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Multiple Lovers, Without Jealousy
July 27, 2014 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Polyamorous people still face plenty of stigmas, but some studies suggest they handle certain relationship challenges better than monogamous people do. The Atlantic Monthly takes on the subject of polyamory, and seems to mostly be respectful and get it right.
posted by hippybear (70 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
jealousy is a feature, not a bug. polyamory would be one strategy for dealing with it and desires.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:02 AM on July 27


jealousy is a feature, not a bug.

This seems like a really bold assertion. What makes it so seemingly self-evident?
posted by CrystalDave at 11:05 AM on July 27 [2 favorites]


Jealousy has always been a bug in my life. It has ended more relationships than it has preserved.
posted by maxsparber at 11:06 AM on July 27 [2 favorites]


I think Ironmouth might mean that polyamorous people are dealing well with an inherent human tendency by not choosing a form of relationship that exacerbates the problems of that tendency.
posted by clockzero at 11:12 AM on July 27 [1 favorite]


Jealousy is one of those things that I guess it just never occurred to me to feel. I don't really understand it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:12 AM on July 27 [9 favorites]


The only even moderately successful poly people I've known just had less jealousy, either by some natural inclination or as a result of fairly intense personal development.

Jealous people in that environment tend to implode like all the air had been sucked out of the room, leaving only drama molecules.

Based on some advice communities I hang out in, apparently it's a big thing now to "open the relationship" if it's a crap relationship instead of just breaking up, but without any actual thought to what that means or even awareness of ethical nonmonogamy as a concept they should look into. They just think they're bellying up to the bone buffet, what could go wrong? It goes about as well as you'd expect. I'm not sure articles like this help, but I am happy for actual poly people that they can get at least a little reasonable, balanced media representation.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:19 AM on July 27 [2 favorites]


Based on some advice communities I hang out in, apparently it's a big thing now to "open the relationship" if it's a crap relationship instead of just breaking up

To appropriate from an old joke, now they have two problems.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:36 AM on July 27 [10 favorites]


Jealousy exists in many (most?) relationships, and really has nothing to do with whether you have one parter or more.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:37 AM on July 27 [1 favorite]


I have only felt jealousy in a relationship when the person I am dating is being dishonest. It's a warning flag that something under the surface has rotted.

The thing I don't get about polyamory is that finding people to date is the absolute worst part about relationships, so agreeing to an arrangement where you are both constantly still in that mode is mind boggling.

I'm aware some people actually prefer the beginning of relationships, there's just no point in trying to convince me first dates aren't the worst. It would be interesting to see what the percentage of people with social anxiety is on both sides.

Also if poly people could please stop msging on dating sites while completely ignoring I state repeatedly I am not into that, that'd be greeeat.
posted by Dynex at 11:40 AM on July 27 [14 favorites]


Michael is 65, and he has a chinstrap beard that makes him look like he just walked off an Amish homestead. Jonica is 27, with close-cropped hair, a pointed chin, and a quiet air.

It's the age difference that made me raise an eyebrow when I read this, not the number of people in their relationship.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:49 AM on July 27 [15 favorites]


It's the age difference that made me raise an eyebrow when I read this, not the number of people in their relationship.

Lets not be ageist here, please. There are lots of people (including myself) in relationships with lare age gaps.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:54 AM on July 27 [13 favorites]


Jealousy, in the context of my polyamory, operates very much like a smoke alarm.

It's something that goes off when there is a problem that needs to be immediately addressed, generally corresponding to some brooding fear or incompletely communicated expectation. Sometimes it's a simple fix, like opening the window and turning on the fan; sometimes your kitchen is on fire. Either way, when I or a partner experience jealousy it lets us know that there is work to be done.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 12:01 PM on July 27 [16 favorites]


Having been in several relationships with large age gaps when I was younger... I've earned the right to raise that eyebrow.

You may have a solid relationship based on equality and mutual respect, but large age gaps are a definite signifier that may not be the case.

(And I would have fought that comment too, at the time, but blanket denial that some older men prey on younger women isn't going to help your cause.)
posted by Dynex at 12:02 PM on July 27 [22 favorites]


True, but blanket accusations of predator/prey dynamics in relationships with wide age gaps aren't going to help your cause, either.
posted by hippybear at 12:04 PM on July 27 [15 favorites]


some studies suggest they handle certain relationship challenges better than monogamous people do.

Well they'd have to, wouldn't they? If they couldn't they wouldn't last in a polyamory situation.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:06 PM on July 27 [1 favorite]


You may have a solid relationship based on equality and mutual respect, but large age gaps are a definite signifier that may not be the case.

