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You believe that true love is a zero-sum game traded in sex.
February 15, 2014 10:15 AM   Subscribe


 
It's an interesting subject that deserves much more examination, but perhaps this isn't it. I stuck with this piece until...

"A lot of it had to do with the laughably accidental history of the practice. In its earliest forms, monogamy came about because in hunter-gatherer societies, men having all of their children grouped with a single mother enabled marginally more efficient food distribution. Natural selection ran its course, and the practice stuck until necessity was replaced by habitual normativity. Since then, monogamy has been enforced — in various and varyingly cruel forms — by kings, churches, and the insatiable paranoia of men looking to avoid bequeathing property to anyone outside their bloodline.

So, not the best history for something that survived The Enlightenment. "

I can't take anyone seriously who dismisses one of the most complex, mysterious and central aspects of being a social human with a just -so story that's 'laughably accidental'.

My attention had been wandering by then anyway and my internal editor had got bored with scribbling blue pencil over phrases, arguments and paragraphs, so... apologies if it picks up after that excerpt and offers real insights.
posted by Devonian at 10:39 AM on February 15 [22 favorites]


That is middle-school-level explanatory hand-waving dressed up in high-minded words with proper spelling and syntax.
posted by clockzero at 10:55 AM on February 15 [5 favorites]


After experiencing some rather, for lack of a better word, awkward but desiring and infatuation-like feelings about a recent houseguest I endeavoured to try and understand my own feelings. Reading Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel really helped although it has had the side effect of making me curious about the feelings that happen around poly situations.

How does one deal with jealousy? That jealousy can be channeled into desire but how does one channel it? Living apart generates desire but also forsakes the security that one normally desires in a monogamous relationship. Then there's my own prejudices. Is an open marriage just a cop-out? Just a way to have your cake and eat it to? But then I slip into a more pragmatic mindset. Is it really a moral quandary? Should it be a moral quandary? We can't really control how we feel so it's not wrong to feel but should that be necessarily translate into an action or even make an action ok? You wouldn't/shouldn't kill someone feeling that they need to be killed assuming you have a functional pre-frontal cortex so why should sex be any different? But we're only here for one life and isn't that one life to experience? Will I feel regret for at least not trying it and denying myself a possible human experience? Especially one that seems to mysterious, so taboo yet something that almost every male (I don't know about females on this one) fantasizes over.

These are all things I'm yet to come to terms with. And it's scary to try and come to terms with how you feel because, as much as we like to be special, we don't like to venture too far from the group. The shame and possibility to disconnect us from society typically keep us in line on social taboos. You wrestle with the fact that if you might like this it could see you shamed away from parts of society or by your partner who you've sought out to provide security and intimacy. And as much as we shouldn't feel shame or even rely on shame as a society I still feel it and still feel scared to broach the subject and investigate how I really feel and what I really want.

But I'll figure it out eventually.
posted by Talez at 11:08 AM on February 15 [10 favorites]


I can't take anyone seriously who dismisses one of the most complex, mysterious and central aspects of being a social human with a just -so story that's 'laughably accidental'.

The story he tells is clearly false (hunter-gatherer groups were not monogamous) but I dunno what would count as not hand-wavey, since we do know that monogamy is not a natural trait (see Sex at Dawn) but don't and probably won't know for a while exactly when and exactly how it caught on. The answer is going to be in biostatistics, anyway, not the Los Angeles Review of Books.

But still: I thought it was an interesting mix of well-written personal reflection and a challenge to prevailing norms, if not one I'm anxious to accept. Sure it's a long read, but people usually like that around here.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:15 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


This sounds like a University of Chicago admissions essay...at the start anyway.
posted by discopolo at 11:17 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


There's a distressing splash of evopsych in there, but it's also... man, I want to be sympathetic here, but my God this was some plodding, self-absorbed writing, like this guy's primary relationship is with his own navel.

I mean: "I remain a polyamorist because I believe that polyamory, in the long run, is good for me, and good for our society. It helps us in the very ways monogamy has let us down; by promoting negotiation and compromise, openness and empathy, respect for the many kinds of happiness we need."

So he's learned nothing, and because he's learned nothing he's got no reason to question his premise. Shit, man, all that drama and that's all you can think to get out of it? How do you think any relationship works?
posted by mhoye at 11:17 AM on February 15 [21 favorites]


Talez: when I've been in a poly arrangement I found myself relieved that I was not under pressure to be jealous. Then again I am someone who mostly liked being poly because I usually don't want to be someone's partner, and its nice when someone I love has other people to turn to for attention.
posted by idiopath at 11:18 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


mhoye: would you respond to someone's summing up a shitty marriage (with the affirmation they still believe in monogamous love) with the conclusion that they learned nothing? That seems kind of arrogant to me (or is it some other lesson that should have been learned here?)
posted by idiopath at 11:25 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


since we do know that monogamy is not a natural trait 

Balderdash. There are examples throughout the natural world of animals that form monogamous mating bonds for life (cardinals, penguins, etc.). Sure, there are exceptions among those populations, too, but there are always exceptions to general population trends.

