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Is Polyamory Right for You? April 9, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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What is polyamory? What would it mean to become polyamorous? Polyamory is much more prevalent than you may think.

Earlier in its history, polyamory was often called non-monogamy. It was a reaction to the social norm of monogamous coupling, which to many seemed artificial and arbitrary. People began to notice that the underpinnings of so-called normal society, where people are supposed to get married and remain with only that person for the rest of their lives. This is what is expected by most, as anything else will threaten the very nature of relationships and possibly society.

Really?

Since that time, polyamory has had time to mature into a community that advocates more than just mere non-monogamy. We are a group of people that understand that relationships of all kinds already exist in our lives. When we are able to share our lives with many different people in many different ways, then we benefit greatly as a result. We have learned to share our lives in ways that eschew the assumed normality of sexual monogamy. That, and only that, is the difference between polyamory and what people think of as normal. In order to live a polyamorous lifestyle, all you have to do is to not accept the automatic assumption of monogamy as the goal of any romantic or sexual relationship.

Non-monogamy is already a part of the normal world. It’s just that the apparent distinct difference of this radical idea from what we are used to, because of its association with polygamist cults and other groups that genuinely manipulate people into non-monogamous situations, make us uncomfortable with the idea before we even know what it is. That is, we distance ourselves from non-monogamy because it seems radical and fringe. It isn’t.

The fact is that we already do this in society. We have friends who fulfill roles for us that our significant other cannot or does not. And over the years, in most relationships, there will be times when we act on our sexual desires in ways that eschew the monogamous lives that we try to pursue. I’m sure that you, my dear reader, can imagine a plethora of examples where this could happen and yet its occurrence does nothing to make you love your partner any less, but would only add to the depth of your life. If we as a society understood this, then we would not assume monogamy as the automatic value and goal of a relationship, and polyamory would feel as natural as it actually is.

Often, when faced with situations where we find ourselves drawn to someone else sexually, we may act on it in secret. And this, my friends, will almost always lead to problems in one or both of these relationships. The error is thinking that because this secretive situation is destructive, then therefore talking with your wife, husband, etc about the possibility to a sexual relationship with others will necessarily be destructive. If your relationship is built on trust, honesty, and and openness, this conversation may lead you to discover things about your relationship you didn’t know were possible.

We all have insecurities and jealousies, and these are some of the reasons why we remain monogamous. But if you and your partner are secure enough with yourselves and with the stability and strength of your relationship, you may be able to discard the assumed monogamy and discover that you are capable of a shared kind of love with others out there that can act as a boon to everyone involved. We are complex beings with various needs, and we cannot allow our insecurities to limit ourselves because of these unspoken fears. Finding one person to satisfy our every desire is exceptionally rare, I’d bet, and when it does happen I am happy to see it. But I don’t think that this ideal circumstance is most monogamous relationships look like. It seems that most couplings amount to a willingness to resign to the belief that there are certain things that we will not be able to have because our partner cannot fulfill it. We are social and sexual beings, and to impose the constraint of sexual monogamy must be explained; why do we assume this constraint in the first place?

Trying to limit ourselves to one sexual and romantic partner leads to cheating, repression, or to some form of serial monogamy. Why? Because in feeling a desire that our current partner cannot fulfill, we find someone who can in secret, we repress the desire, or we simply find someone new and dump the old. And then we often discover that there are things about our ex that we miss, and thus the cycle continues. Eventually, hopefully, we find someone who is close enough to what we really want, and we settle. We do this for the sake of the more long term goals of family, children, and a life of growing together. And with polyamory, you are able to have all of that, except that it can be shared with other people as well.

So, is a polyamorous lifestyle right for you? My guess is that there are many people out there who are already practicing some form of polyamory and don’t know it. You see, polyamory does not have to include sex to be polyamory (although it is often more fun when it does). Polyamory might mean having a very close friendship with someone besides your lover, someone who spends time with your and your lover. Perhaps they even live with you or spend their weekends with you because you love their company so much. It might mean it’s someone you would like to have a sexual relationship with, but don’t because you think that this would be damaging to your current relationship. Maybe that is true, but maybe it isn’t.

Polyamory is natural. Sharing ourselves in various ways is natural. Assuming monogamy is cultural. Repressing or secretly acting on our desires is only the result of accepting certain sexual and social mores that, upon reflection, seem unnatural. They are not unnatural (nothing is, in my opinion), but some cultural expressions make more sense when examined next to what we really desire and what we are actually capable of when we grow past our childish jealousies and insecurities.