As someone who knows several people in happy May-September relationships, I'm afraid my anecdata outweighs yours. Do you have any real data suggesting that such relationships are more prone to equality and mutual respect issues?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:09 PM on July 27 [3 favorites]


Showtime made a reality show about polyamory that was actually pretty good. I'd recommend it, if you get a chance to see it.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:11 PM on July 27 [1 favorite]


The only poly relationship in my network of friends is a beautiful long-term relationship at the core, with both of them taking secondary partners only after 10+ years of monogamy and lengthy discussions about exploring sexuality, their paths in life, and what they wanted to get out of being with other people. The couple themselves are two of the most emotionally hard-working people I have ever met and the empathy and care that they both extend toward each other's secondary partners is humbling.

I'm glad to see more writing that treats their lifestyle choice with fairness, but I always worry that it's too difficult to elucidate to a larger monogamous audience what it is exactly that allows polyamory to be an ideal situation for the people involved, or even explain why it's ok for someone to be poly, without also making Poly an all-defining born-with-it characteristic. They're human beings first, poly second (or maybe even tenth), and I will always want my poly friends to be better understood as people, rather than figures existing solely in the context of a polyamorous relationship, because in a large part that's what enables them to be poly in the first place: valuing people as people.
posted by Snacks at 12:28 PM on July 27 [10 favorites]


There are several poly relationships in my personal network; or I guess I should say there were. Consistently it seems to have been the terminal phase of the relationship, which is fine, relationships end, but for the most part they seem to have switched back to monogamy in their post-poly phase. Very high overlap with kink and Landmark of all things..
posted by rr at 12:36 PM on July 27 [3 favorites]


Her findings, like Holmes’ and Sheff’s, are preliminary and limited. But if they hold up, it could mean that at least in some ways, polyamory is a more humane way to love.

More humane? Oh, come on.

The author is a crap journalist who extrapolates too much meaning from too little evidence in order to justify her narrative. What a gross overstatement based on so little data.

I have no dog in this fight -- I've tried variations on monogamy and polyamory -- but I do find it tiresome to hear false representations of the merits of either lifestyle. Sometimes monogamy is better for some people, some of the time; and ditto for polyamory. Sometimes (often) people do well in one style for part of their life, and better in another style for another part of their life. It isn't so boolean. And it isn't rocket science to grok that basic reality.

And I find her title demonstrably inaccurate. My time spent rollin' poly showed me that there is PLENTY of jealousy at work; my readings of the experiences of poly people indicates that jealousy is not uncommonly "a thing" as well. I think the article waaaaaay understates that issue. People may be non-jealous until suddenly...they aren't.
posted by nacho fries at 12:37 PM on July 27 [11 favorites]


What I'm saying is that jealousy has a function reproductively. So many people treat it as a character flaw when it is a feature, the idea being that animals are trying to create a situation where they are certain that either they are the only animals bearing the offspring of a particular mate (reducing the chance that the animal and their off will be abandoned for a different mate and offspring), or that the offspring of a particular mate are all sired by them (ensuring that they are not wasting energy raising another animal's offspring).

Acting like it is wrong to feel it, or that those who feel it are somehow wrong to feel it ignores the biological basis for it.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:04 PM on July 27 [2 favorites]


Not necessarily. "Wrong" is a broad word. Acting like jealousy is unnatural, sure, may come from a place of ignoring some biological basis. But attempting to conquer or shed a particular emotion isn't necessarily ignorant. Aspiring to control how we evolve beyond our roots is very human.
posted by cribcage at 1:27 PM on July 27 [3 favorites]


According to Shackelford, women in monogamous relationships “are more likely to use sexual assets to induce jealousy in their partner,” while “men will manipulate access to resources.”

Sexual assets? Makes it sound like my snatch is an interest-bearing investment fund with penalties for early withdrawal or unauthorized deposits.

Welp, Shackelford just made it onto my pseudo-authority shit list. These evo psych guys and gals are real pieces of work. I just knew there would have to be at least one reference to cavemen in this piece...

Pass the stegosaurus steaksauce, please.
posted by nacho fries at 1:46 PM on July 27 [28 favorites]


There's a biological basis for wisdom teeth too. Doesn't mean that most of us don't get them extracted these days for risk of impacting other teeth after our social context altered our diets so much that we began evolving smaller jaws.
posted by Conspire at 1:51 PM on July 27 [6 favorites]


I think it is verrrrrrry interesting though that the writer front-loaded the article with that particular example of a polyamorous trio. She had to know it would push a lot of buttons, and would get a lot of people all riled up from the get-go. There are a lot of similarly not-so-subtle injections of titillating content in the piece that I strongly suspect were intentionally placed to be provocative. I think the end result is that the piece is muddied and muddled.