What is it with people today being so insecure about their own preferences and choices that they feel compelled to dismiss every alternative as "unnatural"? It's an epidemic. And it's not just with this topic but all of them--from breast feeding to eating gluten to religious belief. People, get a damned grip already. The human race has had a lot of time to think about things before you showed up. We weren't all just patiently sitting around awaiting your arrival so you could sort everything out for us with your magical powers of critical observation. Sheesh. (Not aimed at the poster, but the author).

Besides, how does a thing's being natural or not in anyway justify or explain it? The very concept of something's being natural is as much a social construct as monogamy or anything else you might care to deconstruct in service to some rhetorical argument.

The whole "you're all doing it wrong" attitude is not something we mean to encourage now when it comes to sex or human relationships, is it?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:30 AM on February 15 [73 favorites]


saulgoodman: those animals are not "monogamous" in the way we define it. They are socially paired, but sexually promiscuous.
posted by idiopath at 11:31 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, if someone is citing "Sex at Dawn" I assume the argument isn't "monogamy is not natural for any animal" but "monogamy is not innate to humans".

Personally I don't see what nature has to do with it. Infanticide is natural, cannibalism is natural, many deadly poisons are natural.
posted by idiopath at 11:36 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


mhoye: would you respond to someone's summing up a shitty marriage (with the affirmation they still believe in monogamous love) with the conclusion that they learned nothing?

This isn't at all about the nature of the relationship; that's probably the most irritating thing about this article, that polyamory is just window dressing, draped around this one guy documenting his personal history of being needy, selfish, abusive and unreliable.

If somebody got to the tail end of a loyal, monogamous relationship being likewise selfish, abusive and unreliable and drew the conclusion that he "still believes in monogamy", then yes. I'd be happy to conclude they hadn't learned a goddamn thing.
posted by mhoye at 11:39 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


Why even speculate about hunter gatherers? Just by looking around today's world you can see plenty of variation between and within societies -- people clearly have the capacity to adjust to a wide range of sexual situations, and claiming normativity is not convincing.

I do wish our legal structures allowed for more variations of legally protected relationships, but the current battles over gay marriage are a hint of how long and hard-fought changes will be.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:42 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


anotherpanacea >

The story he tells is clearly false (hunter-gatherer groups were not monogamous) but I dunno what would count as not hand-wavey, since we do know that monogamy is not a natural trait (see Sex at Dawn) but don't and probably won't know for a while exactly when and exactly how it caught on. The answer is going to be in biostatistics, anyway, not the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Well, I would say yes and no. There isn't any compelling reason, as far as I can see, to assume that monogamy ever "caught on" in any sense other than as a social practice, or a cultural one, and as such its enactment is probably highly dependent on historical/local context and, probably more importantly, social positioning; it's not a biological state or physiological fact, after all. So while we can talk about when and where it's prevalent as a normative social arrangement, and what the consequences of non-comformity might be in different contexts, it's not clear that it's meaningful to characterize it as a sort of threshold in social evolution, before which it wasn't practiced, and after which it was.
posted by clockzero at 11:42 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Yeah, wow. I read the whole thing because I wanted to get to the insights about polyamory. By the time I got to the end, I was entirely convinced that he put "polyamory" in the title only as a way to try to sell the piece. This is 12,000 words from a 24 year old about his only major relationship, but he is selling it as great truths about all the different kinds of relationships that people can have. I'm sure it was very therapeutic for him to write, but I did not need to read it.
posted by agentofselection at 11:45 AM on February 15 [24 favorites]


Personally I don't see what nature has to do with it. Infanticide is natural, cannibalism is natural, many deadly poisons are natural.

Yeah, whatever else is going on here, the "natural" argument is utterly bogus. Ebola and tetanus are perfectly natural. Vaccines, tap water and air conditioning, remarkably, do not occur in the wild.
posted by mhoye at 11:47 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Maybe we should clarify how we use the word "nature."

Since (human) culture -- the ability to transmit learned behaviors over generations, in a reductionist view -- is the consequence of language, which is the consequence of innate neurobiological adaptation selected for by the huge and immediate reproductive advantage culture conferred on the only species to develop it to the extent that we could migrate to and exploit habitats to which we were not physically adapted, then anything "cultural" is of course "natural," in that it exists because of and as a part of the natural world. The opposition of "natural" to "artificial" breaks down when considering cultural institutions like mating patterns.

Anything humans do is natural. Any observed fact of human behavior exists in nature and has a naturalistic explanation. Since humans observably have developed many complex institutions for organizing mating and reproduction, and those institutions all have a great deal of internal variation and flexibility, and manage many seemingly disparate interests humans have (sexual desire, social status, wealth, security, division of labor, etc.) it would really be ideal to separate the discourse of what is "natural" for humans to do from the much more granular and context-specific discourse of what is "moral" or "ethical" or otherwise preferable for (some, particular) humans to do in the future.
posted by spitbull at 11:48 AM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Actually, no, some species of birds mate exclusively with a single partner. Some animals don't even mate at all, and they aren't even "unnatural."
posted by saulgoodman at 11:53 AM on February 15


we do know that monogamy is not a natural trait (see Sex at Dawn) but don't and probably won't know for a while exactly when and exactly how it caught on

My guess is that material property has a lot to do with it. The whole virgin bride thing was (and in many places still is) quite intertwined with property, inheritance, and the information asymmetry of birth (a man's family knows his eldest child and heir to their property is their child only if his bride is known to be a virgin). Similarly, the various social costs that monogamy looks like a response to, seem more like issues that arise from societies of settled peoples rather than hunter-gatherer societies.
posted by anonymisc at 11:54 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]




Maybe we should clarify how we use the word "nature."