Is polyamory right for you? I think it’s right for most people to some degree. The boundaries of any relationship will have to be discussed between all involved, and for some the result will look like monogamy and for others it will look like polyamory. Everyone has different needs, and I think that polyamory provides our world with a view of an expression of needs to many more people if they are open to the idea.

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Comments»

1. dangeroustalk - April 9, 2009

Shaun you are officially part of my polamorist relationship.

2. shaunphilly - April 9, 2009

Awesome Staks. That was exactly what I was hoping for.

3. Tomkinson - April 10, 2009

Its fascinating that every single aspect of the way YOU chose to live your life is superior to the norm. Naturally, since you’re polyamorous, anyone who isn’t is sexually repressed & unenlightened. Nonsense!

“When we are able to share our lives with many different people in many different ways, then we benefit greatly as a result.”

Everybody knows this, everybody does this you are not special.

“We have learned to share our lives in ways that eschew the assumed normality of sexual monogamy. That, and only that, is the difference between polyamory and what people think of as normal”

Right so just admit you want to have sex with more than one person at a time (nothing wrong with that) and call it polygamy or swinging. Polyamory is a meaningless fucking term.

“All you have to do is to not accept the automatic assumption of monogamy as the goal of any romantic or sexual relationship.”

Again everybody already does this, you are not special. When I was playing the field I didn’t want to settle for one woman and that was typically reciprocated by the woman I dated/mated. The same holds for just about all of my friends & acquaintances.

I don’t know anyone who, when they lost their virginity, immediately married their sex partner. People are already accustomed to serial “monogamy” (and yes most people have periods where they are seeing more than one person). Go ask people on the street what the goal of romantic relationships is and I guarantee no one will say monogamy.

Why isn’t serial monogamy superior to polyamory? Is it not possible that after sleeping with someone for a time you wish to move on sexually (there are biological reasons why passion dims) but still maintain a friendship with that ex-lover and not desire to sleep with them again? Yes of course it is. And now you can sleep with someone else and still be close with other people except not worry much about jealousy.

This is normal for most people but because you still want to sleep with your ex-lovers, or at least keep that option open, somehow you are better. Hah!

“That is, we distance ourselves from non-monogamy because it seems radical and fringe. It isn’t.”

You make insane assumptions about humans, like you’ve got it all figured out. I don’t distance myself from “non-monogamy” because its “radical” or “fringe” (Wow you really are cutting edge, aren’t you!) , its just not for me nor is it for any of the women I’ve deeply cared about. I don’t want to put the time and energy into pursuing other lovers.

Bertrand Russell pretended he was OK with polyamory but was always upset when the women in his life ended pregnant by other men, why?

“We have friends who fulfill roles for us that our significant other cannot or does not.”

Exactly, I don’t like to go clothes shopping like my wife does with her friend Bernadette, she doesn’t like to go rock climbing with me and my friend Ryan. Because we don’t wish to sleep with our friends we are inferior to the polyamorous or at the very least would have more fulfilling friendships if we did!!!?

“And over the years, in most relationships, there will be times when we act on our sexual desires in ways that eschew the monogamous lives that we try to pursue.”

Ahh, its the old whatever feels is good rule. Is it not possible that humans might be better off if we occasionally put some limits on our pursuit of pleasure? Should people eat as much as they want whenever they want? Is not possible you’re life would happier & richer if you were thinner and healthier even if it meant denying yourself some cheesecake?

Why should we assume engaging in non-monogamous sexual relations
“would only add to the depth of your life”? What evidence supports this claim? Could it not also a) not add to life’s depth or b) bring a farrago of problems? You are certainly at a wider risk of disease, unwanted pregnancy, heartache, etc. And this is under the highly unrealistic assumption that assumes you are totally free of guilt and you’re other partner free of jealously.

“The error is thinking that because this secretive situation is destructive, then therefore talking with your wife, husband, etc about the possibility to a sexual relationship with others will necessarily be destructive.”

Why might the error be in assuming you should act on whatever tickles your fancy thereby creating this secretive situation? Is it not possible that we should grow up and realize we can’t always get what we want and that that might be a good thing too? Sometimes I have the urge to get drunk at inappropriate situations, by your reasoning I should always go for it.

Its funny that a guy who prides himself on being able to think outside traditional judeo-christian programming is so governed my Hollywood’s simple messages that there’s no good in acting like an adult, no value in tradition, and no such thing as honor.

“Polyamory might mean having a very close friendship with someone besides your lover, someone who spends time with your and your lover.Perhaps they even live with you or spend their weekends with you because you love their company so much.”

