Tuesday, July 12, 2011

{He Says/She Says} On Polyamorous Relationships

Before my current relationship I had no idea of all the different ways a partnership could take form. Sure, I'd heard about swinging and open relationships, about polygamy and how practically every guy yearns for threesomes, but those were all terms said in jest and without knowing what the differences were or all the variations that exist in between. Since dating A., I've not only learned and appreciated the different ways a loving relationship could exist, but also questioned my own traditional upbringing on what a relationship should look like.

A few friends of ours introduced me to the world of polyamory in which couples are free to fall in love with others and it's been interesting watching other's experiences with that lifestyle. Although A. and I have no interest in pursuing relationships with other people (one is quite enough for the both of us), we openly talk about our thoughts on the subject - and other varieties of intimate relationships - fairly frequently. And with news that the polygamous stars of TLC's reality show Sister Wives are filing a lawsuit Wednesday against Utah to make their lifestyle legal, we thought we'd chime in on the subject. Here's what we each have to say about polyamory.

{He says} Polyamory can mean a lot of things, depending on the situation. A couple may incorporate a third (unicorn) into their already-strong relationship, or one member of the couple may maintain extra-curricular "dating" relationships outside of their main one. Further, relationships could hypothetically span a wide range of people, each having their own bond with one another. The trend, though, is not toward stability.

Because polyamory is only starting to spread, I hesitate to make a general statement about it that might offend its staunch supporters, but alas, I must be honest. The only successful long-term polyamorous relationships I've seen have been triads that start out as a solid companionship between two people. Every other aspect of polyamory that I've seen has been fleeting and temporary. That isn't to say that it can't happen, but the lifestyle lends itself more to exploration than longevity.

Personally, the thought of kindling another relationship on top of the one I already have makes my palms sweat. Maybe I'd feel differently if Dorkys wasn't such a handful. Who knows? As it is, I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to flirt and play with others together with no strings, but franchising the relationship would stretch my resources too thin.

{She says} My first thoughts when I hear about polyamorous relationships deal with jealousy. How don't the people involved feel threatened? I'm sure it could work, but only if every link in the chain is safe, honest and checks their ego at the door otherwise girls will end up crying when he spends more time with one instead of the other. Or at least I know I would.

I also wonder how deeply they can all love one another in the initial stages. Where do they find the time and energy it takes to build something meaningful in multiple relationships? I know some poly people feel restricted by idea that once you fall in love with someone, you're forbidden to feel the same for another person. I understand that, but at the end of the day, I like having my one go-to person and learning how to compromise and figure out the puzzle that is this sole relationship. Because I've no other choice (other than breaking up and finding someone else, of course), I'm forced to learn what makes him tick, what ticks me off and how we can become a better fit for each other. This isn't to say other things are off limits, just that at the end of it all, we'd rather just come home to each other.

Still, it's beautiful to see people pursuing and giving love with no qualms about what society deems appropriate or not and I admire their ability to put aside any insecurities to do so. The first time I attended one of their events, I smiled at the thought that everyone's just trying to find what suits them and makes them happy whether it'd be for the moment or something long-lasting. It's obviously not for everyone, but just because it's not doesn't mean it's wrong.

What do you think about polyamory? What would it take for a consensual non-monogamous relationship to truly work?

Images: informationisbeautiful.net and tacit.livejournal.com


  1. Ah, Dorkys! This post is like one of the best of "Dry as Toast" of the "old days" (pre A.) Such a thought-provoking (and provocative topic!)

    While I can't personally see myself in a more than one non-relationship (meaning alone)... I've for live and let live.

    Sister Wives is an interesting situation.

    I think, looking back in time an into the early days of history, one will find that "marriage" is a LEGAL construct - and not a RELIGIOUS one. When the Judeo-Christian(-Islamic) "law" was developed, it was incorporated into religion - I think (personal opinion here) primarily to scare the great unwashed, uneducated, superstitious mob into "obeying" the law or else (God would be wrathful).

    Unfortunately, thousands of years later and in the USA, the demand for separation of church and state (which is a GOOD thing) means that discussion of marriage and the legal quagmire formulated by 50 states is complicated and convoluted. And almost entirely unnecessarily so....

    Stripping away the uncalled for religious trappings - the legal constructs were put in place to deliniate property and inheritance.

    As usual, given time and politicians, we've made a huge mess of things.

  2. Hi! Interesting to hear both of your views on Polyamory.

    Jealousy has definitely a big issue at some point in my relationship. The key to dealing with this has been communication, communication, and more communication. We work through the issue together and most importantly have patience with one another, and we usually come through stronger in the end.

    I have a couple of friends who have had very successful polyamorous relationships that have a more complex build than a triad. A triad is definitely a lot simpler to deal with, but I believe it can be done. I would also like to add that poly relationships are just like normal relationships. Break ups most of the time aren't linked to the fact that the persons involved are polyamorous. Sometimes, things just end.

    Any who, just adding my two cents. Great stuff!

  3. As for the long-term viability of polyamorous relationships, I challenge the notion that they're any more or less stable than monogamous relationships. Relationships live or die based on the level of communication between all participants regardless of their makeup. The polygamous relationship I'm in now has lasted for five years, which is longer than the three years of my monogamous marriage. Why? Because my polygamous relationship has better communication than my monogamous marriage ever did, in spite of my best efforts. Honesty is far more important to long-term stability than the number of people involved.

    Jealousy is always a factor in any relationship, even sometimes the non-romantic ones. I find that jealousy arises from the curious notion that people can be considered property, and if you feel you slighted by someone's attentions toward someone else, jealousy will arise. The secret to this is, again, communication. My now ex-wife was jealous of my once-a-month gaming group, because she felt they were gaining a measure of attention from me that she felt was supposed to be reserved exclusively to her. She was frequently of the opinion that when I disagreed with her, it was because I refused to comprehend her position.