I don't know how useful this is, however well-meaning. Describing somebody else's relationships as "unnatural" isn't something you do if you're interested in having a nuanced philosophical discussion. It's a naked attempt to dehumanize and alienate, pure and simple.

One of the reasons we have laws, rather than just appeals directly to whatever's considered natural, is "natural" can basically mean anything the powerful find convenient, in a pinch.
posted by mhoye at 11:55 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


Done monogamy. Done polamory. Both equally good.

Heard silly evo-psych just-so arguments for each. Both equally ridiculous.
posted by kyrademon at 11:58 AM on February 15 [16 favorites]


Sex at Dawn: Reception from experts in the field

I thought this was going to link to a gif of laughing anthropologists.
posted by figurant at 12:01 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


Balderdash. There are examples throughout the natural world of animals that form monogamous mating bonds for life (cardinals, penguins, etc.).

Ornithologists I know have discussed that the fidelity shown by some bird species may be primarily to the nesting spot, and not the particular mate.
posted by rtha at 12:06 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I was disappointed in the article. The hunter-gatherer comment stood out as silly, but I could have forgiven it. But ultimately, most of this was the kind of story that is only interesting to the people involved. I read it mostly out of the hope that it would get better, because I do think that it's good to hear more people talking about this subject.

That said, a few lines did stand out to me. Particularly this one, in the midst of his discussion of attending a party with someone other than the partner whom everyone knew: "..it was one thing to have other lovers, but to like them..." This is one of the harder things about having multiple partners in my experience. And it makes sense, because it's the point where acceptance goes beyond simply acknowledging facts and requires participation. If I tell a friend that I have multiple partners, they might thing I'm a little strange, but it really doesn't affect them. If I introduce them to someone I am seeing, and they already know my girlfriend, now they have to actually deal with it. I can totally understand how someone might feel uncomfortable in that situation.

Discussions of what is natural are a minefield best avoided, not the least because the very definition of the word natural is so contentious. Polyamory and monogamy are more alike than different. Sex is natural. Love is natural. Caring about people is natural. The details are cultural, which itself is natural with one level of abstraction.
posted by Nothing at 12:08 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: which birds are exclusive? The ones you mention are not proven to be (and some are proven not to be; there have been studies where the male was given a vasectomy, and the females gave birth. they are socially monogamous).
posted by idiopath at 12:09 PM on February 15


anonymisc >

My guess is that material property has a lot to do with it. The whole virgin bride thing was (and in many places still is) quite intertwined with property, inheritance, and the information asymmetry of birth (a man's family knows his eldest child and heir to their property is their child only if his bride is known to be a virgin). Similarly, the various social costs that monogamy looks like a response to, seem more like issues that arise from societies of settled peoples rather than hunter-gatherer societies.

See, even this kind of theory seems problematic (I don't mean to pick on you, anonymisc) because it effectively conflates the social/historical circumstances that may have given rise to a particular institution with actual behavior. Monogamy and marriage aren't the same thing. A hegemonic or dominant conception of marriage like the one anonymisc articulates here gives social actors the ability to censure certain kinds of sexual agency and to control the consequences of sexual behavior in patterned ways, but we would be writing a fictitious history if we assumed that the hegemonic conception had a totally deterministic effect on what people actually do rather than the tool-kit (so to speak) of social consequences which can be brought to bear.
posted by clockzero at 12:10 PM on February 15


This strikes me as so redolent of a link ten days ago to a parody of nightlife columns that I have to say - this is for real, right? I don't read 'lifestyle' things generally, and this is really the sort of thing that gets published? For money?

If you're actually interested in the subject of polyamory, you should have a look at Poly Means Many - group blogging by some articulate and intelligent people.
posted by Vortisaur at 12:14 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


A cynic would say that similarly, humans are only socially monogamous and do not demonstrate sexual monogamy.

I think that polyamory is more interesting as a description of social / family making behaviors. Promiscuity is banal, it's ubiquitous regardless of people's self definition. Openly loving more than one person and taking on that identity socially is different.
posted by idiopath at 12:15 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


A lot of it had to do with the laughably accidental history of the practice. In its earliest forms, monogamy came about because in hunter-gatherer societies, men having all of their children grouped with a single mother enabled marginally more efficient food distribution. Natural selection ran its course, and the practice stuck until necessity was replaced by habitual normativity.

Citation really, really needed; especially given that women provide the majority of food in hunter-gatherer societies. They aren't staying huddled at the cave waiting for a leg of mammoth brought in by (solely) male hunters.