Which is really too bad, because it is a truly interesting subject -- how do we love? How do we structure our love lives? How does our culture mindfuck us about the choices we make? -- and instead of digging deep and taking an extra level of care to NOT go the cheap route, and to give the subject the thoughtful, cliche-free, non-caricatured treatment it deserves, the article took the easier way out. Edgy quotes taken out of context from "authorities"; peculiar examples that had to be qualified (the polygamy study of African families); the snarky digs (the prairie-dressed polygamists)...

Then again, The Atlantic has a history of publishing articles on relationship topics that seem to be conceived as épater le bourgeois journalism. (I'm thinking of Sandra Tsing Loh's very controversial pieces about her affair, for example.) So, I will assume the writer was probably nudged in that direction by the editors and content-controllers at the journal, and that may have colored her work.
posted by nacho fries at 2:20 PM on July 27 [5 favorites]


I don't really get jealousy either. Technically, shouldn't it be about wanting something that someone else has and you don't? If you're both dating the dude or lady or whoever, you both have it. If you aren't being dumped because s/he loves someone else INSTEAD of you, then why be jealous?

Then again, I've known the occasional person who is all "But they're MINEMINEMINEMINE, NOBODY TOUCH, MINE ALL MINE!!!!!" and that's kind of a ridiculous standard to maintain on humans. You really can't just lock someone in the tower all the time any more. Everyone's had a past and people look at each other on the street. You need to learn to deal with reality.

I think the garden hose vs. theater story is a good example of why poly can work. It's not realistic to expect that only one person supply EVERYTHING for you and woe to you all if they can't. I'd rather someone get their kinky rocks off with someone else and be happy than force me to smack you with a garden hose if I don't like doing it whatsoever or else the relationship ends. Also, it's a fun way to make friends. And dishing with another girl about your mutual boyfriend is really entertaining.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:24 PM on July 27 [3 favorites]


I have known more people who think they can handle polyamory than those who have successfully managed it.

In whatever mythical realm where more than one person finds me desirable in the same year, I doubt I'd be up for the challenge.
posted by adipocere at 2:27 PM on July 27 [6 favorites]


I would wager that many people who have made polyamory work for them are probably going uncounted because they are just living their lives, doing their thing without fanfare, and thus are flying under the radar. Ditto with monogamous couples who are chugging merrily along.

I'm not even sure how one would gauge "success" when it comes to either monogamy or polyamory, though. What is the metric? Often people talk big talk about being "happy", and use that as their measuring stick; but as ever, the people who feel the need to trumpet any particular quality about themselves or their lives ("We're so happy!" "We are so open and ethical!") are too often being performative or aspirational in their declarations. When you get a few drinks in 'em and separate them from the herd (or their solo partner) and start asking questions...a different picture often emerges.

(Plus America has this weird obsession with being happy uber alles, which leaves people feeling super anxious if their relationship(s) aren't up to some happy-clapper ideal...it often feels quite forced and a bit creepy to me.)
posted by nacho fries at 2:45 PM on July 27 [11 favorites]


Monogamous couples talk about how happy they are together and everyone thinks it sweet (and believes them). But if polyamorous people talk about being happy, apparently that's considered "trumpeting" and needs investigation to expose their inner anxieties about their relationship.
posted by the jam at 3:48 PM on July 27 [7 favorites]


I am only speaking for myself here. I can't stand the idea of polyamory. I tried this once and felt sick every day. It's just me, I know. It upsets me on a visceral level I can't explain. I am happy for anyone who can make a relationship work. But for me, it's got to be this one special person or no one.
posted by SPrintF at 4:00 PM on July 27 [2 favorites]


This article is kind of disingenuous because it pretty much only talks about the bonded triad kind of poly relationship, which from what I've seen is far from typical in the non-monogamous set. I know many people who consider themselves poly, mostly married couples. Each person dates and develops relationships individually, without all the "happy triad" kind of talk. Sometimes the relationships are shorter term and sometimes they last months to years. It seems to go well for them. They each have each other's back, definitely. I know many other people who are open to the idea and have tried it, myself included, but decided it wasn't right for them. Personally, I realized that I had been interested in a second person because I wasn't satisfied in my main relationship. But I know for my friends, that is not the case, and it is insulting to them to insinuate that something must be wrong with their primary relationship because they date other people.
posted by impishoptimist at 4:03 PM on July 27 [2 favorites]


I know enough poly people that I have a certain mental model for how it usually goes, and maybe it doesn't seem like it's my thing for the foreseeable future but it doesn't seem particularly problematic. Then there's the arrangement I seem to run into repeatedly among acquaintances, and I really hope it's just happenstance, but a particular model that goes like: married couple with kids who gets along really well, but they're not having sex in that particular way where it's impossible not to know that they're not having sex even though I did not actually ask thank you. Sigh.

