Polyamory: "When Three Isn't A Crowd"
October 27, 2013 1:15 PM   Subscribe

This latest article focuses on a triad raising a child in Atlanta. CNN.com has spent more than a little time on polyamory throughout the years (unusual for a 'mainstream' publication. As usual, there's the 'poly could end up hurting the children' counter-arguments, but this is certainly a more even-handed portrayal than in a lot of other arenas, and is not particularly preachy in either direction.
posted by softlord (89 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting article. It's certainly not for me, but it's great if it works for other people. The more people that a child can count on for love and stability, the better.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:36 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm with roomthreeseventeen.

It's not my thing, but so much of the anti-marriage equality movement's rhetoric is all "THIS WILL OPEN THE DOOR TO POLYAMORY!!!!" and my reaction is "SO FUCKING WHAT?"
posted by lalex at 1:41 PM on October 27, 2013 [28 favorites]


The comments on the article left me weeping tears of rage.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:47 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


My husband and I are happily, monogamously married, but we have two children and this weekend we both have horrible colds, and suddenly the idea of a third parent is looking totally awesome.
posted by KathrynT at 1:49 PM on October 27, 2013 [27 favorites]


Something about having adblock and flashblock installed keeps me from seeing comments on most news sites, which is such a relief.
posted by rtha at 1:52 PM on October 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


Wow, yeah, avoid the comments. Horrible people are horrible.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:57 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a feeling this is going to start being more common not just because of social acceptance, but because for families who aren't at least upper middle class... two working adults these days leaves you with barely enough to pay for child care and almost certainly not enough to pay for a decent housekeeper, so it's pretty much a recipe for exhaustion. One working adult and one staying at home leaves you pinching pennies and worrying about whether the stay-at-home parent is going to be able to successfully re-enter the job market if the other becomes unable to work. It's not gonna work for everybody, but if it might work for you it's got to be tempting in this day and age.
posted by Sequence at 2:03 PM on October 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Nevermind the comments, avoid Dr. Ruskin her crappy "Marriage Manual." Because if you're saying that poly is "a distraction from dealing with each other," then you know nothing about poly. Because ALL YOU DO IS DEAL WITH EACH OTHER. It's 150% of the people and probably 300% of the communication.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:03 PM on October 27, 2013 [31 favorites]


I always thought that parenthood was something I could only manage if there were at least three parents. But oh my goodness, living with that many people?!
posted by emilyw at 2:08 PM on October 27, 2013


The more people that a child can count on for love and stability, the better.
You know, that sounds great, and all. I am in favor of love and stability.

I really don't believe I have any right to tell other people, especially other consenting adults, how to live. I am pro-gay-marriage. But I am very skeptical about poly.

The way to make the case for this convincingly isn't to point to a nine-year-old with three loving parents; it's to point to a healthy, well-adjusted 25-year old who spent their entire childhood and adolescence with the same three loving parents. Who are still together.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:13 PM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have to admit that despite many attempts at being open minded, any contact I ever had with people who self-labeled as poly fell fairly neatly into two categories of Sketchy Dudes exploiting The Emotionally Vulnerable.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 2:14 PM on October 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


it's to point to a healthy, well-adjusted 25-year old who spent their entire childhood and adolescence with the same three loving parents. Who are still together.

Shit, I've met startlingly few healthy, well adjusted 25-year-olds who spent their entire childhood with the same TWO loving parents who are still together. That's a pretty high bar.
posted by KathrynT at 2:15 PM on October 27, 2013 [63 favorites]


I mean, OK, Zach Wahls, that's one, although he's only 22 and neurosis and crisis could still erupt. But how many others?
posted by KathrynT at 2:17 PM on October 27, 2013


it's to point to a healthy, well-adjusted 25-year old who spent their entire childhood and adolescence with the same three loving parents. Who are still together

Why hold poly folks to higher standards than serially monogamous couples? It's not as if many marriages don't also end in divorce, followed by remarriage...
posted by skye.dancer at 2:17 PM on October 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's a good article, a bit all over the place, but not bad. I'm surprised to see it on CNN!

Monogamy is still ideal to me, but reality isn't ideal at all and polyamory is a way of accepting and working with that. The idea of one person who is somehow in ways that can never be satisfyingly expressed both your perfect equal and superior teacher, who is capable of meeting your every need, is lovely, but unlikely. Being open with and close to several intimates can help sate disparate needs that...although tangled up in how we think of relationships, really may not necessarily be overlapping things.

Living in a low-population-density region, where you're not likely to meet many interesting single people with whom mutual attraction can happen certainly factors in here, as well. Most of the people I meet and like are already in established relationships, or live too far away to see often. I end up spending time online a lot, and the odds of finding someone I'll feel a connection with are higher there, because: bigger pool of people, self-selecting a lot by interests and personality types, and so on... But that's often sad, too, because it's difficult to maintain a relationship at a distance over time, and not fair to ask exclusivity in that situation.

After years of pining for remote, geographically scattered lovers who meet most of my needs but are freaking ten billion miles away and disappointment with fleshyverse partners who are close and tangible but leave too much of my heart untouched, it became gradually apparent that the stereotypical monogamous partnership was just never going to be an option, and that that's okay, there are other ways of doing love, sexuality and intimacy. And all sorts of degrees to it, for different levels of comfort, and it's okay to always be readjusting your own degrees to ensure the comfort of everyone involved. It just takes talking to each other, always.

Which I'm guessing is how a lot of people end up here. Living just kind of makes us change all the time, as we learn to reach for possibility while reacting to circumstance.

Sorry to ramble. This has been on my mind a bit lately.
posted by byanyothername at 2:21 PM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I feel similarly to poly households/marriages as I do gay marriages: if your against it, don't do it.

That being said, only one argument the christian right has against gay marriage seemed at all valid to me - 'it may lead to the legalization of poly marriage'... But my response to that is - 'so what?'.
posted by el io at 2:22 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, yeah, avoid the comments. Horrible people are horrible.

It's worth noting that these are moderated comments, so CNN has deleted those that are notable worse than the comments that they allowed to remain (presumably).
posted by el io at 2:30 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I never understand why people find it so hard to believe you can love more than one person at once, when we all accept you can love multiple children equally. Love isn't a finite resource. If you and your partner(s) and any kids are happy, who gives a shit? I wish we raised kids to know that there are so many ways to love and be loved.
posted by billiebee at 2:40 PM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


it's to point to a healthy, well-adjusted 25-year old who spent their entire childhood and adolescence with the same three loving parents.

I think it's worth noting that because of the backlash against poly configurations, there are not a lot of these families with their heads above the parapet. That mention of the child protection investigation in the CNN article? That's common.