Up to that point in the article, I just thought it sounded, for my mostly-introverted self, exhausting. And really the province of the young, all those parties and late night shows and seeing in the dawn together. Not that this couldn't be part of life at any point, but it's hard to manage with the ordinary responsibilities of adulthood.
posted by jokeefe at 12:22 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


This is 12,000 words from a 24 year old about his only major relationship, but he is selling it as great truths about all the different kinds of relationships that people can have. I'm sure it was very therapeutic for him to write, but I did not need to read it.

Between this and the equally terrible piece on Tinder a few weeks ago it seems increasingly like LARB is deliberately trying to stake out a niche in the "post-collegiate relationship angst, abstracted into half-baked think pieces" market.

I'd say I felt mildly embarrassed for the writers of pieces like this, but really I imagine they'll just use their later realization about what they're actually doing when they write this kind of think piece in a new think piece, one about overintellectualization as a form of emotional self-defense: "How I Realized I Was Writing Think Pieces Instead of Just Having My Feelings."

Narcissism this deep precludes embarrassment anyhow, I guess, but you're right: it does feel like eavesdropping on a therapy session. And it's probably beside the point to argue with even the silliest evo-psych appeal to nature in the middle of someone's therapy session; the real question is why he wants this hunter-gatherer story to be true, not why it isn't. But maybe it's true in general, too, that evo-psych appeals to nature actually call for that kind of psychoanalysis rather than, or in addition to, simple refutation.

In any case, it seems like a reasonably common trend (ha) that online essay venues tend to drift, over time, toward publishing The Way We Live Now trend pieces, no matter their original intent. Call it Arianna's Law: Tabloid emo grows like a weed around literate and thoughtful writing, as long as you allow your audience to pretend that the latter is still what they're reading even when they're consuming the former.
posted by RogerB at 12:37 PM on February 15 [10 favorites]



Up to that point in the article, I just thought it sounded, for my mostly-introverted self, exhausting. And really the province of the young, all those parties and late night shows and seeing in the dawn together. Not that this couldn't be part of life at any point, but it's hard to manage with the ordinary responsibilities of adulthood.


That's the thing - nominally I have a non-monogamous relationship but in reality I have an "oh god I can't face dating again after a long day's work" relationship, an "it was difficult enough to find one person I actually like who likes me back" relationship.

The people I know who are effectively poly are either young with lots of free time (helped along by the fact that no one has a lot of work right now due to the economy) or young-ish and very good-looking. To be poly, lots of people have to want to sleep with you; once you're on into looking like an average adult, well, some people still find it easy to attract lots of people consistently, but many don't. If I wanted to date another person, I would actively have to deal with OkCupid and first dates and so on, and it would be just too darn much work.

Although honestly, I just don't feel like I could face the constant rejection that living in a mostly-poly world would entail. I don't even especially want to be actively dating anyone else, but sometimes my poly friends' constant parade of new partners is too much of a reminder that I'm a weirdo even in the queer community and seldom attract anyone.
posted by Frowner at 12:39 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Frowner, I think you and I define poly differently. I have been in many poly relationships where I was only involved with one other person (who happened to see others as well).

To me poly (as opposed to free love or swinging) is about the unique shape of the commitments made. It isn't any more about dating and being rejected than any other style of commitment is.
posted by idiopath at 12:56 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Actually, no, some species of birds mate exclusively with a single partner

I read a book called 'the myth of monogamy' that's all about how we now know from genetic testing of their offspring that these monogamist bird couples are cheating on each other like crazy. We didn't know it just from observation because the birds were so sneaky about it that they were fooling the scientists along with their mate. Kind of a downer but an interesting book.
posted by pete_22 at 12:56 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I thought this was going to link to a gif of laughing anthropologists.

That would have been so much better.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:01 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


There are sins against writing in this article, let alone sins against argument.

I lie back down and press my head against her neck, pull back a little of the blanket she’s stolen in the night. Light comes in the window, reflected off the sheer marble grave markers outside. It makes the bed a little warmer.

Somebody should have caught that with a red pencil and a great big "Nope". Also: mis-use of "complimentary" for "complementary".

Also: I understand what he's trying to get towards-- his journey of discovery and the dissection of his first relationship and its failures intertwining with ruminations on polyamory-- but he's really not a good advertisement for poly, and the deeper he tries to go in exploring it as a philosophy the shallower the results seem to be.

I really hope he got Lou's permission to publish this. He's quite scathing about her, towards the end.
posted by jokeefe at 1:26 PM on February 15


Frowner, I think you and I define poly differently. I have been in many poly relationships where I was only involved with one other person (who happened to see others as well).

