What has contentedness with monogamy got to do with polyamory?

I’m happy with my relationships.  Not directly related to this, however, is the fact that I’m not looking to meet anyone right now.  That is, I’m not actively seeking new partners right now, but its not merely because I’m happy.

There are women I’m interested in, to varying degrees, with whom I interact somewhat frequently but I either do not have any reason to believe my interest is reciprocated, or I know that this interest is not, in fact, reciprocated.  But I’m OK with that, because I’m not really looking anyway.  That may change at some point, but right now I’m content with the number of relationships I have.

Yesterday I was reflecting on this happiness and this contentment and it occurred to me that this was a feeling I had had while monogamous, in the past.  There were times, when exclusively committed to a girlfriend, where I had periods of genuine happiness with my life and contentedness with the nature of my relationship.  And this, in context to where I am now, made me realize two things about some of the reactions I hear from monogamous people upon being confronted with the possibility of polyamory.

The first is that that sense of happiness, when in a monogamous relationship,  does not imply that a person is built for monogamy, necessarily.  That would be mis-attributing the source of the happiness to the structure, rather than the contents, of their relationship.  Such a person, being happy and content with their monogamous relationship, could still pursue polyamory and be equally (and possibly more) satisfied with that alternative to sexual and romantic exclusivity.  The feeling of contentment with one’s relationships does not have to mean that one must merely tread the cultural water of mono-normativity, because perhaps being content, or even happy, is not always enough to stop the pursuit of each.  There are many potentialities in life which too many people miss because they are merely content where they are.  Perhaps they are capable of more, and don’t pursue more because they are merely ‘content’ or ‘happy enough.’

I call ‘bullshit’ on that.

A monogamous person who is happy with their partner may, in other words, be interested in other people but much like with other aspects of our lives (such as where faith comes in), be subject to confirmation bias when it comes to attributing that contentment to their exclusive relationship per se.  That is, they remember all the great aspect of the commitment they have (remember, commitment does not imply exclusivity), but forget all the times they have desires to love—erotically, romantically, etc—another person.  They feel a general contentment but may be mis-appropriating that contentment to the nature of the relationship, rather than the person they are with.  And being with other people does not (necessarily) take anything away from that great relationship, now does it?

If you answered yes, you are delusional.  Exclusivity does not a better relationship make, and loving two (or more) people does not necessarily diminish the love you have for any one of them.  If you really believe that then I will file you next to the creationists in terms of being un-attached to reality.

While I’m not actively pursuing anyone right now, or even feel a strong impulse to do so, I may in the future.  Hell, I might start doing so tomorrow, for all I know.   And this does not necessarily mean that my relationships are broken or that I’m lacking anything from my current partners, it just may mean that I might meet someone really awesome (as I did when I met Gina) or that variety in itself may be valuable to me (it is, just not all the time).

In short, I’m open to the fact that what I may want, need, etc will probably change throughout my life, and I want to keep my life open to all those possibilities out there (and, more importantly, I want to keep those opportunities open for those close to me).  And if someone else, say some monogamous person I’m explaining polyamory to, were to take their contentment at any given time  as a sign that the structure of their relationship is the cause of that contentment, then they are making a leap in logic which is not warranted.

The awesomeness of people bring us happiness and contentment, not how many of them you are romantically/sexually involved with.  How can adding more awesome people to your life be anything but, well, awesome?

I am not content because I’m polyamorous (again, per se), I’m content because the people I’m closest to are amazing, beautiful, and satisfying people.  In my case there just happen to be two of them who are willing to share me, but if their happened to just be one (or three) that would be awesome and contentment-inspiring.  But if I were monogamous, perhaps still married to Ginny, knowing and being around someone like Gina and wanting her constantly would NOT be a position of contentment for me.  And if I were monogamous thusly and intended to stay that way, I would therefore have to avoid being around someone like Gina (who I just can’t help but love) if I wanted to maintain the illusion of perpetual contentment with my hypothetical monogamy.

And this is what I think many monogamous people are doing; they are content often (perhaps very often), attribute that contentment to the exclusivity itself (hopefully tying it to the awesomeness of their partner), and ignoring or pretending that their extra-relationship desires don’t exist or would destroy that contentment by some magic unknown to me.  So they go on convincing themselves that monogamy is better for them, that polyamory would not work for them, etc while the truth very well may be that they would be happier being polyamorous if they were just willing to do the work.

This is why polyamory is superior.  Not because being with more than one person is better per se, but because being polyamorous, even while only involved with one person at any given time, allows open-ended pursuits of happiness and contentment rather than keeping us deluded that we are content in circumstances where we are unnecessarily limited, romantically and sexually.

Are you content with your monogamous relationship? Fine, what does that have to do with polyamory?