The reality is that people make families in all kinds of ways and I seriously have never seen anything compelling to show me that two-parent, opposite-gender parents are preferable. Which is good, since I'm 41 and spent my entire childhood and adolescence with six loving parents, all of whom remain together.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:44 PM on October 27, 2013 [36 favorites]


The only logical objection I've ever heard to consensual polygamy* has been about benefits/health insurance.

So the answer to the "problems" of polygamy is universal single payer health care.

*Most traditional forms of polygamy don't require full consent of all parties to all partnerships. Obviously there are big problems with this. Modern self-identified "polyamorous" relationships usually do require consent of all parties.
posted by jb at 2:47 PM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm proud to say that I marched in the Atlanta Pride Parade directly in front of these folks--with a bunch of Presbyterians. It just happened in the line-up that our large (open and affirming, obviously) Presbyterian congregation and a couple of smaller Presbyterian groups were lined up in front of them. Immediately in front of us were several UCC congregations, who confided that they were glad that we were between them and the poly folks "because people already think the UCC is weird, without them associating the polyamorists with us."

The poly folks were very friendly. They had several kids with them, who all seemed to be having a good time. Atlanta Pride has got to be one of the happiest places I've ever been, and I was glad to share it with them.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:48 PM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I maybe might theoretically be able to love & commit to more than one person, but I am 100% certain that sharing a bathroom with more than one adult would push me over the brink.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:48 PM on October 27, 2013 [28 favorites]


Every time I see an article on modern American polygamy I wish more was written about polygamous Muslims, 19th century Mormons, and other cultures with a long tradition of polyamorous relationships.
posted by Nelson at 2:53 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just a datapoint: polyamory is not for me. In the last serious relationship I was in, I was physically sick at the thought that she was seeing other guys.

Abstractly, I can see that polyamory can work. But, historically, the proponents of polyamory have been patriarchal jerks that treat women like cattle. I'd like to toss my hat into the air and shout, "Good for you!", but my reptile brain reminds me of the awful possibilities of the human condition.
posted by SPrintF at 2:53 PM on October 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


I am certainly curious about the preponderance of knee-jerk "I could never do this!" responses to most writing on the topic, as if the original article specifically asked for a show of hands.
posted by softlord at 2:56 PM on October 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


One dude + a bunch of ladies is polygyny, not polyamory, I thought. Or maybe it is a subset of polyamory? Where do the terms end / intersect?
posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:59 PM on October 27, 2013


. Immediately in front of us were several UCC congregations, who confided that they were glad that we were between them and the poly folks "because people already think the UCC is weird, without them associating the polyamorists with us."

Ugh. I am UCC and this is pretty disappointing. I'm sorry.
posted by KathrynT at 3:03 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


One dude + a bunch of ladies is polygyny, not polyamory, I thought.

Polygyny and polyandry are both forms of polyamory, as are more complicated unnamed arrangements which include more than one of both sexes.
posted by localroger at 3:05 PM on October 27, 2013


That being said, only one argument the christian right has against gay marriage seemed at all valid to me - 'it may lead to the legalization of poly marriage'... But my response to that is - 'so what?'.

The problem with poly marriage, from a legal perspective, is that we don't really have a good legal model for it. Many laws recognise that marriage creates rights and responsibilities between the partners both during the marriage and on the occasion of its dissolution. This is conceptually simple when dealing with two parties, but it creates problems with three or more: does the duty exist between one person and the others individually or collectively?

Consider the stereotypical case where one person supports the other financially through grad school and the start of his or her career, after which the support flows the other way. Most jurisdictions say that the person with the career now has a duty to the other one - perhaps alimony, or a share in property acquired during the marriage, or whatever. How do we handle this when there are three or more people involved? Should we say that the other members have a duty in proportion to the amount of support they received, or in proportion to their capacity to pay, or an equal proportion, or what? What happens if the two remaining partners are joined by a new partner? Has the new partner acquired any existing duty? That is, do we treat this as a continuing marriage or a total dissolution and reformation?

These problems can undoubtedly be solved, but right now there is no real protection for the parties to a polyamorous marriage. Saying "Oh, we should totes recognise these as marriages" without defining what these marriages actually imply would only work if marriage were just a label, a shiny star of social approval. The sad fact is that it's also a guarantee and something of a safety net when things go wrong. I am all in favor of people making meaningful commitments to each other, but polyamorous marriages have no implicit legal framework and we can't just wish one into existence. These things have to be worked out and stated explicitly before we can say things like "Alice, Bob, and Carol are married."
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:09 PM on October 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


How do we handle this when there are three or more people involved?

There is this arcane system of knowledge called "mathematics" which might be helpful.

Also, re-watching Caprica a few times might provide a hint.
posted by localroger at 3:19 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Immediately in front of us were several UCC congregations, who confided that they were glad that we were between them and the poly folks "because people already think the UCC is weird, without them associating the polyamorists with us."

Ugh. I am UCC and this is pretty disappointing. I'm sorry.


Oh, no, it was all in good fun--we were lined up next to a pink stretch hummer with men in pink shorts dancing on the roof, and the poly, UCC, and Presbyterian folks were all enjoying watching them together. I'm not sure if the poly folks heard that conversation, but I don't think they would have been offended, since the whole point of them being there was to raise awareness that they even exist at all. And it's true that nobody tends to think of Presbyterians as weird (no matter how weird we actually are).
posted by hydropsyche at 3:27 PM on October 27, 2013


These problems can undoubtedly be solved, but right now there is no real protection for the parties to a polyamorous marriage.

I'll be curious to see how this shakes out in the next 20 years. The legal and financial benefits of one-to-one marriage in the U.S. are considerable -- everything from breaks on car and health insurance premiums to pensions and the right to make decisions about estates based on being the next-of-kin.

I am enough of a cynic to suspect that the tide on group marriage will turn once someone demonstrates its potential to make or save corporations big chunks of cash.
posted by sobell at 3:33 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


But, historically, the proponents of polyamory have been patriarchal jerks that treat women like cattle.

Of course, marriage has treated women the same way for thousands of years. It is only relatively recently that women began enjoying a degree of legal equality with men. I had the same hang ups as you, but once I got to know folks in poly relationships they stopped being this weird abstract ick and actual human beings with the same banal relationship issues the rest of us have.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:38 PM on October 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


I am certainly curious about the preponderance of knee-jerk "I could never do this!" responses to most writing on the topic, as if the original article specifically asked for a show of hands.

Curious that you're curious. A knee-jerk show of hands is a standard if not preponderant response to a great number of metafilter threads. Usually it takes the form of "isn't that FPP subject great/awful, and aren't those who oppose/support it wonderful/awful?"