We may move in different kinds of social circles or just experience social dynamics differently - but what I notice is that there's a huge difference between "I am seeing Lila who is also seeing Joe, but I would find it easy to date other people if I wanted" and "I am seeing Lila - for once I have a girlfriend! - and Lila is also seeing Joe, and Thomas is calling her a lot and then there's Miles..." (And I do have a friend who is Lila, basically - a delightful person, attractive because of charm, grace and personal beauty.) There's a huge difference in social power and the dynamics in a relationship unless both people have approximately equal social status and access to other relationships. Where I've noticed it to fall apart (and as I say, I run with a crowd where having an explicitly monogamous relationship is unusual) is where one partner has much more social status than the other. We're not supposed to say that, and it isn't considered nice to acknowledge it, but as someone who has been queer, weird and varying degrees of funny-looking my entire life, I know only too well that it matters. It doesn't matter if you're in the happy middle or extra popular and attractive, but if you're not, it matters a great deal.
posted by Frowner at 1:27 PM on February 15 [18 favorites]


I think the difference may be a difference in what we are actually looking for. I lost a large amount of weight a while back, and I found the extra attention and interest distracting and unpleasant (I have since regained the weight and am much happier). I actively don't want the amount of attention and priority (and accompanying demands) one typically gets as a primary partner.
posted by idiopath at 1:42 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Once again it seems I really struggle to understand the meaning of the term "zero-sum game".
posted by Decani at 3:03 PM on February 15


If you think that nobody else can benefit without someone else losing, you believe in a zero sum game. The accusation being made is that people think of love as some sort of competition, where love going to someone else is being denied to themselves.

There are valid criticisms to be made of the reification and cultivation of jealousy in mainstream varieties of monogamy (especially regarding the mental health of the jealous person), but I think calling it a zero sum game is simplistic.
posted by idiopath at 3:56 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


It continues to astonish me that non-religious people have any concern at all about what kinds of relationships adult consenting folks create for themselves. Absent some belief in a deity's disapproval and any evidence of harm*, why on earth should anyone outside the relationship feel entitled to take offense? Are Bob and June and Bill and Sarah and Janine happy? Great. Now I am happy for them all and will go back to not caring unless there's a breakup or crisis where one of them needs my support.

When I was religious, I felt sort of duty-bound to disapprove of sex outside of mongamous heterosexual relationships. Dropping that task was a huge relief; one less thing I had to worry about. I can't imagine why anyone would voluntarily take it up.

*this is where lots of folks bring in "it will mess up the kids!" but I mean in a relationship without children. I don't think it is going to necessarily mess up any kids, but that is a more complicated discussion.
posted by emjaybee at 5:06 PM on February 15


natural

Didn't some New Criticism era book enumerate 20 or so distinct meanings of "natural" in Shakespeare?

I like replacing 'natural' with 'doubleplusgood', when I read attempted big-think pieces. There's usually no loss of information.
posted by thelonius at 5:22 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


It seems to me that polyamory is best suited to extroverts who don't have especially demanding careers or family lives. Frowner made some excellent points about balances of power in relationships as well. The poly folks I've known who have maintained poly relationships past the age of 35 or so have been childless with flexible careers.

Besides being middle-aged and not such a draw on the "marketplace" (for lack of a better term) than I was twenty years ago - I'm an introvert. I love my alone time. I just cannot see myself pouring so much of my precious time and energy into other people as poly folks seem to do.

I'd love to read less of the navel-gazing personal philosophy of polyamory and more about "I'm polyamorous and an introvert: here's how I do it" or "I'm polyamorous and have kids and a demanding job: this is how I juggle all my priorities." Can you be poly if you aren't especially sociable and don't have plenty of free time?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:33 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


Are Bob and June and Bill and Sarah and Janine happy? Great. Now I am happy for them all and will go back to not caring unless there's a breakup or crisis where one of them needs my support.

Only if Bob, et al, are not like the author of this piece, because if this guy were my hypothetical friend, after listening to him talk about his dysfunctional relationship I bet I would certainly start to care about the parameters of said relationship. Sheesh, how tiring.



I find it interesting how he highlighted that polyamory was the superior form of commitment because it involves openness, trust, and communication . . . and then proceeded to tell the long, drawn-out story of how he showed none of those traits in his primary relationship. I suppose we can infer that he learned from his experience, but what exactly did it have to do with being poly?
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:41 PM on February 15


That article was,like, the sexiest Judy Blume novel ever.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:21 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Rosie M. Banks> Can you be poly if you aren't especially sociable and don't have plenty of free time?

I kinda backed into being poly. I like it.

I'm not a very social person; I'm only halfway joking when I say that Adobe Illustrator is my primary. Once a week, my ex-with-benefits visits. In summer, we go out and do things about a gird of the time. In winter, we tend to just curl up in my living room and watch whatever video he brought. Then we crawl into bed, sleep, and putter around in the morning for varying lengths of time. We'll talk about our projects and bounce ideas off of each other, critique stuff, and of course there are usually benefits most visits. Sometimes not, if we're both super tired that week. But usually benefits.

And then he goes back to the house he lives in with five other people, including his boyfriend. Who is my ex-without-benefits, and who has a... Well, I'd say "girlfriend", except that person recently decided they prefer the pronoun "they". I guess they're his "it's complicated".

For several years, I was part of a triad with those two exes. It broke up with a lot of screaming and drama for reasons I don't want to go into.

I go off to conventions and fool around with friends with my EWB's knowledge and approval. "Use protection, don't bring anything home" is all he asks, and I'm the same with him.

I recently tried fucking an acquaintance after she noted that OKCupid had really high compatibility ratings. It didn't work out. It hasn't been a major thing, just a little failed experiment. Life will go on. I'm slowly flirting with another friend, who is as much married to her art as I am to mine. One of these days we may actually manage to get in bed with each other.