Relationship Agnosticism: process over teleology

In conversations with people over the years, I have been asked, in a myriad of ways, if I think that polyamory is better than monoamory.  Do I think that being polyamorous is better (necessarily or generally) than monoamory?

I’ve dealt with the question before, but I want to take a different approach–a different perspective–on the question today.  I don’t think that polyamory, per se, is better.  I do think many of the skills and lessons that being polyamorous has taught me are superior, but those same lessons could, potentially, be learned while being monoamorous.  What I have come to see as superior is not the ends–not how many romantic, sexual, etc partners one has–but the process of how we get to those ends.

Process over teleology, in short.  Let me explain.

I’ve talked a fair bit about my annoyance that being with one person, even if that monoamory is not the short-term goal, is the mainstream default ultimate goal.  While young and dating, many people will date two or more people within the same time-frame, but the ultimate goal in our culture is to find one person to either settle with or to convince yourself that this one person is all that you need romantically and sexually.  And sometimes it ends up being true, whether for several years or a lifetime, but this model of relationships is not universally ideal.

The problem here is that this approach to relationships is teleological, which means it’s concerned with the ends, rather than the means or the process.  It views the purpose of relationships as being concerned with a set goal (or set of goals) which all current relationships should aspire to.  We should be tying to find a single life-partner, because that’s what real love is or something.  If you are not interested in that, then you might not find happiness, or you may even be doing something wrong.

Let’s take a couple of basic examples; Let’s say that you have been with someone for 5 years and are not married yet, and not considering marriage.   For many people you are doing something wrong, the relationship is a dead end, and you may need to find someone else you are ready to be serious with.  Marriage, monogamy really, is the goal for many people, and if that ring doesn’t present itself, then move on (that’s the wisdom, anyway).  Or maybe you don’t have a single partner for very long, whether serially monogamous or you keep dating more than one person simultaneously.  In this case, the common wisdom says that you might have commitment issues (which may be true), because if you were ready to commit you would stop playing the field and finally become an adult, or something.  In short, if you are not in a monogamous marriage, in a relationship moving towards monogamy, or even looking for that, then you are doing it wrong.

The problem here is not that finding one person to spend your life with is bad per se.  The issue is not about where you end up, the issue is how you were thinking about your desires, emotional and physical needs, and whether you were getting what you actually want from relationships rather than thinking about a default and expected end.

If you have read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, you will see this default set of relationship expectations turned on it’s head.  Here’s a snippet from chapter 3:

Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. But there were also husbands, wives, lovers. There were also monogamy and romance.

“Though you probably don’t know what those are,” said Mustapha Mond.

They shook their heads.

Family, monogamy, romance. Everywhere exclusiveness, a narrow channelling of impulse and energy.

“But every one belongs to every one else,” he concluded, citing the hypnopædic proverb.

The students nodded, emphatically agreeing with a statement which upwards of sixty-two thousand repetitions in the dark had made them accept, not merely as true, but as axiomatic, self-evident, utterly indisputable.

“But after all,” Lenina was protesting, “it’s only about four months now since I’ve been having Henry.”

“Only four months! I like that. And what’s more,” Fanny went on, pointing an accusing finger, “there’s been nobody else except Henry all that time. Has there?”

Lenina blushed scarlet; but her eyes, the tone of her voice remained defiant. “No, there hasn’t been any one else,” she answered almost truculently. “And I jolly well don’t see why there should have been.”

“Oh, she jolly well doesn’t see why there should have been,” Fanny repeated, as though to an invisible listener behind Lenina’s left shoulder. Then, with a sudden change of tone, “But seriously,” she said, “I really do think you ought to be careful. It’s such horribly bad form to go on and on like this with one man. At forty, or thirty-five, it wouldn’t be so bad. But at your age, Lenina! No, it really won’t do. And you know how strongly the D.H.C. objects to anything intense or long-drawn. Four months of Henry Foster, without having another man–why, he’d be furious if he knew …”

Some may think that this is the polyamorous ideal (and for some it may be), but this, as a societal norm, is equally problematic because it discounts the possibility that some people, few or many as they are, may not want more than one person (or anyone at all, for that matter).  This commits the same error as our current culture as being more concerned with the goal than how one gets to where we get.


Process-oriented relationships

What do you want?

I mean, what do you desire?

This may not be as easy a question as you think it is.  The reason is that many of our wants are a result of the acculturation we receive as we grow up.  We are guided towards the social and cultural ideals of the world we live in, if not out-right trained or programmed (in some extreme cases), which informs the kinds of answers that come to mind when asked what we want.  When I ask you what you want, here, I’m not asking you what your long term goals are, what you hope to achieve, and especially not what you think you should want.  No, in this case I’m asking what you desire, generally and right now, from people around you.

