

Also, jessamyn is awesome.

Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.


Oh darn. I guess I'm not supposed to say that jessamyn is awesome. Maybe the mods won't notice.
posted by yohko at 4:43 PM on January 28, 2013


kellybird: ... the fact that women's dating options decrease with age, even without divorce, so more partners now might balance out fewer later

And the reverse is often the case for men (especially those who remain physically well and desirous of and capable of dating and/or sexual activity through or past middle age). As a lot of posts in this thread underscore, it's easy to be myopic about relationships and sex and dating and mating, extrapolating from our own limited experience to make unwarranted universal claims. And kellybird has been very helpful by pointing out how age affects that experience in ways that can result in complete reversals from youth to older ages. You really don't understand the dynamics of aging, and aging in relationship(s) until you have seen it happen to yourself (of all people!). Young JimInLoganSquare had much more trouble attracting attention from women than does middle-aged version (now that I am at last happily married and need it least); hell, just having a full head of healthy hair, full-time employment, and 32 original-equipment teeth gets me all kinds of flattering feminine attention at age 46 that I missed out on entirely in my twenties and thirties. Everyone gets a lot more pragmatic and less demanding or militant about sex and love as they age (or at least that has been my own experience and observation). I can certainly see how the group that might do polyamory best might actually be the middle aged and older crowd, even though the media attention focuses on the "young, pretty, and white" crowd.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 4:45 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


it's easy to be myopic about relationships and sex and dating and mating, extrapolating from our own limited experience to make unwarranted universal claims

Yup, definitely agreed. And especially with aging it can be so variable. At least I hope so (says a person who was/is a young nerd!). I recently read an NYT article-NYT link about the results of a long term study of men's aging, and some of them had changes in their love lives in their 80's and 90's. There are big individual differences in this stuff.
posted by kellybird at 4:56 PM on January 28, 2013


I just can't imagine the pros (OH JOY, I GET TO SLEEP WITH SOMEONE I DON'T LOVE!) could possibly outweigh the cons (MY GIRLFRIEND FUCKING SOME OTHER DUDE!)

(corrected to the actual intent)

You're mistaking sex for romantic relationships. What you're describing is swinging or an open relationship, not polyamory which is by definition is about love (even if it does mangle Greek and Latin).

The pros include additional meaningful relationships and that you or your partner becoming interested in someone else doesn't have to be an existential threat to your relationship. (Note the word have; it's not a magic bullet and other relationships can still destroy earlier ones.)

The cons are that it's hard but so are "normal" relationships. A tremendous amount of monogamous relationships involve cheating. I'd rather be in an open and honest relationship than be cheated on.
posted by Candleman at 6:41 PM on January 28, 2013


Yeah, you would be surprised by the number of people I know who think polyamory is all lame drama weirdos, who also take every opportunity they get to try to cheat or go as close to the line of cheating as possible with no thought to their partner's actual needs or feelings. It's disgusting, and one of the reasons I'm very jaded about our culture's idealization of monogamy as "safe" when compared to consensual and honest non-monogamy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:01 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


It was insulting and unnecessary.

So was your comeback, which was actually directed at her personally and not at an idea she expressed.


Rtha, what I expressed was not just an abstract idea: this is my lifestyle. Jessamyn can't plead ignorance of that fact, because I've already expressed pretty clearly in this thread that this was not just a hypothetical abstraction but rather the way I explore poly relationships. My morality and how I conduct my relationships are inseparably intertwined with mathematical analysis (the phrase "ethical calculus" was practically invented for people like me). Distinguishing between insulting me or insulting my lifestyle feels like a bad-faith misrepresentation. Consider this - would it be acceptable to insult the gay lifestyle simply because one was not directing their insult directly at a specific gay man? I recognize that my mathematically-oriented lifestyle is far more unconventional and rare than simply being gay, but I don't believe that excuses Jessamyn's blatant intolerance, even if she is a popular mod here. Given the context, I feel that Jessamyn's comment was deployed as provocation. In fact, when you consider that the FPP article is about a group that is supposedly open-minded about relationships but turns out to be rather intolerant of things that fit outside of their own normative scale, I think that her insult might actually be very apropos of the original topic.