My EWB is a lot more actively social than I am. In a fairly different circle that I'm really kind of disinterested in. Sometimes he'll tell me about the kerfuffles he can't not try to Fix, and I just shrug, and suggest killing them all, because that is the role I play: the bored, disinterested lizard who just doesn't give a damn about these mammal things. This is part of what he gets out of visiting me. Time with someone who has never dragged a complicated social problem into his life and probably never will. And I get enough socialization and cuddles to keep me pretty happy. I get socialization other places, too, though I'm not presently getting cuddles from anyone else. I'm pretty sure I could change that if I wanted to put forth the effort, but honestly I'd rather spend my time drawing comics.

So yeah. Being poly and introverted can work out pretty damn well. It's not about everyone involved having five lovers; it's about me not giving a shit that my boyfriend lives with his boyfriend, and my bf's bf not giving a damn that our mutual bf spends a night of every week at my place - liking it, in fact, because it lets him fool around with his other bf or go off to see his genderqueer SO for a week.

It's about what can happen when you let go of monogamy - and the fear and jealousy wrapped up around that.
posted by egypturnash at 7:47 PM on February 15 [15 favorites]


I'm making a belated New Year's resolution not to read any more articles by people in their mid-twenties reminiscing about relationships they had in their early twenties. Just let it ripen a little, kids.

That said, I would like to read a counterpoint to this article written by the "satellite" who was described only waiting to become one of those old, bitter ladies who seem so much like quarrelsome hens." A guy who unapologetically and unreflectively describes one of his ex-partners like that seems like a person who's guaranteed to leave a whole lot of suffering in his wake, regardless of what kind of relationship he's in.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:48 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


"I'm polyamorous and an introvert: here's how I do it"

Well... speaking just from my own experience, here are some strategies that help:

Know one's social and intimacy limits. Work, health, stress and life development factors all vary those limits. I've gotten more solitary with age, even though I no longer have a highly-social job.
Know one's privacy needs. Turns out I need a lot - I'm in multiple very gossipy subcultures, and have broken up with folks who could not keep at least some details to themselves. It's not fun to walk into an event and have people ask when one is going to sign co-parenting paperwork, when one had not yet gone out in public with the parental person.
Be honest (with oneself) about one's sexual frequency, intimacy, and social needs. They rarely coincide perfectly. Achieving balance may be easier in some subcommunities than others (urban queers vs rural straight people, young under-employeds vs middle-aged over-scheduled)
Don't live with any of the menage - participate only as much as it suits one. I lived alone for 25 years, including a tent in the woods while working for a major IT company, until recently sharing a house for economic reasons. During most of that time I had at least one primary and multiple ongoing partners.
Only connect with people who support one's intimacy and drama tolerances - unfortunately it hurts a lot to either stay OR discontinue a satisfying but excessively needy or volatile person.
Both explain AND act on one's solitary/recharge time or slow emotional development needs. Making exceptions for the hot new one will set up expectations that aren't sustainable.

I can't believe no one's told the poly lightbulb joke yet:
"How many poly people does it take to change a lightbulb?"
"I won't know until I check my schedule."

So: Have good scheduling tech (whether a paper calendar or the most advanced shared cloud software) and use it.
posted by Dreidl at 11:21 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


jokeefe: "I really hope he got Lou's permission to publish this. He's quite scathing about her, towards the end."

He covers that in the first paragraph of the last section, saying explicitly that he told her what he was writing and talked with her about what would be appropriate to publish.

In any case: if this is polyamory, polyamory sounds awful. It doesn't seem to have much to recommend it. It sounds a lot like being in your early twenties.

Or maybe it would be more correct to say that it sounds to me like somebody took the words of an old song and tried to fill in the blanks with a plausible backstory:

And that's about the time she walked away from me
Nobody likes you when you're 23...
What's my age again?
What's my age again?

posted by koeselitz at 12:07 AM on February 16


(It sounds to me as though the author could use a bit more auto-amory. As could we all, I suppose.)
posted by koeselitz at 12:17 AM on February 16


What's the difference between hooking up and being poly? Is hooking up in a no-expectation-of-monogamy way poly by default? I wouldn't think so, because that would make poly a uselessly vague term, but I'm not understanding the distinction (if there is one?).

Also, with monogamy -- is there an expectation of forever? I thought monogamy was just until you broke up, no contracts signed in blood or anything. With birds, I would have figured that, if they were "faithful" to the one nesting site/individual through the breeding season, they would qualify as being perfectly monogamous -- but does monogamy imply two individuals mating exclusively for *life*?
posted by rue72 at 2:04 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


It sounds to me as though the author could use a bit more auto-amory.

I dunno about that. That article was the biggest pile of auto-amory I've read in ages.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:48 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


Yes and he used "tenant" when he should have used "tenet" so as far as I'm concerned we can all go grab our pitchforks.
posted by AV at 4:50 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Huh. I think I've been some version of 'Poly' accidentally for the last six years going on seven. Not because I make it a big part of my identity, but because I generally don't demand monogamy and probably because sex for me is mostly a non-high risk, non-vanilla experience.

So as far as being with multiple people, this usually happened within the framework of my relationship, with me playing with people known to us in the kink scene, most commonly with set friends I liked and trusted (and am still friends with).