    This is a common theme whenever I talk about relationships, monogamous or polyamorous or whatever: communication is vital. You have to trust the people you're with to be able to handle whatever you need to communicate with them. You can't expect them to read your mind and understand that you might be uncomfortable with something, or that you hope to accomplish something even though you never told them. I challenge you to find an unsuccessful relationship of any type that didn't involve a breakdown of communication ("we used to talk all the time, but that faded away") or a successful relationship that doesn't include frequent and honest communication.

    Polyamory isn't for everyone, so I certainly won't recommend it as a silver bullet for anything. But neither is monogamy appropriate for everyone. Whatever you discover is right for you, the way to make it work is to pursue good communication. Learn what your partner(s) are thinking and feeling. Find out what they want and what they need. And just as importantly, don't hesitate to express what you think and feel. When you come into conflict (and it will happen, sooner or later), remember that you're together by choice and don't assume that you're being slighted or that offense is deliberate. People don't always have to agree on everything, no matter the nature of their relationship.

  4. Personally, I can't comprehend developing true intimacy and trust in a polymorphous relationship. So for me, it's a hell-to-the-no proposition.

    But that isn't to say it doesn't work for other people. I'm certainly not interested in telling other people what to do or how to love.

  5. My thoughts?

    If that's what they want to do, and that's what makes them happy... Fine. But it's not for me. I don't share my man!

  6. intense guy, thanks! I'm really trying to get back into writing more insightful posts. It's much for fulfilling when I can start a discussion and contribute something new to the chatter.

    I've never seen "Sister Wives" myself, but have heard just a few things about it and what the actors have been going through since appearing on the show. The husband says only his first marriage is legal while his other two are spiritual commitments so I'm failing to see how this union could lead to prison time. (Supposedly if you've been married a long time and have kids the non-marriage can be classified as a common-law marriage. The government makes my head spin sometimes.) So not only can I not marry certain people under their actual rules, but there are also other oddball ones that prevent me from additionally exchanging vows with someone else under an old oak tree somewhere if it leads to a long, fruitful marriage? Yeah, it's all about politics, money and keeping people in line. I'm sure some ignorant people out there are using the same tired and ridiculous argument, "If you let gay people marry and multiple unions then what's next? Marrying animals?!" But I'm getting ahead of myself because this is just about acceptance and learning about other forms of relationships.

    And even though most of us say we're open-minded and accepting of other lifestyles, I wonder what my more traditional friends and family would think if I say, "Meet my boyfriend and his girlfriend and our boyfriend." Raised eyebrows and whispers would definitely be going on. My parents would think that was a total joke.

    dya., oy, patience is huge! Both with yourself and with each other. Sometimes we forget that your partner is a whole other person who doesn't think and react like you. So talking things out is great for figuring each other out, but so is giving each other time and space to grow and learn how to be great for each other.

  7. spaceghoti, first off, thanks for such an incredibly thoughtful comment. I really enjoyed reading your take on it. I completely agree that communication is key no matter what kind of relationship you have. Maybe we feel that polyamorous relationships seem a bit more volatile only because there a lot more hands in the kitchen so to speak. It's sometimes a challenge to know what the one other person in the relationship is feeling, thinking, dealing with that imagining that times two or three, each with their own issues and needs, seems so hard (for us at least).

    If communication is vital in a monogamous relationship, then constantly talking things out and knowing where everybody stands is even more important when multiple people are intimately involved with each other.

    I'm glad you said that your current polyamorous relationship is more successful than your previous monogamous relationship because you're communicating better and NOT because humans are programmed to want to be with more than one person, etc. I've heard people that stake before and it just makes me feel like they see us as the "weird" ones for thinking this is what would make us happy. Yes, there are plenty of breakups, unhappy couples and divorces to go around, but like you said, maybe there was a breakdown in communication or perhaps that particular match wasn't the best fit for them.

    And yes, I have to admit, whenever jealousy arises it's because I feel offended (even if the other person didn't mean it), insecure or as if he "owes" me something. I find that when I let go of some of the expectations I place on him/our relationship, that things go a lot more smoothly.

    mandy_fish, it's definitely not for everyone and it seems to take a lot of breaking down pre-conceived notions of what's "normal and not." But whatever, it doesn't affect or concern me how somebody else wants to experience love during our very short time on earth so I say do whatever makes you happy as long as you're not in it with bad intentions.

    toriz, to each their own right? I also think like that sometimes, in terms of "mine" and "yours," but have learned to be a little less strict with it. Just a little though.

  8. I don't personally understand how these relationships work or why anyone would want to be in one. I mean, I can't seem to find a guy and the idea of having to share one when I find him is VERY unappealing.

    But I've seen these types of relationships work and work well. Not in the evil and damaging way that the FLDS church practices, but in the Sister Wives sort of way. I think if people are happy and not doing anything harmful, why should I care?

  9. karen, eh, different people are fulfilled by different things. We might not be able to put ourselves in their shoes to understand why those things make them happy, but at the end of the day it's their life, right? Ha, yes, I know the feeling of wanting to hold on tight to whomever you've found after searching for so long. But where we might have issues with sharing, others might actually see that as loving the person so much and being so secure in the relationship, that they can let go of the grip. There has to be A LOT of trust for that to work though.

    And it's just my opinion, but I think it'd work best if both partners were into seeking other relationships rather than one staying home while the other is seeing other people.

    As for those churches/cults that allow the marriage/sexual abuse of underage girls and brainwash followers to believe that this is necessary, I still haven't been able to wrap my head around how this happens.


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