Also, I am not saying in any way that Jessamyn is not awesome. Generally speaking, I respect her highly, despite our many differences of opinion. What I am saying in that in this specific context, she has no right to pretend that she is the victim when the entirely of her statement was a direct insult to my sexuality and lifestyle.

What I wanted to ask was about this comment from earlier: Offer more opportunities to make sure we both get an equal quantity and quality of sex outside of the relationship.

What I'm wondering is, what is your partner's responsibility in making sure you get not just equal quantity but also quality of sex from other people? What opportunities exactly is she supposed to offer? Presumably, you also have this responsibility towards her opportunities, so what do you do to ensure that her opportunities (quantity and quality) are equal to yours?


I'm not really sure where you're going with this line of questioning, but I'll go along with it. By "quantity of sex" I mean the frequency of hook-ups outside the relationship. So if we expressed the number of times I had sex outside the relationship as X, and the number of times my partner had outside sex as Y, then in any committed poly relationship that I was involved in, then:

X is greater than Y - 50
X is less than Y + 50

These equations impose a built-in limit where if one partner wants to have lots of sex, they have to ensure that the other partner does too. Obviously, such numbers could be changed to account for individual sex drives, if both people agreed - that is part of the standard negotiation. For example, if one partner had a lower sex drive, the equation could be more like:

X is greater than (y - 50) / 2
X is less than (y + 50) * 2

This may sound complicated, but it would actually be extremely easy to track (just create a privately shared Google calendar and put a red dot when you sleep with somebody else, and a blue dot when your partner does).

By "quality of sex" I simply mean that both partners would participate in good faith, and neither partner would try to game the system by pressuring the other to have sex with somebody that they didn't really feel excited about simply in order to artificially inflate the X or Y figure - thus allowing themselves to have more sex. Introducing your partner to people of their preferred type would be an acceptable way to ensure equality. Giving them more free time to hunt for a partner would also be a good way to be supportive. Partner-swapping with another couple (or poly group) would be still another option. However, saying something to the equivalent of "Come on, I hit my limit and I want you to hook up with somebody already so I can bang Sally" would be unacceptable, since it would involve pressuring your partner into a hookup that they might consider substandard.

Does that answer the question to your satisfaction? And just out of curiousity, what was the intent of your question?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:05 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


the fact that women's dating options decrease with age

I'm not so sure this is a fact.
posted by nacho fries at 7:21 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This OK Cupid blog post lays out a pretty convincing case that older women have a harder time finding dates.
posted by desjardins at 7:25 PM on January 28, 2013


Man, deciding on subjecting one's self to a willfully transactional-based sex life is crazy tedious.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


wolfdreams01, fwiw your comments have been insulting other people's lifestyles on this thread left and right. "Stupidly naive" in addition to the examples I mentioned in my previous post. It's not helpful to trash lines of thought that you may not agree with, and as there are folks in this thread who may follow those lines of thought, you've basically been trash-talking their decisions.

I apologize for addressing what's probably best handled in metatalk, and I'll stop now.
posted by zippy at 7:27 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


there is some serious time cube shit going on in here i tell you what
posted by elizardbits at 7:30 PM on January 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


Now I know the real reason I don't do poly is because I'm terrible at math.
posted by desjardins at 7:33 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


wolfdreams, you have indeed explained your own lifestyle quite well.

However, your lifestyle does not appear to be a polyamorous one; and since that's the topic of this thread, I'm not sure how your experiences - well-explained though they may be - fit into this context.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 PM on January 28, 2013


I am trying and failing to make an acceptable "wanna see my slide rule" joke.
posted by elizardbits at 7:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm familiar with that OK Trends blog.