Or *

Why should this one be any different?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:06 PM on October 27, 2013


> ight now there is no real protection for the parties to a polyamorous marriage

I find myself wondering about the children and paying for college in the face of a split-up. I know when there's your standard two-parent family and they get divorced, the kids' college funds can be a problem. The "who pays for what" issue must be even greater if there are three or more adults.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:08 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, marriage has treated women the same way for thousands of years. It is only relatively recently that women began enjoying a degree of legal equality with men.

"liberal" discussions of marriage and family tend to take place in some post-scarcity SF universe (science fiction or san francisco... take your pick) where everyone's material needs are being met. so, we have gone from a society where it was the job of women to raise children to one where it is no one's job to raise children. the freedom of women to leave the home and find work has also become the freedom from having you and your child supported if you don't. (which isn't to say that this is necessarily what happened in the mythical past either but...)

so, it's all well and good to say you should be free to have whatever kind of family you desire. but you can only have that freedom if you actually create a society which supports everyone, especially children (and parents.)

I have a feeling this is going to start being more common not just because of social acceptance, but because for families who aren't at least upper middle class... two working adults these days leaves you with barely enough to pay for child care and almost certainly not enough to pay for a decent housekeeper, so it's pretty much a recipe for exhaustion.

and there is then an unavoidable power differential between the two working parents and the stay at home one. you actually have this backwards, the more society is stressed and chaotic the more it reverts to social conservatism.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:18 PM on October 27, 2013


I really expected this thread would have crashed and burned by now.
Metafilter, I underestimated you.
posted by Mezentian at 4:20 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "who pays for what" issue must be even greater if there are three or more adults.

Maybe that means that polyamorous families would put more thought into all eventualities, whereas many couples still decide to have children assuming everything will work out just dandy.
posted by billiebee at 4:22 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Maybe that means that polyamorous families would put more thought into all eventualities

Maybe. My impression is that there's nothing poly families like more than a good old-fashioned house meeting.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:25 PM on October 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


find myself wondering about the children and paying for college in the face of a split-up. I know when there's your standard two-parent family and they get divorced, the kids' college funds can be a problem. The "who pays for what" issue must be even greater if there are three or more adults.

This is the same problem that exists whenever people can't, or don't, legally cement their relationship. I have a friend who is a lesbian. We live in a state where neither same-sex marriage nor second-parent adoption is legal, but both she and her ex have honored their moral and ethical obligations to their daughter, working out shared custody arrangements themselves, for instance, although neither of them could have gotten legal relief if one of them had reneged--if my friend, the biological and legal mother, had withheld custody, or if her ex had withheld support.

It's definitely a problem, but it's a shared problem of all relationships that aren't codified in law. I would be interested to hear people who are in group relationships talk about how they have addressed this kind of thing. I'm sure some people do it well and some people do it badly, just like everything else.
posted by not that girl at 4:27 PM on October 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Except for that horrible Dr person, and the reassurance that kids raised in poly homes are not likely to grow up poly--very reminiscent of similar reassurances in older articles about gay parents--that's a pretty good article.
posted by not that girl at 4:35 PM on October 27, 2013


DarlingBri: ...I'm 41 and spent my entire childhood and adolescence with six loving parents, all of whom remain together.
That is great!

Mabye CNN should have profiled your family.
KathrynT Shit, I've met startlingly few healthy, well adjusted 25-year-olds who spent their entire childhood with the same TWO loving parents who are still together. That's a pretty high bar.
I'm really sorry to hear that. My experience is different. I believe, in my circle of family and friends, that divorce is the exception, not the rule. Of course, I'm biased when I say that they're "well adjusted" but that's all the data you've got so you're stuck.

It's not that high a bar, really. I'm not suggesting that every poly relationship should be stable long term in order to get poly to be taken seriously, any more than I'd suggest that every more conventional relationship is guaranteed to really be 'til-death-do-us-part.' But for all the failings of traditional couples, its still really easy to find examples of long-term success and stability there. Even a mostly-friendly profile piece like this one doesn't have a poly story like that.

Quite the opposite, in fact, it's a story of a boatload of heartache and pain; this is Billy and Melissa's second try at a poly relationship (and at least her fourth serious relationship, if I'm following the timeline properly), the nine-year-old is the start of Melissa's second batch of children, one of her minor children left rather than live with his Mom plus two men who weren't his father. None of that chaos was caused by intolerance from society at large, either.

I don't think any moves should be made to prohibit such arrangements between consenting adults. I'm not even "thinking of the children." Goodness knows conventional relationships go awry and cause kids no end of anxiety and stress all the time.

I do think the popularization of the poly idea will cause the bulk of the people who decide to try it out to waste a lot of precious time and immeasurable heartbreak. That's not exactly an arch-conservative position.

I could be wrong. I've been wrong before.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:48 PM on October 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I do think the popularization of the poly idea will cause the bulk of the people who decide to try it out to waste a lot of precious time and immeasurable heartbreak.

Maybe it's better to think of it not as an idea that people "try out", but a way of being that isn't yet widely recognised. Maybe some people can only love one person, maybe some people can love more than one, but only the first option is generally accepted. If you're a person who has to struggle with feelings of being bad or wrong because it turns out you don't fit the monogamous mould, that can be as painful as a gay person having to act straight to fit in, imo. It's just about creating space for all kinds of expressions of love and sexuality, rather than One Right Way. More people being free to be themselves can only be a good thing surely?
posted by billiebee at 5:01 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


> one of her minor children left rather than live with his Mom plus two men who weren't his father. None of that chaos was caused by intolerance from society at large, either

You don't know that, as far as that point goes -- it's gotta be stressful living in a family that so many people think is awful, and if a kid decided it would be easier to not be teased at school that makes sense. (I don't know the story here, either. I'm talking about poly families in general.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:03 PM on October 27, 2013


I grew up in the 70s and was among the first of my age group whose parents divorced, and by the time I was old enough to be a latchkey kid I was not the only latchkey kid.

The worst part of growing up like that was internalizing all the media-driven nonsense, fear-mongering, and outright lying about families like mine. I was doomed to grow up and be a criminal; I was doomed to get pregnant in high school; I was doomed to not graduate high school; my family was morally bad and wrong and destroying society because it wasn't a married heterosexual two-parent family.
posted by rtha at 5:08 PM on October 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


I'm really sorry to hear that. My experience is different. I believe, in my circle of family and friends, that divorce is the exception, not the rule. Of course, I'm biased when I say that they're "well adjusted" but that's all the data you've got so you're stuck.

Why on earth are you sorry?