But that just makes it worrisome when the solution they come up with is the husband starts dating one or more women who don't have kids of their own, several nights a week away from home while the wife takes even more of the parenting? I dunno. More stable than divorce, certainly, but it feels a bit like... they look solid but that might be quicksand under there. It's definitely possible, but I don't know anybody who got married and had kids with the understanding that it was going to be a platonic arrangement, which makes me wary about the idea that people are really going to be happy that way long-term. I don't want to judge, but I do worry sometimes that in certain circles there's so much pressure not to divorce that this is what we're seeing instead. Not a sign that polyamory's bad, but forget jealousy, I wonder if this arrangement would be so popular if housing and day care were less expensive in the major cities that appeal to the geeky alternative sort of crowd. Even the triads--I bet Jonica could not afford to live in NoVA by herself. I'm sure most of these relationships are not at all abusive, but having come out of abuse, the hints that some parties may not have the freedom to make other choices make me uncomfortable.
posted by Sequence at 4:36 PM on July 27 [7 favorites]


But if polyamorous people talk about being happy, apparently that's considered "trumpeting"

I apologize -- I wasn't clear in my writing. I was referring to ALL relationships, including monogamous ones. (I thought including the "solo partner" clarifier covered that, but apparently not sufficiently.)
posted by nacho fries at 4:40 PM on July 27


Technically, shouldn't it be about wanting something that someone else has and you don't?

That's envy. Jealousy is fearing loss to someone else.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:20 PM on July 27


The more I re-read this article, the more I wonder if the author had an agenda to discredit polyamory. Let's look at this gem:

Some marriage experts don’t agree that polyamory’s impact on children is neutral, though. "We know that kids thrive on stable routines with stable caregivers,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Polyamory can be like a “marriage-go-round,” Wilcox said. “When kids are exposed to a revolving carousel of spouses, that experience of instability and transition can be traumatic.” (Wilcox, who has contributed to The Atlantic, is known for having rather conservative views: He recently penned a Washington Post op-ed about how marriage ostensibly protects women, and he consulted on a much-contested study about the children of same-sex couples.)

This reads to me as the author using Wilcox's (dubious) authority to get a dig in at polyamory ("What about the children?!"), but then back-pedaling by hinting at Wilcox's less-than-unbiased views re: traditional marriage and parenting.

It's like some sort of passive-aggressive journalistic sleight-of-hand. "Oh, *I* didn't say polyamory was bad for kids...that guy over there did. But he's a Christian pro-family think-tank kinda guy, so..." Meanwhile, the harm is done -- she plants the idea in the reader's head, but doesn't back it up with any direct citations.

I understand trying to present multiple points-of-view on the issue, and quoting researchers to try give the article some legitimacy, but in the case of Wilcox, all she is offering is his opinion -- not some useful stats or studies to support his rather bizarre "revolving carousel of spouses" statement.
posted by nacho fries at 6:01 PM on July 27 [4 favorites]


Ironmouth: Jealousy is fearing loss to someone else.

I'm not even poly and I've never really gotten this. I fear loss. I fear loss a lot. I don't know, maybe that's why, maybe some people fear that particular kind of loss more than other kinds of loss? But I don't really have a hierarchy going and my brain can just as easily invent a picture where the other party decides I am completely revolting as one where they decide to spend time with other people instead of me. (This is why I don't date, I guess.) I can see fearing loss, but jealousy has always seemed to me to be weirdly oriented towards the wrong party. No, that person is not going to steal your partner. They're a human being, not a wallet, they have agency. If your partner negotiates an open relationship with you and then leaves, either they were unhappy or they are a shitty person, and both of those are very routinely reasons for breakups regardless of the presence of third parties.

nacho fries: This reads to me as the author using Wilcox's (dubious) authority to get a dig in at polyamory ("What about the children?!"), but then back-pedaling by hinting at Wilcox's less-than-unbiased views re: traditional marriage and parenting.