I'm not convinced, though, that it tells the whole story. Just because fewer men may contact an older woman, doesn't mean she isn't still getting more dates than a younger woman; nor can it measure for quality-of-dates.
posted by nacho fries at 7:37 PM on January 28, 2013


[This thread needs to not be all about wolfdreams01's views; thank you everyone. There is an article posted above, plenty to talk about there.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Further metadiscussion about who has been insulted and whatnot can go to email or MetaTalk.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:45 PM on January 28, 2013


crayz: “How long of a relationship has this been? My basic argument against long-term monogamy is that this sort of dynamic is simply not healthy when carried on between two people for more than perhaps a few years at the outside. There are so many different people in the world with whom we could share important parts of our lives and learn and grow from, and the idea that you maybe look around for a while while young but then pick the best possible match and just stick with that permanently seems nuts.”

A number of happily-monogamously-married people have objected to this on obvious grounds, given that they're living data points against it. But I have my own objection to it: I think this characterization of polyamory – the notion that there are so many people in the world that staying with any for "more than a few years" is unnatural – sells polyamory itself short, and excludes it from some pretty huge things.

In short: the whole point of permanent coupling (from society's point of view at least) is initially and originally that children require that kind of permanence to have a safe and happy childhood.1 But children don't require monogamous parents to be safe and happy. In fact, logic would seem to dictate that children of polyamorous groups would have better childhoods – simply because children with larger immediate families, with more loving people around them to share the burdens and offer advice and teach them essential lessons, are generally healthier.

So it kind of makes me sad when people characterize polyamory as this fleeting, ephemeral, never "more than a few years" thing – because I think polyamorous groups would make awesome parents. And if we're finally seeing a generation of gay parents right now, maybe there's hope that, within a few decades, we'll start seeing polyamorous parents, too.
________________________________________________________________________________
1. Obviously people have their own reasons for romantic attachments, and for permanent romantic attachments, which often have nothing to do with children. However, children are the thing that interests society the most, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 7:56 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


there is some serious time cube shit going on in here i tell you what

That's right, and in Fourth Dimensional space, everyone is not only polyamorous, but bisexual.

Einstein proved that with formula: E4 =AC/DC
posted by Skygazer at 8:09 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


In systems engineering lingo, aren't there inherently more "integration points" in polyamorous relationships? It seems to me that like it or not from a strict relationship-engineering perspective, poly is likely to have more potential points of failure--and at least, from an engineer's POV, that implies they are more likely to fail and lead to problems that are irreducibly complex

<poly_systems_analyst>
I think you'll see it differently if you view each partnership as also bringing more support and redundancy. While there is more chance for whatever relationship property X to occur, where X can be positive or negative, if the positives outweigh the negatives (and possibly even decrease the odds of the negatives occurring) then that combinatorial explosion of n!/2 relationships between n people can actually be a net benefit.

Think of it as a system that has the potential to handle point failures more gracefully.

Also, n is typically small in practice.
</poly_systems_analyst>
posted by zippy at 8:10 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Think of it as a system that has the potential to handle point failures more gracefully.

Exactly. And so much of what is needed in our relationships is not just the absence of some negative event (we would settle for being single if that sufficed), but the availability of affection, companionship, etc. And these things are more available in a polyamorous setting. Consider, for example, that one can have a loving and supportive relationship that does not work out in terms of sexual compatibility. If you are poly this can be a positive thing. For "the one that you love" to not work out sexually is a tragedy, for "one of the ones you love" to not be a sexual partner is totally workable.
posted by idiopath at 8:35 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


koeselitz, there have always been polyamorous parents. They've just mostly been "one dad, several mums" in the cultures where polygynous marriage is a thing. Or "one mum, several dads" in the culture(s) (if there are any besides the Miao, I am not as up on my ethnography as I once was) where polyandrous marriage is a thing.

And then there are the polyamorous parents we happen to know about because they were famous for other things. Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson did a fine job of parenting, according to at least one of their children; Colette not so much, to say the least, and though Constance Wilde seems to have done better than Oscar, that's not saying much.

I know several polyamorous parents who have lovely, happy children. I am sure there are bad poly parents, just on the basis of statistics, but I haven't met any as far as I know.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I imagine a unicyclist who ponders "balancing on one wheel is hard enough, just imagine trying to ride on two wheels at once!".
posted by idiopath at 8:39 PM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


the availability of affection, companionship, etc. And these things are more available in a polyamorous setting.