Jealousy, for me is never in who is fucking or even playing with who. It's a difficult to quantify emotional thing, that gets upset at being denied what it wants, and cares little for what it doesn't want. Knowing people who fall all over the poly-semi-mono spectrum, with its arbitrary limits (which in my opinion is a good thing, people's limits also form the backbone of consent, so knowing them helps them have sexual agency). I've never cared where my partner's penis ends up (and it's usually a penis) as long as they take safety precautions. I've sent boyfriends on booty calls, gotten vicarious enjoyment out of encouraging them to flirt. I like sharing partners for kink and doing group sexual activities.

And yet one of the reasons I find other Poly people and I generally make me feel like I don't belong is the casual "I don't get jealous", thrown out as a statement of virtue like "I only buy organic" or "I support ethical candidates". I'm way too insecure to even lie to myself about what matters to me in my love life, and this generally is my sticking point.

But, the jealousy I have is over stuff that effects my sense of place and importance, but also inversely there is stuff I can and can't share. I could see no harm in my partner trying kinks I didn't like, but having a separate partner just for a single kink or desire would weigh on me. A definite hard core of insecurity is wound around the D/s stuff- because it matters to me. Not getting sexually jealous is hardly something I consider worth a gold star because it's like how I don't care some women are blonder than me or some birds are bigger than other birds- it's not like I've magically overcome years of social conditioning to be this way, and all the poly people I know aren't better people for it. It's like claiming to be more good because you don't eat traditional sit down dinners.


But it makes for awkward moments, like when a lover was in the grieving gulf of his separation with an ex, telling me he wasn't sure why he wanted her back, but he did (with the understanding that it was bye-bye me and back to a monogamy thing with her if he decided to pursue that), but he certainly wanted me too because he always suspected he was 'poly'. Meanwhile, on facebook, an acquaintance embracing the 'so alternative it hurts' muses that they don't really know what normal monogamous/vanilla expectations are, followed by a torrent of snarking about four minute missionary followed by hand shakes, but to be frank I couldn't give them some guaranteed 'this is monogamy only' rules. I use this to illustrate that poly is such a fuzzy concept- it really seems to mean whatever the people using it does. Since the limits within monogamy and polygamy seem to be equally founded on fluidity and variable comfort levels, I can't feel like there's much to celebrate that way.
posted by Phalene at 5:11 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


rue72: the birds nest with one partner, breed with another (and someone specifically used the "mate for life" phrase, which doesn't sound like serial monogamy to me).

Polyamory assumes a level of commitment to a partner and public identification as being with that partner that hookup culture does not. From what I have seen, people in hookup culture are assumed to be monogamous but temporarily doing something else, and wouldn't talk about their situation as "a relationship" for the most part.
posted by idiopath at 7:06 AM on February 16


Why do people so casually accept the assumption that monogamy inherently implies jealousy and resentment?
posted by lodurr at 7:22 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Clearly a monogamous behavior need not involve jealousy or resentment. But a monogamous expectation usually involves some element of jealousy / hypothetical jealousy, no?
posted by idiopath at 7:28 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, my experience of monogamy is not only that a partner would be unashamedly jealous, but I would also be expected to be jealous, and a lack of jealousy would be a deficiency or suspicious sign on my part.
posted by idiopath at 7:34 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Your experience sucks.

May not actually be representative of others.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:48 AM on February 16


Why do people so casually accept the assumption that monogamy inherently implies jealousy and resentment?

I read the comment to which you are referring last night, thought a lot of it was interesting, got to this part, and was all set to type up an angry screed about how monogamy often does NOT imply jealousy and resentment and how my own monogamous relationship was wonderful and beautiful and blah blah blah, all of which is true.

I did NOT type or post this comment because I realized that monogamy is so clearly accepted as the default position that jumping in to defend it is often unnecessary. Yeah, I wasn't super happy about that line and there's a point where the idea of monogamy is actually being attacked (I've responded to comments that clearly DO attack monogamy on Metafilter before), but this seemed pretty low-key and I felt like it wasn't necessary to turn a discussion on polyamory into a defense of monogamy.

So maybe it would be nice to assume good faith on the part of everyone else, let one fairly innocuous slip-up slide, and not make this a thread where we defend the dominant culture instead of actually having a discussion about something else?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:07 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


idiopath, I'll rephrase the question: Why do people so casually acept the assumption that polyamory inherently implies a lack of jealousy and resentment?
posted by lodurr at 8:12 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


mrs. pterodcactyl, I wasn't actually responding to one specific comment; it's just been my experience that in discussions such as this, poly enjoys the moral high ground, by majority consensus. We basically take people's word for it, and assume that the inverse is true of monogamous relationships.

My experience of this topic has generally been that discussions of poly basically get freighted down with these unexamined assumptions about the way people ought to be, and the way things are. One of the things that's nice about THIS PARTICULAR discussion is that some people are challenging the idea that there ought to be one accepted truth about how humans ought to bond sexually, and as a refreshingly new twist (at least for me), a lot of those people seem to be poly.
posted by lodurr at 8:17 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Polyamory doesn't involve a lack of those things, but they are often treated differently. I think most people can and do experience jealousy. About pretty much every aspect of life. I get jealous when a friend is too busy to hang out with me, I get jealous when someone else gets the seat I wanted on the bus or in a restaurant.