I dunno. I can sort of see that version, but my initial interpretation was along the lines of: "Someone said I had to present both sides of the issue. I have acquired a source who is, due to previous relationship with the publication, willing to be quoted here with an insubstantial soundbite to preserve space for the thing I actually want to write about. I will now immediately tell you to disregard everything he just said. Moving on!"
posted by Sequence at 7:04 PM on July 27 [2 favorites]


Well, I can't think of a way it could possibly go wrong to make the building of relationships into a contest to see who's better.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:13 PM on July 27 [1 favorite]


"seems to mostly get it right"?
posted by koavf at 9:41 PM on July 27


There are many things that can go wrong when you cross the street.
posted by smidgen at 9:53 PM on July 27


I also take issue with this quote from Wilcox:

Wilcox also assumes that polyamorous people must struggle to devote enough time and attention to each partner and child. “It’s a challenge for me as a husband and father to give my wife and kids enough attention,” Wilcox said. “I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to add another partner. There are limits to time and space.”

Why do people cite their own failure of imagination as a valid reason for dismissing polyamory?

Just because I can't imagine certain configurations of poly working for me doesn't mean those same configurations are invalid or unworkable for others. Just because Wilcox can't imagine adding in another partner doesn't mean other people can't rise to the challenge.

For a scholar/sociologist, that dude sure is myopic when it comes to the varieties of human experience.
posted by nacho fries at 10:36 PM on July 27 [3 favorites]


...animals are trying to create a situation where they are certain that either they are the only animals bearing the offspring of a particular mate (reducing the chance that the animal and their off will be abandoned for a different mate and offspring), or that the offspring of a particular mate are all sired by them (ensuring that they are not wasting energy raising another animal's offspring)

Since we invented contraceptives, paternity tests and legally mandated child support payments, not to mention free health care and education (at least in 99% of first world countries) it seems that this drive is increasingly irrelevant.

It only remains to be seen whether jealousy is genetic, or merely cultural and traditional. A lot of people used very similar evolutionary arguments to say that women's desire to remain in the home and be pretty and slightly dim was obviously genetic in nature. Seems they were wrong. Maybe you are wrong too.
posted by emilyw at 2:48 AM on July 28


One thing I learned from the article is that the author is not polyamorous, since she took care to mention it over and over.
posted by Gelatin at 3:11 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I don't know, maybe that's why, maybe some people fear that particular kind of loss more than other kinds of loss?

The one thing that isn't evo psych is that animals (which we are) want to reproduce and have built-in systems designed to make sure that is happening. Jealousy is one of those systems.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:32 AM on July 28


The one thing that isn't evo psych is that animals (which we are) want to reproduce and have built-in systems designed to make sure that is happening.

#notallanimals
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:48 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I am not at all convinced that the premise "we are all animals who want to reproduce and we have instincts to support that end" in any way supports the conclusion that jealousy is one of those instincts. There is just too much cultural weight behind the currently-traditional two person relationship to know what comes from culture and what is "natural," whatever that means.

I am not terribly impressed with the article, but it seems to be at least attempting to address the fact that there is a wide range of behavior that people self-describe as polyamory.
posted by Nothing at 5:55 AM on July 28


This is a timely article for me. My girlfriend of 6 years has some interest in polyamory and occasionally develops crushes on other people in her life, and we're in the midst of one now. She is very open with me about these and we've set boundaries based on what I'm reasonably comfortable with, but I'm really trying not to be controlling and so I still struggle with feelings of jealousy even though I don't consider myself an especially jealous person.

It's hard but instructive to tease apart what exactly makes me feel jealous and it's interesting to read people musing on it in this thread. I don't know if I think "jealousy", as such, is a real thing. It doesn't seem like there's any real reason that people should get jealous if you don't buy the evopsych explanation, which I don't. Instead, I feel like what manifests as jealousy is actually insecurity. For me, at least, having my romantic partner demonstrate affection for or romantic interest in someone else acts like water freezing in any cracks in our relationship (and/or my own personal self-esteem) and just breaks them open wider. That process is painful, but when addressed promptly I feel like it's very instructive as to where we or I need mending. Opening up our relationship might be on the very distant horizon but first we are trying to see what she gets from other people that I might be able and even happy to provide instead. In the end I think the self-examination has been very good for our relationship, but sometimes I marvel that there are people so secure in themselves and their relationships that they can actually pull it off.
posted by valrus at 6:37 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


My experience has been that the partner with the upper hand opens up the relationship in a way advantageous to them and the other partner, afraid to leave, clueless, or insecure in some other way, goes along with it. The ones not like that tend to blow up when the deal is inevitably altered or to be a passionless expense-sharing arrangement allowing each partner to pursue other interests. Polyamory, in aggregate, is not happy or successful.
posted by michaelh at 7:18 AM on July 28


How sure are we that monogamy, in aggregate, is happy or succesful?

I'm personally not interested in polyamory. I don't think it's for me. But that doesn't mean that it can't work for others.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:22 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


My experience has been that the partner with the upper hand opens up the relationship in a way advantageous to them and the other partner, afraid to leave, clueless, or insecure in some other way, goes along with it.