I actually know a fair number of people whose parents are still together, but I honestly am not sure I know anyone I'd describe as stable and well adjusted at the age of 25. Myself included.
posted by KathrynT at 5:17 PM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm open to the argument that poly relationships are sufficiently stable that they should be deemed legitimate in the eyes of the state, but it seems people confuse making vapid, snarky comments about regular marriage with actually making that argument.
posted by jpe at 5:44 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really expected this thread would have crashed and burned by now.

I tend to be really quiet about the fact that I don't generally involve myself in monogamy because for some reason a lot of people who are otherwise fairly liberal think shitting on poly people is a good old time. Many of them won't even realize they're doing it.


The worst part of growing up like that was internalizing all the media-driven nonsense, fear-mongering, and outright lying about families like mine. I was doomed to grow up and be a criminal; I was doomed to get pregnant in high school; I was doomed to not graduate high school; my family was morally bad and wrong and destroying society because it wasn't a married heterosexual two-parent family.

It's absolutely astonishing to me that this prejudice still exists in some parts of our society. My folks have a long, long history of being highly involved in the churches they've been part of- my stepdad's a former pastor who still teaches Sunday school sometimes, my mom and dad ran their church's youth department for years when I was a little kid, and through it all they've always viewed being involved in and contributing to their churches as a hugely important part of their lives. A few years ago they went on a church trip to Russia to help a local church do some renovation and maintenance work that the local church couldn't afford to have done. They're that kind of people, you know? They were asked by the pastor to lead the next year's trip, and then that didn't happen because the people who raised me- the mother who always put her children and her church ahead of herself and the stepfather who never, ever gave the slightest indication that he cared less about us than his biological child- apparently pissed off a good portion of the church by having the temerity to take leadership roles while having, two decades previous, divorced.

I don't remember the last time I was as angry as the day they told me about it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:03 PM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


.... just read the first 20 or so comments...

for all the doubters out there, here's a question:

Would you rather a kid be in a family where more than two adults were honest about their non-traditional emotional and sexual relationships or would it be better for a kid to be in a household where the reality, the everyday common reality, is that one or the other parent is screwing someone behind everyone else's back, lying about it, lusting after every man/woman he/she sees, living a life full of want and disappointment. You know, like probably our own parents did? Like some, many, or most of US or our friends do?

The dodgy response "I'd rather kids be in a loving, two person household where they learned good relationship behaviors...yada yada" isn't a valid response. The trial period for that approach has not yielded the purported benefits, and it's had a while. Time's up. I want world peace, too, but I'm not silly enough to think it possible as long as humans roam freely.

Brief survey of this months's askmefi.... go see how many people are effectively dealing with two-person relationships, how many endure more than a decade, how many decompose after infidelity, and how utterly clueless most people are in having any luck navigating the insanity of drunk infatuation.

Then, contrast that with folks who intentionally pull the institution out of the closet and put light of intent in place of the mythology of "the one". That's not to say they are successful. It's to say that they are trying something else out that may work better, either for them or for folks in general. One has to admire on some level anyone who is willing to swim upstream. I'm not sure I know anyone who is openly poly, well... maybe one or two, and with as many people as I know, that's an indicator that it isn't common. I'm not the kind of guy who would do anything but be supportive, so if they are in my posse, they aren't talking. And of course, there are a bunch who are poly but their spouses/partners haven't been told yet. I know lots of them. I bet you do, too.

OTOH, almost everyone I know has been touched by infidelity or divorce or breakup. (Adults, of course.)

I think part of what makes this such a hot button issue is that the reality is dismal for conventional relationships and when you point out the dynamics responsible for it, including the apparent serial monogamist nature of real human connections, it steps on the same emotional toes and generalizations about race, height, sex, religion.

Intent. It's what is behind design. It is the fundamental aspect that shows a human mind has inspected and assessed something, then planned a relevant response to it. Marriages, and relationships are no different than smart phones in this regard.

If we have brains, if we have free will, and if we are the masters of our worlds, we should be able to look at any aspect of them, not just the ones folks approve of. Progress can come to the species via concentrated inspection of its foundational beliefs. The day is what we make it, you know?
posted by FauxScot at 6:14 PM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


But, after Gay Marriage, and then Polyamory being accepted, won't that put us on a slippery slope towards everyone minding their own fucking business?

Nah.
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:32 PM on October 27, 2013 [32 favorites]


Would you rather a kid be in a family where more than two adults were honest about their non-traditional emotional and sexual relationships or would it be better for a kid to be in a household where the reality, the everyday common reality, is that one or the other parent is screwing someone behind everyone else's back, lying about it, lusting after every man/woman he/she sees, living a life full of want and disappointment.

I get your point but I don't think you're doing polyamorous people any favors by implying that they're all uncontrollable lust machines incapable of setting or respecting boundaries. If nothing else, everything you mention is possible in all but the most open polyamorous relationships; people can lie and cheat and feel disappointed without monogamy. Relationships still have terms and requirements for respect and those can be violated even if you have a non-monogamous relationship. I believe (although I don't know from experience so I am open to correction) that at the very least there is almost always openness and disclosure about different partners (for the sake of health and safety) and that trust could be violated.

Also, I don't think that monogamy necessitates the lying that you imply; I'm not cheating on my husband and I'm VERY open about the fact that I lust after a great many of the men and women I see. Polygamy is not the right choice for me for a number of reasons, but that doesn't mean that I never lust after anyone else and it doesn't mean I lie to my husband about it (in fact I have a very strict personal rule about this).

I understand and appreciate your support of people who are polygamous but I don't think the discussion is helped by making assumptions about monogamous people or creating strawmen.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:40 PM on October 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


The thing to remember when it comes to child raising is that until fairly recently, most children were effectively raised in an extended family. Women were generally too busy working the fields to take care of children, so older relatives would be put to the task. The nuclear family is an imperfect adaptation to people moving away from agrarian support systems to isolated industrial towns. And now we have a system where women too need to work, children are expected to move away from their parents, and little to no childcare is provided.

I have a friend who arranged for her parents to move nearby when she had a child, so they could help with childcare. This worked well until one of them died, which left her scrambling for childcare. I can't help but think that if they were in a group marriage the problem would be a lot easier to deal with.

So basically, while group marriages may not be an ideal solution, it does seem like it would make dividing resources such as income and time easier.
posted by happyroach at 8:00 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every time I think about polyamory, I can't but think about the Morman church, and how much vitriol gets put out by pretty much everyone when talking about their polygamist past. We see the way the polygamist way of life turns out in those communities, and it isn't very good. Why is this different? Because they aren't Mormans?
posted by Windopaene at 8:58 PM on October 27, 2013


The two situations are different in many ways. The old Mormon situation was in a time/society where there was no birth control, women had no independent legal standing and no economic power, and women/girls were commonly married at a very young age, and really had no other option. But the situation today for families like the one in the article is a lot more equal (in legal standing of all the partners, for example), and the idea is that everybody's a fully consenting adult with the freedom to back out of the relationship.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:20 PM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why is this different? Because they aren't Mormans?