Is this necessarily true, though?

Isn't the person who is in a well-matched exclusive relationship, who also has a circle of friendships that are deep and intimate (but not romantic or sexual), given just as many opportunities for affection and companionship as a polyamorous person?
posted by nacho fries at 9:08 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Awh hell, us hairless apes make things so much more complicated than they need to be.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:24 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think of relationships as a source of support and solace. Adding another, to me, adds to the stability of my life.

Then you are very fortunate. I have had exactly the opposite experience consistently in my life. I wish it weren't so (as I love people, generally and at a distance, quite a lot), but I've personally had a lot more experience with human relationships becoming exploitative, dysfunctional and even casually cruel over time in my life. In the poor, party-town culture in which I grew up, most relationships definitely did not have the effect of increasing the stability of the people I knew's lives. Rather, they led more than a small number of them to criminal behavior, self-abusive behavior and even suicide.

I've had a few really good relationships that remained stable and didn't end badly for me, and most of those have been sustained by keeping a fairly significant amount of personal (and often literal geographic) distance between myself and my friend.

I hate to say it, but I can barely trust people enough to bother even trying to make friends anymore. This wasn't always the case, but as I've gotten older, it's become the case more and more. It's part of the reason I'm so heavily invested in my relationships with my family. Of course, nowadays, with two kids, a challenging full-time job, and a compulsion for pursuing creative interests, I don't have much time to devote to outside relationships anyway. I know that sounds kind of miserable, but I'm really mostly quite satisfied with my life. I do sometimes wish I had a few more close relationships outside my immediate family, but honestly, not enough to want to take the risk of getting my heart broken by people I loved and trusted again.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:26 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, and I don't mean to say there's anything wrong with being polyamorous. I mean, if you can make it work, then great. You're a better person than I.

I suppose I'm just deeply suspicious of this hypothetical World Without Jealousy. But really, fuck if I care what others do in bed. What happens between consenting adults....
posted by Afroblanco at 9:29 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


the pros (MY GIRLFRIEND FUCKING SOME OTHER DUDE!) could possibly outweigh the cons (OH JOY, I GET TO SLEEP WITH SOMEONE I DON'T LOVE!)

Channeling Matt Groening's Love is Hell:
"Pros of Loose Animalistic Rutting/Cons of Freely Sharing your Love"
posted by BinGregory at 9:30 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


no ur all wrong, drinking alone is best relationship paradgim
posted by en forme de poire at 9:31 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


it's certainly my relationship paradigm
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:39 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article is a hilarious framing of what happens when people split an already tiny percentage of people into opposing camps.

The talk about the "most fundamental element of polyamory" seems a lot like, "You can't be polyamorous unless you make the same political choices I do." Particularly, in terms of the rejection of hierarchical structures. I think it may be a response to a normalizing of polyamory, but not this mystical "polynormativity" beast. Instead, it's a response to the fact that poly is no longer a thing that only super-lefty super-radical folks engage in - it is considered a valid relationship choice by many who don't happen to fit into this really rigid political niche.

So she goes on and on about how hierarchical poly is replicating systems of oppression, and that means it's not really poly. But as someone said above, polyamory is about being involved in multiple romantic relationships at the same time, not multiple romantic relationships with oppression-fighting progressives.