The difference is that in many monogamous relationships, unlike any other sphere of one's life, we have permission (sometimes an expectation or obligation) to be jealous. It seems to transform from being a petty or childish emotion to a noble one.

Sometimes I have been sloppy with language (or lazy in explaining) and said "I'm not a jealous person", when what I really meant was that I didn't expect my jealousy to be indulged, or did not consider it to be an admirable state.
posted by idiopath at 8:22 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


One of the things that's nice about THIS PARTICULAR discussion is that some people are challenging the idea that there ought to be one accepted truth about how humans ought to bond sexually, and as a refreshingly new twist (at least for me), a lot of those people seem to be poly.

That's a good point and I think your question above is a good one; "Why do people so casually acept the assumption that polyamory inherently implies a lack of jealousy and resentment?"

I think this is something worth talking about; the sense I have is that poly relationships can still have a lot of jealousy and resentment, and it's still possible to cheat in poly relationships by not being honest or by breaking personal/relationship boundaries. I think a problem with this conception, too, is that it has the potential to fault people for being jealous or resentful, as if there's something wrong with an individual who requires a certain amount of time or affection or attention from a partner.

I get that poly needs defending more than monogamy does, but I also agree with you that polyamory doesn't automatically dispel all relationship problems. Some people are built for poly. Some aren't. Some people need certain things in relationships and being poly doesn't provide that and writing them off as being "jealous" or "resentful" instead of acknowledging that their needs aren't met is problematic.

All of which is to say, lodurr, that I think we agree on a fair amount and I apologize if I came off judgmentally before; I think the points you raise are good, I just wanted to avoid a conversation about polyamory turning into a conversation about monogamy.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:27 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to see poly responses to this article that seemed to start with the usual looking down upon monogomy (I didn't get far before I quit) and see some really well thought out and respectful commentary and discussion. Not what I'm used to. Thanks for the insight.

I'm trying to think of a way of encapsulating this, but I'm a bit short on time before having to head to work:

The one thing I've always had a bit of a problem with regarding mono/poly ideas being seen as a clash is I don't really see how that has to be the case. If I'm going to be really picky, I'd probably want to go after the roots and say that -gamy and -amory are very different things, therefore one being plural and the other singular isn't necessarily exclusive. I think it faulty grounds to stand upon for a discussion of either idea. For that matter, the subject of partnered birds even seems to be a specific case of this: Socially paired but... Well, poly-amory probably isn't the word for a bird, so I'll say poly-mating. Or just poly-sexual, but for some reason people don't like that.

It might be a slight problem in choice of language simply because it's easy, but I think it's one that can cause problems for everyone. Trying to stuff humans and their relationships into tidy little boxes of words is a messy thing.
posted by ThrowbackDave at 9:33 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Coming late to a discussion way more interesting than the article that prompted it. Just wanted to add that yes, there are a lot of folks over 35 with kids and steady mainstream jobs who are in open relationships. I was in the poly community in Seattle for 15 years and knew quite a few people who met this description. Now I'm in the Boston area and am in that category myself, and have a pretty large group of friends and acquaintances in the same boat. We're out here!
posted by Sublimity at 9:56 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


jokeefe - "especially given that women provide the majority of food in hunter-gatherer societies. They aren't staying huddled at the cave waiting for a leg of mammoth brought in by (solely) male hunters. "

(by the by, I hate the lack of a decent quoting system on this site, leads to so much butchery and out of context quotes)

I know the kind of research you are referring to and it is rather difficult to apply in this situation. During the majority of the 20th century there was a lot of rather misguided anthro that attempted to directly extrapolate the lives of modern "primitive" peoples (from the point of view of the authors) back onto "hunter gatherer times" (by which they usually mean pre-Neolithic).

And this kind of conclusion, that women (or men) provide the majority of food was based entirely on that kind of flawed research. The fact of the matter is that even people who western explorers thought of as "stone aged" (or, in slightly later jargon that meant the same thing, "hunter gatherers) were affected by the Neolithic revolution and - even more importantly - the change in climate. Cultures living in New Guinea or Australia or Sub Saharan Africa have evolved as much as the west in the last twelve thousand years even if, at first glance, they still appear to use a hunter-gatherer toolkit.

There are a lot of problems with any claims about gender roles in pre-Neolithic humans. As far as I know (and I would like to be proved wrong here) the data is just not there. I do vague remember one article about Neanderthals that found similar patterns of healed injuries among men and women which would indicate they did not divide labor along gender lines. But even that had such a small sample size as to make conclusions tentative at best.

The problems get especially bad when people start equating meat eating with gender. There is no reason why early human females who were not actually significantly pregnant (which probably only occurred once every few years) to not take part in active hunting. And for about 75% of the period in which modern humans have been around the world has been in a state of glaciation where winter (or the dry season) could have been as much as 9 months of the year. I am sure that humans ate any food resources available but across much of the world that would have meant most of their calories coming from meat much of the time.
posted by Riemann at 5:38 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


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