I think there has been an effort by the upper-hand people to conflate "opening up a relationship" with the recently-fashionable polyamory. What you describe is very different than two people entering into a mutually-agreed upon relationship that does not involve sexual exclusivity on the part of both or either people. The latter can most definitely be happy and successful.

Trying to use "hand" to overpower your partner is a jerk move regardless of the reason and has nothing to do with how many sexual partners they have.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:43 AM on July 28


It’s a challenge for me as a husband and father to give my partners and kid enough attention, I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to add another child. There are limits to time and space.
posted by Hizonner at 7:45 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


My experience of monogamy has been that the partner with the upper hand uses it as a way to control the other partner in a way advantageous to them. The other partner, afraid to leave, clueless, or insecure in some other way, goes along with it. The ones not like that tend to blow up when the deal is inevitably altered or to be a passionless expense-sharing arrangement allowing each partner to save face or concentrate on other matters. Monogamy, in aggregate, is not happy or successful.

I have known more people who think they can handle monogamy than those who have successfully managed it.
posted by Hizonner at 7:54 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I don't think that posting ironic parodies of other people's comments is a great way to have a discussion.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:01 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]


What I would really like to know is - how do people with jobs, families, and children juggle polyamory? So many people complain that long working hours and the demands of small children cut into the time they can spend with their one spouse. I suppose it is easier if everyone lives in the same house or within walking distance, and if all partners are integrated into the family - everyone helps with the kids, the housework, and so on. But in more detached relationships, where the other partner(s) live in their own houses and are not as integrated into the spouse/kids family, something has to give. Do people cut back on their own leisure time? Do they have less demanding jobs?

It seems that to be poly, you have to really, really like people, and not need a lot of alone time. Or else you are young, childless, and have lots of energy to spare.

And yes, the "upper hand" phenomenon is worrying to me. As is what Sequence mentions, husbands deciding to spend time with "unencumbered" childless women at the expense of their own kids. Way to make your kids hate you when they get old enough to understand what is going on. Not that all poly relationships are like this, and certainly, the "upper hand" partner can and usually does do enough to make their partner miserable without having sex with others.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:01 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


"What I would really like to know is - how do people with jobs, families, and children juggle polyamory?"

I'm not sure why there's an impression that being polyamourous always involves dividing your time equally amongst all of your commitments, especially children.

A secondary relationship can involve as much -- or as little -- time both people have and want to devote to it. That could be once a week, once a month, or once a year. If you have a few hours a week or month or year to play golf or D&D or go to a meetup you have time to hang out with someone and probably (but not exclusively) have sex with them, too. They may also have to juggle work and family. It does not have to be a huge thing. There are also going to be people who are poly but don't have time for any of those extracirricular activities!
posted by Room 641-A at 8:30 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]


I should have added that there are plenty of monogamous people who don't have time for any extracurricular activities, too.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:34 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to consider how people spend time working on/in their relationships. Some people seem to spend no time at all, intentionally or unintentionally; others spend a lot of time intentionally or unintentionally. The activities that count greatly vary; e.g., for some people, sitting in the same room watching TV is valuable and for others it's a sign of a problem and they need to do something else, or it's just a neutral thing. The costs greatly vary because of this. You get good and bad results from all the approaches, though probably not equally., and while social standards influence somewhat, it's mostly a private thing that's much more governed by the people in the relationship.

It makes it difficult to figure out how others do it because you don't know what they're counting and what are their needs. Thinking about this is can be a fun part of people-watching.
posted by michaelh at 8:52 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Can we please not be so obtuse about what jealousy is?

Here's a definition for you: Jealousy is the feeling that I'm not enough for you, that your significant other doesn't find you compelling enough or attractive enough or intelligent enough to have his/her needs met by you, and seeks out someone else because you're not good enough.

And so the poly take seems to be - that's not true! Except it is, isn't it?

Poly is the embrace or realization that I'm not getting what I need from a single partner. And as part of that, it requires everyone in the relationship to acknowledge that they, alone, are "not enough."

It requires an acceptance that I will never be able to fulfill all your needs and desires. And for a person who emotionally wants to do that, and has committed to doing that, it may be a tough pill to swallow.

In the broader sense, polyamory seems to be a symptom of our increasing cultural focus on individual happiness. The broad goal, now, is not to build a prosperous, stable society - which may be impossible anyway, given political trends - but rather, "I want to be happy." Or, to boil it down even further: "I want."