I also think it's kind of awful that she is handwringing that there are too many articles out there presenting polyamory as OK, and the newbies will get the wrong idea, and then comparing it to LGBT issues. When's the last time you heard someone from the LGBT community handwringing about how there are too many supportive articles about LGBT individuals, and they're worried that new people will feel like it's OK to not be het? Fourth of never, because the problem of too much support is not one that should really be an issue, unless you're trying to build a tree-fort and keep all the "uncool" ones out.
posted by corb at 9:50 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I dated a self-identified poly guy for a while. I was dating more than one person at the time, something I was totally up front about, so his polyamory seemed insignificant to me. Until I went to a party with him and met some of his poly friends. The amount of innuendo and basically creepy behavior from the men there really squicked me out. I got the feeling that in his particular circle, 'polyamory' meant something more like 'swinging'. I know this is not the case for all poly people, but in this group it seemed to be the norm. Worse, for me, was the next day,when there were people all over our Facebook pages asking if I was a 'primary' or 'secondary' partner. It all made me feel really horrible, even though I was only dating this man, was not in love with him and was not making plans for the future with him. It also made me extremely wary of the poly community, because it was my perception that they were intent on placing definitions on other people's relationships as to their relative importance and,in the case of this particular group of people, polyamory was not about relationships but more about having your wife's approval to screw around. I'm sure that my experience is not the way 'real' polyamory works, but I think that to deny that there are people who are doing it this way is also a mistake. There are plenty of people perverting the ideals of polyamory for their own gains and ranking the relative importance of one's partners in such reductive terms as 'primary' and 'secondary' seems really hurtful.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 10:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think some people just get off on transgression itself, and as soon as a particular transgressive lifestyle becomes acceptable and normalized, they're no longer interested in it.
posted by empath at 12:39 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does that answer the question to your satisfaction?

Yup.

And just out of curiousity, what was the intent of your question?

To try to understand what you were saying, because it *sounded* like you were talking about a system that required math and formulas, but my brain really doesn't work like that when thinking about relationships and I don't operate that way in relationships, so I figured you probably meant something else. But you didn't, and now I understand that. So thanks for the answer.
posted by rtha at 6:17 AM on January 29, 2013


In fact, logic would seem to dictate that children of polyamorous groups would have better childhoods – simply because children with larger immediate families, with more loving people around them to share the burdens and offer advice and teach them essential lessons, are generally healthier.

Logic? In the animal world, this is not the case, with infanticide in polyamorous situations observed quite regularly in our two closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzee and the gorilla.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:28 AM on January 29, 2013


Ironmouth, you should learn a lot more about that topic before making assertions about it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:23 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth: “Logic? In the animal world, this is not the case, with infanticide in polyamorous situations observed quite regularly in our two closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzee and the gorilla.”

I said "logic," not "biological and evolutionary necessity." And I gave a logical argument which you ignored. But, uh, if you're afraid polyamorous parents are likely to slaughter their children, well, I'm not sure what we have to talk about then.
posted by koeselitz at 7:23 AM on January 29, 2013


And in that case you should be much more concerned about stepfathers than alloparents!
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:26 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to be flip, but both "logic" and "biological and evolutionary necessity" are pretty much out the window with human behavior at this point, so constructing abstract arguments about one parenting style versus another is pretty much conjectural wanking without good scholarly analysis.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:28 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: “Not to be flip, but both 'logic' and 'biological and evolutionary necessity' are pretty much out the window with human behavior at this point, so constructing abstract arguments about one parenting style versus another is pretty much conjectural wanking without good scholarly analysis.”

I don't think "good scholarly analysis" is even possible where parenting is concerned. I thought it made sense to say that children with more loving parents around them could theoretically be happier. But if we can't even extrapolate that way, it seems as though we can't really reason at all about these things.
posted by koeselitz at 7:31 AM on January 29, 2013


Maybe some children would, while others would need sole parents to shore up their identity. Lots of well-meaning people could confuse them. Just like some kids thrive in public schools while others need private schools. It is kind of problematic to extrapolate, yes. By analysis, I meant looking at statistical data where possible.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:37 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's pretty much always problematic to extrapolate or over-generalize is my general sense of it (irony intended). It's one of humanity's greatest blindspots, IMO. Sometimes you can sort of generalize about things, but you've pretty much always got to be ready to abandon or qualify any generalization. Which is why it's so destructive and harmful that our culture has in recent years seemingly lost all patience for nuanced thinking and communication. Complex subjects require complex thinking and aren't always reducible to bumpersticker slogans and pithy, quotable internet memes. to deny that is to deprive our culture and social existences of any depth or meaning.

tl;dr:
"To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit. General Knowledges are those Knowledges that Idiots possess."
posted by saulgoodman at 8:00 AM on January 29, 2013


Ironmouth: " Logic? In the animal world, this is not the case, with infanticide in polyamorous situations observed quite regularly in our two closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzee and the gorilla."