If this is an honest question; Mostly because the article linked is talking about consenting adults. In fundamentalist Mormon communities, girls are often (but not always) married, or earmarked to be married very young, far below the age of consent or legal age of marriage.

I'm sure there are more than a few boring polyamorous mormons out there, that no one notices, because....well, they're probably pretty boring.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:39 PM on October 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I dunno about you, but I'm not exactly in favor of Lloyd Blankfein having 8 wives. It seems like someone who is against massive income inequality would be against this as well...
posted by bookman117 at 11:25 PM on October 27, 2013


I think it's closer to right to say that the bulk of how they're the same is that there are multiple people involved. Fundamentalist polygyny is about strict dictation of relationship structures and gender roles and obligations in accordance with these. Polyamorous relationships can be structured all kinds of ways, flexible according to the needs of the actual individuals involved. That flexibility is marginally less stable, but it's also massively less likely to infringe upon the basic human rights of anybody involved.
posted by Sequence at 11:31 PM on October 27, 2013


But, after Gay Marriage, and then Polyamory being accepted, won't that put us on a slippery slope towards everyone minding their own fucking business?

What? I thought that slippery slope ended in sex with turtles.

Every time I think about polyamory, I can't but think about the Morman church, and how much vitriol gets put out by pretty much everyone when talking about their polygamist past.

There are many reasons why Mormons might get a bit of stick that have nothing to do with any poly relationships they might have, and/or the legal issues that might create. I believe there's even a popular musical about it now.
posted by Mezentian at 12:37 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do think the popularization of the poly idea will cause the bulk of the people who decide to try it out to waste a lot of precious time and immeasurable heartbreak. That's not exactly an arch-conservative position.

First of all, I don't think responsible parents "try it out" in quite the way you're imagining. Thoughtful poly people are generally cautious about providing stability to their kids, in the same way responsible single parents are cautious about introducing new partners to their children. Generally you want to be sure this is worth hauling your kids through the transition, and you want to be slow and check in a lot. It's not something that should be done on a whim, though God knows plenty of parents (mono, poly, straight, not-straight) do do it on a whim with little regard for their kids. Those are just crappy parents, not specifically poly parents.

(If you'd like an idea of how much thought and communication and straight-up negotiating goes into a good poly relationship before you even add kids, I would suggest you read The Ethical Slut.)

Second of all, I reject "stayed together" as the barometer for the success of these relationships. I have never really understood how, except for the fucking that isn't anyone's business, poly is radically different than non-familial co-parenting. I have been a co-parent twice, and in both cases I provided more love, more resources, more support and more childcare than either mother was able to provide alone. People's lives change and while the family configurations evolved, I am still a stable family figure for one* of those kids. Neither mother would say "Well geeze, THAT was a failed experiment"; both would say "Thank God we did that, we could never have made it through those years and come out as well as we did without doing it that way."

I don't know; I sort of do think it takes a village to raise a child, and that isolated nuclear families are new and not that helpful given the size of the task. Historically we raised kids in multi-generational families with many more hands on the wheel; I don't think I've ever read a theorist saying this is a bad model because Grandma is statistically likely to die and that will cause lack of stability, pain, and loss to the children in question.

Third of all, when a parent with children marries, divorces, remarries and maybe divorces again, none of us see that as an ideal, but I don't think anyone looks at the parent in question's relentless pursuit of the idealised family and fundamentally questions the married family unit as desirable. I mean, they've been together for 38 years now, but my mother is my step-father's third wife and I don't recall anyone saying to him "Clearly marriage doesn't work, you really need to stop trying this crazy experiment now." Yet with poly families, we do fault the elected base family unit, and I think that's ill-logical and basically a prejudice with no real foundation.

*The other I don't see, but that's OK; the time we lived together basically meant he wasn't taken into care while his very young, well-intentioned but ill-equipped mother worked out her highschool degree and job options. The result is that his mother has always been a stable, loving, continuous parent, and that's a win.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:51 AM on October 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


Every time I think about polyamory, I can't but think about the Morman church, and how much vitriol gets put out by pretty much everyone when talking about their polygamist past. We see the way the polygamist way of life turns out in those communities, and it isn't very good. Why is this different? Because they aren't Mormans?

Because the point of polyamory isn't the subjugation of women.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:49 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Families come in all flavors, and in my opinion the ingredients that matter are love, trust, respect, and safety, whether there are children or not.

When usonian and I took up together, I recall saying something like, "hanging out with you is as comfortable as being alone!" and he totally got it. (I think I had to scream it for him to hear me over Jump Around being blasted from every other room in the dorm, if that helps set the time period for you.)

Maybe I'm an odd sock, but finding the right person with all the compatibilities lined up like a key matching the tumblers for a lock, wow, that's a big thing. The odds of striking gold twice or more, and having the other people also be amazingly compatible with one another as well? That's like shooting an arrow into the sky and getting a perfect kill shot through the eyeball of a randomly passing stegosaurus. At least, it seems that way to me.

What is comparatively common, though, are relationships with a power imbalance, 's/he wants to, I don't, but I don't want to lose him/her, so I'll go along', dependence, and ultimatums. How many 'Is my partner unreasonable, or are my expectations too high?' askmes are posted? Lots of people will put up with being treated poorly, and lots of people are manipulative.

So I regard poly in action a little warily, and want to suss out what's the weather like in an unusual situation. It's not hard to imagine someone using guilt to manipulate a partner into tolerating an arrangement they might not find pleasing. When the topic of polyamory comes up in general-topic discussions elsewhere, I've seen quite a few instances of 'if you're not into it, you must be vanilla, conventional, mundane, conservative, square' etc. and that's colored my impression. It's not hard to imagine that tactic being used inside a relationship, as well.

All that being said, if fate executes the series of arabesques that result in your arrow striking that stegosaurus? Don't you dare pass up that opportunity for joy, grab hands together and run toward that rare wonderfulness together.
posted by Lou Stuells at 3:26 AM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I would suggest you read The Ethical Slut.)
BINGO!
HOUSIE!
I won Poly Bingo!

Anywhoo,
I do think the popularization of the poly idea will cause the bulk of the people who decide to try it out to waste a lot of precious time and immeasurable heartbreak.