There's a selfishness at the core of polyamory (though of course not just polyamory); an unwillingness to sacrifice one's own personal happiness, one's own desires. I want; I desire. And so long as everyone in the relationship is on board with this, rock on. But as alluded to many, many times in this thread, even those who CLAIM to be on board with this lifestyle, liberated from the constraints of patriarchal society, wind up feeling the pangs of that old bugaboo, jealousy. Which they told themselves they were too smart and self-aware to feel.
posted by kgasmart at 9:06 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]


It seems that to be poly, you have to really, really like people, and not need a lot of alone time. Or else you are young, childless, and have lots of energy to spare.

Actually, as a person who fits none of those descriptions, I liked poly because it gave me a lot of alone time, and I didn't have to be around a partner all the time. I was an anti-social poly, I guess. I had zero interest in knowing or meeting my partner's wife or lovers. I just liked havin' my little low-effort slice on the side (that doesn't make me sound very evolved, but it is the truth).

What kicked me out of poly, perhaps for good, was the absolutely enraging way people would talk about ethics and openness, and then continue to do what humans always do: operate in their own self-interests while carefully creating the illusion in themselves and others that they are being the bigger person. Everyone wants to think of themselves as honest and ethical; most people can pull it off as long as it doesn't involve making truly difficult sacrifices. The worst thing I saw (didn't happen to me, thank Pete) were people who would enter into poly, build rapport and trust with partners, then meet someone who swept them off their feet and decide, "Nah, I just want this one. Sorry, you other people...hey, I have the right to change my mind. If you TRULY loved me, you'd be happy for me..." I saw people get gutted by that move. It's not all that rare, either.

As someone who used to run with a crowd of con artists, and thought I had seen most of what people were capable of, I was still pretty shocked by the gamesmanship going on in the poly world. Everyone was cool and thoughtful and looking out for each other until suddenly...they weren't.

Monogamy has it's own perils, again involving human selfishness and self-interest, but I find those perils less fraught, because they are more limited in scope.
posted by nacho fries at 9:21 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]


What I would really like to know is - how do people with jobs, families, and children juggle polyamory?

I don't know - I mean, people with jobs, families and children manage to have affairs all the time, right? And that requires not only having sex with someone else, but also concealing the fact that you are having sex with someone else, which seems to be a job of work.

It seems to me that the idea that over here we have monogamous couples, who are totally monogamous, and over here we have polyamorous couples, who are operating in a totally different way, is sort of a romantic conceit for both parties. Lots of people who present as being in monogamous relationships are having sex with other people, and building that into their schedules.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:52 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]


There's a selfishness at the core of polyamory (though of course not just polyamory); an unwillingness to sacrifice one's own personal happiness, one's own desires. I want; I desire. And so long as everyone in the relationship is on board with this, rock on. But as alluded to many, many times in this thread, even those who CLAIM to be on board with this lifestyle, liberated from the constraints of patriarchal society, wind up feeling the pangs of that old bugaboo, jealousy. Which they told themselves they were too smart and self-aware to feel.

Oh, hell, yes for the bolded part says my poly self but then you totally lose me with all that babble about feeling guilty or needing to feel guilty about that. And I really don't get jealousy as in being pissed off about your partner fucking someone else, I just don't. You writing CLAIM in all caps doesn't change that. I don't care if that makes me smarter or reproductively challenged or whatever but why are so many folks so god damn bitter/in denial about what I (don't) feel.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 9:56 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I wish people would stick to either citing direct experience, or at least qualify their opinions-stated-as-facts to make it clear that they are purely speculating on something they have no actual experience with. It's not cool to tell other people that their lived experience, and how they talk about it, is just them "claiming" something. That's awfully close to gaslighting, and gaslighting stinks.
posted by nacho fries at 10:06 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]


The article's focus on triads has been much discussed, but I'm genuinely surprised there wasn't so much as a nod to the concept or "monogamish," which I believe Dan Savage popularized.

I don't know - I mean, people with jobs, families and children manage to have affairs all the time, right? And that requires not only having sex with someone else, but also concealing the fact that you are having sex with someone else, which seems to be a job of work.

Yes, absolutely. People have been having affairs -- from a once-only one night stand to a fully committed long-term relationship -- for time immemorial. Many people are not very good at being monogamous; polyamory, at least, strikes me as an attempt to acknowledge and deal with the fact openly, instead if with deceit, which itself is damaging to a relationship even if the affair itself might not be.