So are families by their very nature polyamorous? Would filial relationships be improved If parents started sleeping with their children? Brothers sleeping with their sisters or perhaps other brothers? After all while this might seem unnatural “nothing is, in my opinion”

4. shaunphilly - April 10, 2009

you don’t really have good reading comprehension skills, it seems.

Polyamory isn’t better, it’s just what we already do to a large degree under a different set of descriptions. I’ve met many people who, upon hearing about polyamory, they react quite negatively and say that they could not do that for various reasons. Most of these reasons have to do with jealousy and insecurities. If you have not seen this, then you are not my audience.

I don’t do whatever I want, I just don’t artificially constrain what I do based on some ideal of coupling, like is prominent throughout much of society.

Why are you so adverse to me talking to people who have not realized what you apparently realize? Why does it bother you so much for me to address these things. I don’t think I’m special, I just think that many people have not thought about these things this way. You have? great. Now go and troll elsewhere.

5. gothicfeline - April 10, 2009

I disagree.

Specifically, I find that you have given “polyamory” an exceedingly broad definition, that by neccessity includes everyone. As such, it also excludes the possibility of monogamy.

Personally, I do not believe that everyone is polyamorous. I have read the writings of at least one person who self-identifies as monogamous and treats it as a sexual orientation. She is, quite simply, monogamous in her relationship with her husband. It might be worth noting that her husband is not monogamous and has other relationships. I accept the reality of her monogamy, as a sexual thing.

I have gathered from various things I have read that biochemically, humans are neither truely monogamous nor truely poly. As a species, we seem to awkwardly balance on an edge. From what I can see, this translates into individuals falling on different sides of that line. Some are monogamous. Some are not. It is what it is.

Personally, I’d like to see a lack of social expectation in either direction.

6. Tomkinson - April 11, 2009

“you don’t really have good reading comprehension skills, it seems.”

Shaun, I will bet you any amount of money you can put up, hell I’ll even give you 10-1 odds, I’ll destroy you in any intelligence contest in which you wish to engage me, especially, (and yes I know the history of the term “especially”), reading comprehension.

But beyond that you end your essay with:

“I think it’s right for everyone.”

Why? You’ve given NO evidence why this is so. Because its right for you? And you have the gall to say I’m not your audience?

I’m am atheist who questions each & every social convention & who would be fine with you and your polyamorous ilk living next door to me.(I’m sure I’d make many a drunken cameo at your sex-parties-[and yes I know polyamory isn’t about orgies or sex parties]) I’ve also unapologetically engaged in a wide variety of unorthodox sexual behavior. How could I not be “your audience” (How does one get an audience anyway?)?

The answer can only be that “Your Audience” MUST agree with you.
The prophet-hater becomes the prophet.

Any fair reading of your post will give the impression, that YOUR way of life is superior. Since you think I lack reading comprehension skills I’ll leave with this example:

“Trying to limit ourselves to one sexual and romantic partner leads to cheating, repression, or to some form of serial monogamy.”

If you can’t see why this isn’t an insult to the monogamous inclined you don’t understand yourself. If you can’t understand your own writing I’ll interpret it for you.

“If you’re not polyamorous you are destined to become a liar and vow-breaker, a marital catamite, or worse, indulgent in nearly consequence-free ephemeral sexual relationships.”

If this is trolling, its the best thing to happen to the www.

7. shaunphilly - April 11, 2009

You know, I was talking with Nicole about that today. I think I have to rethink this. I think what I was trying to say, but said very poorly, is that all of the component parts of polyamory exist in normal culture. It’s just that we don’t generally use all of the component parts in the way that poly people do. I might eventually revisit this and re-write it, but I haven’t decided yet.

I’m not trying to say that all people are polyamorous, I guess. I think it’s more that the actual practice of polyamory isn’t all that far from what many people do without ever hearing about it. I’ll think about this more and revisit it soon.

Thanks for your comments.

Yes, that goes for you too, Jon (AKA Tomkinson)

8. Mary - April 11, 2009

First, polyamory and polygamy are by definition two completely different things. That difference is marriage. Therefore, polyamory is not a useless term.

Secondly, polyamory is more than just going around humping whoever you want. It includes engaging in deep and meaningful relationships of love with more than one partner. That means worrying about multiple sets of emotions and needs. So, it’s not just about doing what feels good because it feels good. I care deeply and work hard to meet the needs both emotionally and physically of both my partners.