People aren't chimps or gorillas. The interpersonal dynamics and roles within troops are similar in some ways to humans, but also quite different. You can't draw "logical" conclusions about how humans will behave by watching animal populations. Not even chimpanzees or gorillas. You can only make assumptions or draw abstract comparisons.

Infanticide happens in chimpanzee troops (for example) in some situations, but most frequently as a way for a male or female to maintain their dominant role in the group. Polyamory is typically not a requirement or even a motivator in many cases.
posted by zarq at 9:32 AM on January 29, 2013


My SO grew up in a normatively polyamorous intentional community (until her preadolescence, and she had older siblings). She has intensely negative views of the effect of that environment on the kids that grew up in it (as well as the adults, for that matter).
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


snuffleupagus: anything you or she can share to explain what you mean? I appreciate if you or your SO don't feel comfortable talking, but I'm quite curious how the commune culture worked (and the effects produced) so if it is possible that would be really interesting.
posted by jaduncan at 10:38 AM on January 29, 2013


Some of the issues are self-documenting if you peruse that site*, and consider the perspective of a child attempting to reconcile their home-life with the norms they perceive others living by and others reactions to them. I'll ask my SO if she wants to contribute anything more specific.

*For instance:
"She’s into Mom-ism." lit. She cares about the welfare of her children more than she cares about being an idealist. id. She disagrees with the group about how to discipline her kid.

There are also mentions, such as in this account, of how the politics blended households led to a lack of domestic organization and individual responsibility which led to ramshackle living conditions as well as erratic and unstable relationship patterns.

posted by snuffleupagus at 10:46 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holy cow, that "Keristan phrases and insults" link you give is a window into what feels like a downright hideous community structure. I mean, geez. I have a strong feeling there are a lot of poly people who would find the described community as weird as I do.
posted by koeselitz at 11:25 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The only real poly is with true Scotsmen.
posted by klangklangston at 12:24 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for chiming in, snuff, those links are fascinating.

And I dunno, koeslitz, while this Kiestra thing seems to have been more than a little cult-y, pretty much every human I know has uttered the phrase "I'm not angry" and actually meant "I am angry." That part doesn't seem unfamiliar at all. Obviously, polyamory doesn't have to mean complete submission to the will of the group. But I was struck by how one of the testimonials from the ex-communards said they were using the phrase "primary" and "secondary" back in the early 80s...it's awful easy to cloak negative emotions and power plays in ideology, both to oneself and to others.
posted by Diablevert at 12:53 PM on January 29, 2013


That sort of forced equality pretty much guarantees sedition!
posted by Burhanistan at 12:57 PM on January 29, 2013


Diablevert: “And I dunno, koeslitz, while this Kiestra thing seems to have been more than a little cult-y, pretty much every human I know has uttered the phrase 'I'm not angry' and actually meant 'I am angry.' That part doesn't seem unfamiliar at all. Obviously, polyamory doesn't have to mean complete submission to the will of the group. But I was struck by how one of the testimonials from the ex-communards said they were using the phrase 'primary' and 'secondary' back in the early 80s...it's awful easy to cloak negative emotions and power plays in ideology, both to oneself and to others.”

Well, I was more bothered by (a) the fact that they still had derogatory terms for women and men who like to have sex (and still have more for women than for men!) and (b) most of all, the existence of "seduction squads" of women who team up to seduce men to coerce them to join the commune. That there is not conducive to healthy relationships, I don't think.
posted by koeselitz at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2013


From the "Keristan Insults" link:

She will keep moving until something fills her vagina

...but according to Newton's First Law, this is only true if whatever fills her vagina exerts an opposite force equivalent to the initial force that impelled her to move at that velocity - otherwise it would simply slow her down or deviate her trajectory. Surely among that commune there must have been somebody with a knowledge of basic physics?!?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:25 PM on January 29, 2013


Well, I was more bothered by (a) the fact that they still had derogatory terms for women and men who like to have sex (and still have more for women than for men!) and (b) most of all, the existence of "seduction squads" of women who team up to seduce men to coerce them to join the commune. That there is not conducive to healthy relationships, I don't think.