And I, for one, maintain that no one can be all things to their significant other; for example, my lovely wife doesn't play D&D. And that's just fine.
posted by Gelatin at 3:09 PM on July 28


I can see the appeal of a monogamish arrangement for the two people who are in the main relationship; but I'm wondering what's in it for the people who are ancillary to that relationship? Are they mostly in it for casual sex, no emotional attachment ... ? How does a person who is in the monogamish partnership respectfully and ethically make sure the "outsider" isn't being used? What happens if that person sprouts feelings? (I hope those are not insensitive or eye-rollingly "duh" questions; I'm just super curious.)
posted by nacho fries at 4:04 PM on July 28


I appreciate that some people feel like it would be a lot of work. I appreciate that some people are certain that it's not something they are interested in. I appreciate that there can be power imbalances in all kinds of relationships, including polyamorous relationships. But please try to refrain from assuming that any of those things apply to me and my relationships. The tone of this thread became fairly hostile for a while there.

There are many ways to be polyamorous, and a central couple with satellite relationships, the "open relationship" model, is only one form. In a way it's the most normative form, because it (possibly, depending on the situation, not painting everyone with this brush) privileges a "real" relationship that fits social expectations.

How do you make sure a partner who is less closely tied to you is not being used? Well, if it's casual sex with no strings, I don't really see how that is an issue, but that's not something I have a lot of experience with. As for relationships: you talk to them. You pay attention to them. You trust them to be honest with you about what they need, but you also have to be honest (with them and with yourself) about what you really have to offer in terms of time and commitment, and sometimes one of you realizes the equation doesn't balance and the relationship has to end and it hurts both of you and it's sad. But sad is not the same as treated badly or used.

I know poly people with children. I know poly people with busy work lives. I know poly people who only have long term, committed relationships - they just have several of them at once - and poly people who are only interested in being a "secondary" partner because they value their time alone very highly.

Regarding jealousy, if you define it as the fear that you are not "enough" then I would say that it is not an emotion I have ever experienced. I have never wanted to be "enough" for someone. But I don't think that is a great definition. I have felt jealousy. I've felt it when I was scared that a partner was not being honest with me. So far, I've only felt it in monogamous relationships, but I don't imagine that is indicative of anything but chance.

Nacho Fries, you mentioned that what turned you off of poly was that you saw people fall for someone and abandon their their other partner(s). That sucks, and I have no desire at all to "recruit you back" or anything like that. But it's not really a feature of polyamory any more than it is a feature of monogamy. I don't know your acquaintances or how they handled the situation, but it happens, and in my world it's a possibility that gets talked about. Poly doesn't mean you stay with everyone forever. Relationships can change, and if one changes such that you feel you have to end it, you are going to hurt someone. But you try to be honest and to at least not compound the hurt with lies and mistrust.
posted by Nothing at 5:10 PM on July 28 [4 favorites]


Actually, what I said turned me away from participating in polyamory was that people were not living up to their hype re: ethics. There was a lot of jiggery-pokery going on, couched in very pretty, high-minded language.

Earlier I said that the worst thing I witnessed were people going turncoat (dumping existing partners to be monogamous with a new partner). I take that back. The worst I witnessed, and what was attempted upon myself, was a type of grooming that was geared toward making me (and the other women involved) OK with downsampled relationships through the use of intermittent reinforcement involving doling out and denying affection strategically over time.

There is a certain type of con artistry involving seduction -- not sexual seduction, but just figuring out what a person most wants to hear, and telling them exactly that until they are "bought in", and then withdrawing that incrementally and unpredictably until they become destabilized and disoriented, and thus, an easy mark. I won't get into too many particulars, because I think it would lead to a derail, but THAT type of unsavory behavior was what made me bail before someone got hurt (and that someone would not have been me).
posted by nacho fries at 5:29 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Most of what I would want to say has been said already (or already said in the FPP i contributed last year on the subject) but I wanted to say that I thought that Showtime show was garbage of the "these people are awful i'm glad i'm not like them" variety. Skip it.
posted by softlord at 7:13 PM on July 28


Fair enough, I did not mean to misrepresent your point, I just wanted to note that having a change of heart is not necessarily incompatible with behaving in an open and ethical manner.
posted by Nothing at 10:05 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


As one who has been in poly and mono relationships, I think this article is crap and presented as titillation for non-poly readers.

Also, my anecdote: I've never (knowingly) met a poly person that doesn't experience jealousy. How the jealousy is handled varies from person to person or relationship to relationship. But they're not going to advertise those times to everyone who is already trying to pick apart their relationships.
posted by _paegan_ at 6:55 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


animals are trying to create a situation where they are certain that either they are the only animals bearing the offspring of a particular mate (reducing the chance that the animal and their off will be abandoned for a different mate and offspring), or that the offspring of a particular mate are all sired by them (ensuring that they are not wasting energy raising another animal's offspring).

Think of the bees! Won't someone think of the bees?
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:39 PM on July 31


#notallbees
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:37 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


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