I don’t think that polyamory is able to be practiced by everyone, though in theory it could. We have had the misfortune(?) of being born into a society which decrees monogamy as the predominant relationship. That breeds jealousy because you feel that your partner is yours and yours alone. You feel threatened when you see potential competition talking to what is yours. For many people it is hard to overcome the automatic reactions of what society has taught you (and for some people maybe what their personalities disposition them to react but I’m still mostly and environmental psychologist).

The two partners that are I have in my life mean the world to me and I couldn’t imagine life without either of them. I wish everyone could experience the way that I feel. Being able to love who I love without worrying about jealousy or fear and guilt that comes with being worried that I am going to be found out going behind my husband’s back to have an affair.

9. samantha - April 12, 2009

A fascinating debate I will share with my readers at http://notyourmothersplayground.com.

It is true that we have many different people in our lives, often not sexual, that fulfill different needs that we may have.

I consider myself to simply be in an open relationship. I’m very much married to my husband, but I love others that I both sleep with and don’t. Maybe that makes me poly, but I prefer to keep my labels on my soup.

10. Is Polyamory Right For You? Link. « Not Your Mother’s Playground - April 12, 2009

[…] Read the post here. […]

11. Tomkinson - April 14, 2009

My reading comprehension skills are fine, essentially perfect. Since you seem to have noticed that some of your post is unclear or underdeveloped I’ll spare you the cocky response I originally wrote that was erased.

If you are interested here is what makes my initial interpretation valid:

If you say “polyamory is right for everyone” then their are only two possible corollaries with respect to monogamy that can be derived from this proposition.

1. Polyamory and monogamy are essentially equal in their suitability as mating strategies for the whole of our species i.e. they are equal.

2. Monogamy isn’t right for everyone, i.e. its not as good for some therefore polyamory is in some sense the better of these two mating strategies at least as applied to the whole of our species.

Now since you tried to say in your response “Polyamory isn’t better” you are denying 2. That leaves 1 as the only other option. As against this I would cite the following sets of statements:

A. We all have insecurities and jealousies, and these are some of the reasons why we remain monogamous. But if you and your partner are secure enough with yourselves…you are capable of a shared kind of love with others out there that can act as a boon to everyone involved.

B. Polyamory is natural… Assuming monogamy is cultural…some cultural expressions make more sense when examined next to what we really desire and what we are actually capable of when we grow past our childish jealousies and insecurities.

Your post clearly favors polyamory, and thats fine. Its your atheist, polyamorous, geek blog after all. Don’t avoid my counterarguments by saying that you don’t favor it. And I submit if you don’t understand what you yourself wrote you are the one with a lack of reading comprehension skill.

And whats with calling me a troll? Why does everybody call me that? I don’t think people know what a troll is. From the ever-reliable wikipedia a troll is someone who pots

“controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic material.”

You cannot say I don’t stick to the topic so you’re wrong there and how ironic & absurd is it for a polyamorous atheist to call (critical) defenses of religious belief & monogamy controversial or inflammatory!?

Do I not raise thoughtful objections? Is this blog meant to be a one-sided argument? My tone may be acerbic sometimes (as it has to be when dealing with figurative children) but I keep the personal attacks to a minimum and there are other issues I would bring to bear on this discussion that I don’t in the interests of comity and privacy.

12. shaunphilly - April 14, 2009

Tommy, Tommy, Jonny, Tommy…

You may not have noticed that I made a few changes to the original post. It no longer says that “polyamory is right for everyone” as of a couple of days ago. The reason is that I have rethought this careless statement and tried to change the tone of the post to say that polyamory is a viable option because the component parts of what it takes to be polyamorous already exist within our culture.

Polyamory is natural for some people, I think. I also think that many people who assume that monogamy is the assumed goal would be happier polyamorous. I think that many people try to repress or otherwise ignore their desires in order to maintain monogamy, and possibly they have never really thought about the alternatives. I find this odd that people don’t automatically challenge themselves on basic cultural assumptions, as I generally always do.

And of course I favor polyamory. It’s why I’m poly myself. I never tried to pretend to be objective here. Not only do I consider that to be impossible, I find the attempt here to be silly, as it is indeed my blog.

You are correct about the “troll” thing. You are not a troll in the correct usage of the term. You are not quite a “flamer” either. You do seem quite angry and possibly obsessed with me.

(Will he take this too seriously too?)

13. What happens in Atlantic City… « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic - April 11, 2011

[…] about the nature of marriage in our largely heteronormative and monogamous culture.  (This is a subject I have written about before).  It got me thinking about the expectations, insecurities, and fears […]


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