People used to, and still do, make that charge against bi folks all the time. They probably still do for all I know.
posted by Mezentian at 4:40 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have in my travels met a couple with an open marriage, and also met a couple poly folks. The couple with the open marriage had a daughter, and one of the poly guys had a couple kids. I've also met those various kids; and those kids were all awesome. Offbeat, yeah - proto-nerds and baby social activists - but awesome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:11 AM on October 28, 2013


So I regard poly in action a little warily, and want to suss out what's the weather like in an unusual situation. It's not hard to imagine someone using guilt to manipulate a partner into tolerating an arrangement they might not find pleasing. When the topic of polyamory comes up in general-topic discussions elsewhere, I've seen quite a few instances of 'if you're not into it, you must be vanilla, conventional, mundane, conservative, square' etc. and that's colored my impression. It's not hard to imagine that tactic being used inside a relationship, as well.

Sure, it's fairly easy to imagine, and I expect it does happen. But expecting or assuming that it is happening in any given relationship is offensive. I have friends who are a couple; one of them has another partner as well. When my friend started seeing his other partner, they lost friends because, no matter what both of them said, there were people in their life who couldn't imagine he wasn't somehow manipulating or abusing his primary partner.

My girlfriend and I went away for a long weekend in October. While we were gone, some friends took her partner out to express their concern that my girlfriend was somehow manipulating her.

It's akin, I think, to assuming that because some marriages are abusive, that you need to be concerned for every single woman who marries a man, and tell her so explicitly. So, when you get the wedding invitation in the mail, you take the bride-to-be out for coffee to express your concern, not based on any specific behavior of her fiance or any red flags you've seen, but just because it's not hard to imagine that an opposite-sex marriage could be coercive somehow for the woman, so it's really important, for her well-being, to check in explicitly about that.
posted by not that girl at 6:25 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


but finding the right person with all the compatibilities lined up like a key matching the tumblers for a lock, wow

I think Vonnegut was onto something when he identified the two person perfect match as being the more cosmically rare arrangement.

I am do the serial monogamous thing as a general rule, but even just with having room mates I have noticed that putting all of the pressure on one person to be a much more stress filled and fragile arrangement than spreading out the expectations across two or three people.
posted by skrozidile at 6:32 AM on October 28, 2013


Given the number of children being raised by three or four parents via the magic of the "blended family", the idea that someone's parents might have an emotional or sexual life that involves multiple parties is hardly a stretch when you're already fitting in say, the custodial role of the kid's genetic father, a stepfather and your current husband. Not to mention situations like the kid being raised by grandmother, mother and cash top ups from the father or otherwise the primary parenting work team not all having a sexual connection.

So, when you get the wedding invitation in the mail, you take the bride-to-be out for coffee to express your concern, not based on any specific behavior of her fiance or any red flags you've seen, but just because it's not hard to imagine that an opposite-sex marriage could be coercive somehow for the woman, so it's really important, for her well-being, to check in explicitly about that.

Some people do that and in the past it would be pretty much true that the legal status of women has, in past centuries, made our ability to consent murkier. Which points to the issue of banning poly unions across the board- since our models (the creepy women as property polygyny) don't reflect say the idea of a triad where all three people are into each other.

Perhaps because I'm kinky and nerdy, the bizarre thing about my dating options is that wobbly monogamy and poly are considered to be normal, valid choices. It can occasionally be a wake up call for things like "she's asexual, so I have an additional girlfriend that we sort of fell into after we worked out how to get my sexual needs met" not to be a perfectly valid descriptor that raises no comment.
posted by Phalene at 6:40 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there are more than a few boring polyamorous mormons out there, that no one notices, because....well, they're probably pretty boring.

This feels like a ridiculous suggestion, but if you're interested in more mainstream Mormon plyg families, Sister Wives is actually a really good and fairly honest examination of one. The family has their problems--many of them stemming from the father's desire to go public in order to demystify Mormon polygamy--but also seems generally loving and functional. It's surprisingly honest, for reality television.

They also talk quite a bit about mainstream Mormons' knee jerk rejection of their lifestyle, as it were. It's not only that Mormon polygamy is linked to abuses (although it has been, both historically and in modern times) but that Mormon families had to vocally reject polygamy in order to gain statehood rights. It's likely that some of these families were loving and functional, but were broken up in violent ways thanks to the decisions of their leadership. Just as some of these families today are loving and function, despite the fact that not all of them are loving and functional.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:43 AM on October 28, 2013


Interesting to see soo many people conflate polyamory with marriage. I can say, as someone who is not married to their long term monogamous live-in SO, that relationships can exist between people without such artificial constructs.

It's also amusing to see that most of the "problems" with polyamory are not actually problems with polyamory, they're problems with other structures that are already broken but so wildly prevalent they're just accepted. I've seen marriage and the laws regarding insurance mentioned, I've also seen things like bullying and heartbreak. None of these things are problems with polyamory, they're problems with society and it's inability to deal with multitudes of different people with different beliefs and values.
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:47 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Interesting to see soo many people conflate polyamory with marriage. I can say, as someone who is not married to their long term monogamous live-in SO, that relationships can exist between people without such artificial constructs.

Of course that's true, and people should be free to choose how to demonstrate their own committments. I think it was more about the fact that there is a recognised way to "legalise" a couple partnership, but not so much with a poly family if they wished to do so. That was my reading of the discussion, anyway.
posted by billiebee at 6:55 AM on October 28, 2013


I know a lot of poly people who have a little community of likeminded friends, and everyone I know seems genuinely awesome and caring. Maybe because I am desensitized, but I don't see poly relationships as something special or ther than monogamous relationships. The only thing different is the number of partners. I am almost surprised anyone has an issue with it. Jealousy can still tear relationships apart, and lying, cheating etc., just the same as for monogamous people.

Even though I am in a happily monogamous relationship, I am totally open to polyamory should my partner changer their mind on the subject, but I also don't see it as essential to my happiness like some people I know.

::name unrelated to concept::
posted by polywomp at 7:00 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting to see soo many people conflate polyamory with marriage. I can say, as someone who is not married to their long term monogamous live-in SO, that relationships can exist between people without such artificial constructs.

I think maybe we went there because the article had us thinking about childrearing, and the legal and financial considerations of that. Maybe a different article might have sent us down a different path, I don't know.
posted by not that girl at 7:32 AM on October 28, 2013


I know these people well, and am happy to see this article finally get published. The author spent a lot of time with them over the last year and a half or so, and really got to know them.

I'm familiar because I live near Atlanta, and am also polyamorous with several partners (one of whom I'm married to). It takes extra work and effort, but for me (and hopefully for those around me) the rewards have been greatly worth it.
posted by ewagoner at 8:06 AM on October 28, 2013


Given the number of children being raised by three or four parents via the magic of the "blended family", the idea that someone's parents might have an emotional or sexual life that involves multiple parties is hardly a stretch

Plus, as I understand it, in "pre-history" and the like, everyone looked after kids and saw to their development.
You didn't have child-free people like me in the mix going "Hey, Jo, our small-not-quite ambulatory-offspring is toddling towards the wet water of death. You should get on that."
posted by Mezentian at 8:07 AM on October 28, 2013


I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the amount of handwringing (if not out-and-out pearl-clutching) that inevitably comes up whenever the familial arrangement that dare not speak its name comes up, but I always am.