The seduction squads were described as "opposite sex" not "female", weren't they? I read that as possibly being either sex. I suppose that there were two female specific insults for "just wants to bone" and only one male could be indicative of bias, but it seemed to me that was tied up with their whole "we're trying to build a progressive utopia" deal --- in one of the testimonials from ex members he says that they imposed a three month celibacy period on new entrants, presumably to discourage people who were only interested in sex.
posted by Diablevert at 1:32 PM on January 29, 2013


Yeah, this old Wired article is actually where I first learned about the whole seduction squad thing, and it discusses it as a women-seducing-men thing. I guess there must have been male squads, too, given the way the Kerista website puts it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:39 PM on January 29, 2013


From that kerista website, one guy's description of his long slow road to monogamy. interesting perspective.
posted by kellybird at 1:46 PM on January 29, 2013


I actually like the idea of communes, especially given how freaking expensive it is for a regular person or couple to purchase a place of their own these days. It would also be a nice environment for children - kind of like Augustus John's house, where all the children lived together and dressed up as gypsies. But aside from not personally being wired for polyamory (I couldn't keep track of whose socks I'd borrowed in the morning), putting sex into the mix makes me think of the student house I lived in where two were a couple and then had an acrimonious breakup.

Also, I agree with koeselitz - 'a vagina on wheels'? I don't want to be friends with people who use phrases like that, never mind share my bed with them. Just reading it is making my hymen grow back.
posted by mippy at 1:50 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It would also be a nice environment for children - kind of like Augustus John's house, where all the children lived together and dressed up as gypsies.

Based on what I've heard, this is often the assumption but the reality in the case of this particular commune and its offshoots was that childcare was treated like the housework too much of the time--a spiritually draining chore that any one person could excuse themselves from by assuming that someone else would get around to taking care of if they didn't. Authority was unclear (because paternity could be unclear), relationships were unstable, structure was absent and discipline was arbitrary. The result was that the kids were confused, neglected and often left to look after each other.

And, yes, they did dress the kids like gypsies, if they dressed them at all. And no, it wasn't fun to be dressed that way when taken out into the world or sent to mainstream schools. Nor, I imagine, to have your life be one long playground interaction with no escape from the casual cruelties of other kids in an isolated social group.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:05 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've just finished reading a book about English bohemia in the first part of the 20th century and two things stood out - a) it was a lot easier to be 'bohemian' if one was rich - many of the artists and writers mentioned had household staff b) it made entering the mainstream world (in these cases usually public schools) difficult. At the same time, there are countless suburban families where the children are neglected emotionally if not physically, or over-disciplined to a point which is equally damaging. As the only other accounts of commune living I've read about were within cults (I suppose polygamous households may be similar in some ways, but I haven't personally read first-hand accounts) I would be interested to know if what you describe is a feature of communes generally or simply a dysfunctional system. I'm also intrigued as to whether gender stereotypes assert themselves or not.
posted by mippy at 2:18 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


She’s a vagina on wheels/She’s a unidealistic nympho/She will keep moving until something fills her vagina

...because we have apparently developed a frictionless axle and wheel system. Talk about burying the lede.
posted by jaduncan at 6:54 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I've just finished reading a book about English bohemia in the first part of the 20th century and two things stood out"

A misread on my part led me to think you were referring to a culture as "brohemia" and I immediately pictured the laddish hipsters of our day — mustaches and misogyny — as "brohemians."

posted by klangklangston at 7:01 PM on January 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


vagina on wheels

This may belong in the band name thread.
posted by davejay at 8:48 PM on January 29, 2013


I may be overthinking this, but you can't put an internal organ on wheels.

It should be Labia on wheels.

posted by Skygazer at 9:48 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The one rule of the Polyamory Club is to always talk about the Polyamory Club.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:18 on January 28


It's definitely a joke worth repeating, but I wan't to make sure Artw gets credit for it.

The first rule of Polyamory Club is that you always talk about Polyamory Club.
posted by Artw at 9:32 on July 25, 2009

posted by BrotherCaine at 4:13 AM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


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