It's like we can't admit, collectively, that being an adult with adult problems, desires, and circumstances is incredibly fucking difficult, and the world isn't getting any less complicated. And while yes, the issue of (for example) legally-sanctioned Polyamorous Marriage is a complicated one, many people in nontraditional relationships of any kind would be delirious with joy just to have the basic acceptance of their circle of immediate friends, never mind the law.

And yet this thread makes it clear that for ever five people who are cool, one's always going to be raising their eyebrows and murmuring predictions of heartbreak and disaster, as though monogamy is some kind of guarantor of happiness/stability, which many people have pointed out it sure as goddamn is not.

Anyway, here's my story: I am a straight guy, and I have a girlfriend, and my girlfriend has a husband, and we all live together. I didn't plan for this to happen, and it was more than a little disruptive to my personal narrative when it did. I never self-identified as "poly," nor do I now—but when I fell in love with a long-time friend, and she fell in love with me, we had a bunch of long conversations, the three of us, and we've all been living together for four years. Despite the problems and complications, it is by far the most fulfilling and mutually supportive romantic relationship I've ever been in.

To be clear: It is not a healthy relationship because it's "poly," nor do I feel monogamy is somehow bad or dumb or unenlightened or whatever. It's just a thing that happened via a series of strange coincidences and hard-to-replicate circumstances. I wouldn't recommend nontraditional setups to other people per se, but, like, I wouldn't not recommend it. I'm glad I was open to the possibilities, is what I'm saying.

Mostly it's super boring. She sleeps in my bed on Monday and Thursday nights; the other five days she's with her husband. He works outside the house; me and girlfriend work from home (and yes, we both have Real Jobs), so I get lots of time with her. As a matter of principle I try to fuck off out of the house most Sundays to give girlfriend and husband alone-time in the apartment together. Me and the husband get along just fine. It's a very brotherly relationship—no sexy stuff. No threesomes yet, either, although there have been a couple of near-misses over the years. Mostly we're all pretty vanilla.

Logistically speaking, there are plenty of date-night-type things for both couples, and the three of us do stuff together all the time. She walks in the middle, with me on one side and husband on the other. The house is not a lonely one, but it's not crowded or stifling either. Again: Pretty boring.

Children are vaguely on the horizon, and I worry about it. I've always kind of wanted to have kids, as in providing my own genetic contribution to the process, but obviously the husband gets the first, uh, chance. There have been many jokingly nervous conversations about the "fertilization queue." I mean, it's weird, right? Of course it's weird. We talk about it a lot. I know my being around could make things a lot easier per comments above; spreading the work of childcare across three adults makes it seem way less of a terrifying, career-shackling imposition. But of course I worry about whether or not I really want to be a third parent to a kid who's not even mine, even if it is the kid of two people of whom I'm unreasonably fond. I think it's responsible to worry about this stuff. I haven't come up with any good answers other than "wait and see how things work out." I don't worry about whether we'd collectively be good parents, though. We'd certainly be good enough. We might be amazing.

I don't ultimately know where it's all going, though. This is the best relationship I've ever been in, no question, bar none, and it's been an incredible boon to my overall quality of life. I know both other members of my household feel similarly. I'm incredibly glad I was open to the possibility. But if the fact of its existence teaches me anything, it's that you never know what's going to happen in the future. I mean, all relationships end eventually. Nothing is permanent. I've had a few crushes over the years, and sometimes I wonder whether I should be free to pursue them in the way my girlfriend pursued me. If I ever for-reals fell in love with someone else, I'd have to be honest about it.

It does feel sort of oppressive, though, that four years into the healthiest, most supportive, most fulfilling relationship of my life, I still default to never talking about it to anyone, because I know they'll think it's weird. I worry about how friends of my girlfriend would judge her for "cheating" on her husband (she never, ever cheated) or judge me for being some kind of homewrecker. I worry about assumptions they'll make about our motivations, or even our very competence as adults. And I am right to worry about these things.

Still—I just got back from Nerd Camp, and my impression is that this kind of thing is getting a lot more common among Our People. Give it a generation. Things are changing.
posted by Sock "Danger" Puppet at 8:31 AM on October 28, 2013 [27 favorites]


The thing is, sure, we've all met or known that guy who sucked all the air out of the room broviating about how only lesser, insecure people are jealous and how monogamy is old-fashioned and square and stifling and any really enlightened, intelligent, rational mature people know that poly is the way to go, while his wife/girlfriend stands about three feet away looking miserable. But that guy's defining feature isn't that he's poly, it's that he's a douchebag. 90% of the time, he's not even poly, as evidenced by the fact that he gets totally whiny and sulky whenever his wife evinces even the slightest interest in an outside partner. That guy isn't representative of polyamory any more than the "wives, submit unto your husbands" people are representative of monogamy.
posted by KathrynT at 8:53 AM on October 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Forgive me, not that girl, when I said 'suss out' I meant something more like 'observe the flow and ease of these people around one another, get a sense of them' versus 'grill someone in an intervention' or 'drop them from the social circle'.

If I had a friend whose partner was a jerk, sure I'd have that coffee chat. But it'd be after yet another tearful phone call, or public meltdown, or painful evening spent watching the person deliberately humiliate my friend in front of the social group. NOT because they're in a plural relationship.

I'm not assuming or expressing concern, or checking in, good lord how pushy. However. I don't think it's unreasonable to notice that people who have an unconventional approach to social customs and roles generally have non-standard viewpoints that inform their approach. I don't care if they're polyamorists, but I might have a preference between hanging out with the poly folks who are fuzzy ol' cuddly hippies, versus the poly folks who are living out some sort of Gorean thing. Not that it's one or another, but hopefully you see my point. It's great to read of so many good relationships, and probably Sock "Danger" Puppet isn't alone in being mum about it, which is a shame. That, plus the premise that no one writes about everything being fine most of the time, skews the perception.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:55 AM on October 28, 2013


Maybe I'm too close to the situation to be able to see the good in it, and this kind of situation may never arise when everyone involved is poly going in and knows the ground rules before anyone becomes invested. But I can't see any good way of forcing a model change on an existing relationship without someone getting hurt. For the newly-announced polyamorous spouse it's a wonderful new-found freedom. But for the monogamous spouse, it suddenly becomes a choice between losing a marriage, being the bad guy who keeps the new poly-lovers apart, or giving the poly spouse continual permission to be openly unfaithful whilst pretending to be okay with it.

It's clear to me that poly relationships which manage to avoid jealousy and manage to fulfil everyone's emotional needs can be every bit as good as monogamous relationships. But that depends on whether there's any amount of coercion or manipulativeness about the relationship, particularly for couples who were monogamous before the poly relationship began. If one member of a monogamous couple decides/realises/discovers that they are poly, but the other doesn't? That way lies heartbreak.
posted by bluebell at 8:57 AM on October 28, 2013


being the bad guy who keeps the new poly-lovers apart

My understanding is that it should basically never work like this, unless someone is being a jerk. You have the conversation about opening up your relationship BEFORE you start investing in outside relationships. You don't go ahead and find a "poly-lover" and then come out to your spouse about it, forcing them to make a decision about a relationship that's already under way.

On an unrelated note, "Broviate" is such an excellent coinage OH MAN.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:59 AM on October 28, 2013


My understanding is that it should basically never work like this, unless someone is being a jerk. You have the conversation about opening up your relationship BEFORE you start investing in outside relationships. You don't go ahead and find a "poly-lover" and then come out to your spouse about it, forcing them to make a decision about a relationship that's already under way.

In an ideal world, yes. This is not an ideal world.
posted by bluebell at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2013


- what was his name? Zambrano -- I was never entirely sure whether he was performance art or genuine.
posted by gladly at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2013


If one member of a monogamous couple decides/realises/discovers that they are poly, but the other doesn't? That way lies heartbreak.

That's not peculiar to polyamory, though. If one member of a couple decides/realizes/discovers that they really want a thing (a job, a house, a child) that the other member of the couple didn't think they'd ever have to consider as part of their relationship, well, that can also lead to heartbreak.
posted by rtha at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't have a position, just a comment that this was a really fascinating thread and thank you to the polyamory folks who weighed in.
posted by Kokopuff at 9:42 AM on October 28, 2013


I am deeply in the 'it's great but it isn't for me' camp, but for one thing: it should remain a legal grey area to put a barrier in front of spouse hoarding by the ultra-wealthy. I don't think that 'Carol, Bill, Jan, Dave and Mark having a five-person marriage' will damage society (and will probably in many cases improve it), but I do think that allowing the Trumps/Jobs of the world to marry multiple women will.
posted by Fuka at 9:57 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


In an ideal world, yes. This is not an ideal world.

Bluebell, if you have a spouse who fell into bed with someone else and then came to you and said "let's be poly now!" then honest to God, what you have is not a poly relationship, it's a relationship with a manipulative douchebag. In no way is that different than if your spouse arrived home one day and said "I've acquired a girlfriend; like it or leave." That's beyond horrendous.

Poly is highly negotiated, and that is true even when two people who already ARE poly get together. There is a lot of boundary exploring and discussion of "how can we make this work in a way we're both comfortable with?" even if that leads to some very peculiar and specific limitations. When your partner just steamrolls your needs with his, that isn't negotiated.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:59 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


For the legal aspects, I don't see why a partnership wouldn't work. You can write a partnership agreement to cover just about anything. It's pretty flexible. It would be a way to specify who owns what, and how the money goes, and it's currently available as a legal structure.
posted by dbltall at 1:32 PM on October 28, 2013


You might think that partnership agreements would work for marriages too, but it turns out that courts dislike attempts to regulate spousal rights through the back door and may disregard any contractual agreements, in favor of the general rights that come from the laws governing marriage and divorce. In the case of a polygamous relationship that broke down, it's possible that a court might treat the relationship between two (or more?) of the partners as being marital and apply marriage and divorce laws either in addition to, or as an alternative to that agreement. That is, in Sock "Danger" Puppet's case above, the court might choose to say that the partnership agreement works between Sock "Danger" Puppet and his girlfriend, and Sock "Danger" Puppet and his girlfriend's husband, but not between the girlfriend and her husband. Or it might work between them, but after sorting everything out as a partnership you then divide property and so forth as if they had had a divorce normally. In jurisdictions that allow prenuptial agreements I suppose you could work one out that covers things like this, and it would probably be a good idea to do so, in case the relationship breaks down and a judge decides that there are one or more binary marriages within the mix.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:13 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


People do use cohabitation agreements and they are promising but the verdict is still literally out as to whether they will be enforceable in courts. Also most cohabitation agreements, and afaik in almost all justifications even prenups, cannot really govern child custody and child support, which is a very significant concern for families with kids.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:22 AM on October 29, 2013


Question: People always recommend 'The Ethical Slut'.
I read it and lol'd. Pretty much useless.
It basically reads like the advice a novice would come up with after having given 5 minutes of thought to the relevant (lots of communication! No, duh?), rather than years and years of experience in poly relationships, which is odd, because the authors supposedly have that.

Is there anything people would recommend that is better? More of a war-weary from-the-trenches and made it to the other side view?

It did not provide useful advice for even a 10th of the common drama I have seen and experienced in poly relationships. Seriously, someone out there could do a 'design patterns' of common fails or issues.

* The difference between 'coming out' to friends and family as say, a primary, or secondary partner. The common perception that it's the guy driving a poly relationship, versus reality, etc etc. Differences in levels of discretion between different partners, and how that gets viewed.

* Married couples who want a third to be insta-family, the desire for the 'perfect triad' versus the real-world unlikeliness of a desire match.

* Relationship screw ups like... The co-codependent. The partner in a v or triad (or more) who is the 'stable one' who keeps two otherwise dysfunctional people together (and doesn't realise they are the emotional support for the other two - ask them, what are the chances the other two will break up if you go on holiday? High? Seriously, go on holiday, it's not your job). Aka why it's common to have a 'boring' one, and flaming drama in a v. At least for a little while.

* How to deal with external friends/family react argumentatively/aggressively about your relationship (I've observed: It's often friends of the guy in a fmf, and they usually directly attack the 'other woman', because friends of the females usually come to them to talk first. Again, I have a small pool).

* How three people is not 3 times more complicated, it's more like 9 times more complicated. There is the relationship between ab, bc, ca, abc, a's view on ->bc, b on->ca, c on->ba. How outside friends and family view each of the last. And how any of them can go badly wrong.

* Do you all have fantastic time management skills? Do you all have enough free time and emotional resources to devote to another person in a relationship?

Etc. etc. etc.
posted by Elysum at 7:42 PM on October 29, 2013


I would imagine those concepts would be discussed on any of the many poly-centric blogs that are out there.

I've not found any books that talk about stuff in that much detail (there are many many more of the 'non-monogamy for beginners!'-type)

On that front, I found "Opening Up" by Tristan Taormino to be less laughable than Ethical Slut, though still geared towards newbies.
posted by softlord at 10:21 AM on October 30, 2013


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