What types of interactions do you desire with people?

What we actually desire may conflict with the cultural norms around us, and when those things conflict we may find that we automatically, or possibly feel compelled to, lean towards the norm rather than the desire (and for many the opposite is true as well, but that’s an error I’ll not address right now).  People who find themselves attracted to their own gender may pretend otherwise, especially if they are bisexual, due to religious or cultural expectations which devalue homosexuality and bisexuality (especially for men).

If you find yourself desiring two or more people, in our culture the appropriate thing to do is to spend time with all of them, in order to determine which one you will pick, or to simply decide which to pursue so as to avoid conflicts or jealousy.  But this is absurd from a point of view where one is agnostic concerning where one ends up.

If you are not very concerned about what is expected of you from your culture, and you rather follow what you actually desire, then there is no reason to openly, un-apologetically, and unabashedly pursue all of the people whom interest you.  And you should then stay with the people with whom you share some mutually-pleasurable relationship, whether it be purely physical, purely romantic, purely friendly, or any combination thereof.  You should not be concerned about what expectations there are whether from your culture, society, religion, or family.   You should pursue what you want with concern only for the people with whom you have relationships.

In short, love each person as you actually love them, no more and no less.

And wherever that takes you, whether monoamoryy, polyamory, or some other non-monoamorous option, that’s fine.  If you end up being with one person for the rest of your life, then fine (that’s what I call “Accidental monoamory/ monogamy“) and if you end up being with 25 people (to varying degrees or not), that’s fine too.  The point is not to be perpetually strategizing what type of lifestyle you will have, but to simply allow your relationships to go where they naturally lead according to the desires that everyone involved has.

Of course, you should be transparent about this; you should not claim to be exclusive while not being exclusive, for example.  You need to pursue your desires with care and consideration for the people with whom you have relationships.

To sum up, polyamory is not better per se, although I think that what people can learn from polyamory might raise our cultural consciousness about the nature of desire and relationship possibilities which most people don’t consider.  I don’t necessarily want everyone to be polyamorous, but I think everyone should be aware that monoamory is not the only healthy option.  If we allow our actual desires to fuel our pursuit of love and sex, I think many more people will find options more like polyamory, rather than automatically and unthinkingly choose monoamory out of cultural habit.

That moment when you realize that you are really into that single but not-polyamorous girl…

So, you know that trope about the guy who is into the straight guy (or girl who is into the straight girl)?


So, people who are not really familiar or comfortable with polyamory, or who explicitly say they don’t think they can or want to get involved with polyamory themselves (whether their reasons are well articulated or not), are perhaps the kind of people in whom it might not be smart to become interested.  Especially if you have any reason to believe that if you were not polyamorous, and you were single, they would potentially be into you.  Also if you are really attracted to them, and you somehow cannot help but keep talking with them knowing all that is the case.  You know, because we are always rational and wise beings, with our ability to control of motivations, who we’re into, and all that jazz.

You see, sometimes when you are in such a predicament, you get to that point where you realize that you are being sucked into that hole; you know that hole where under any reasonable set of circumstances you would feel happy, elated, giddy even.  Except in this case, rather than cutesy giddiness you end up feeling like the only response that makes sense is to stare blankly at the wall (or computer monitor or whatever) and say to yourself “well, shit, this is going to suck,” while you secretly, deep down, hope that it will not.

You know, that delusional part of you deep down where neither love, lust, nor respect are ever unrequited.

But also in there, perhaps deeper or perhaps of similar depth but like to the side or something (my knowledge of depth psychology is obviously not, ahem, deep) you know it probably is just going to end up with a (figurative, hopefully) kick in the stomach.  You know that it’s probably a terrible idea to keep hope alive for any romantic, sexual, or even heavy-make-out-esque relationship, but you also know ridding yourself of such hope will be quite difficult and painful.

You, of course, have already made it clear what your goals and desires are, and they have respectfully rejected the proposition and you move on to talk about other things.  Other non-romantic or sexy things.  You have told them that you are attracted to them, you talk about polyamory a little and they are uncertain (at best) about it, and then you go on and have a friendly conversation with them.  Because you really do like talking with them and you can have a good time as platonic, non-sexual, friends with them…or something.

Because you totally can just pretend that you don’t find them very sexually attractive and just be friends.  Because you are a decent person who doesn’t need to have sex with someone just because that’s what you want…like what you really, really want…and be just a friend to them because you like them and they are a god person and because you have stuff in common and because that’s the decent thing to do, dammit!


So, Wes wrote about being friendzoned recently, and I agree with what he said pretty much, but this situation is different than what he explained there.  This is a situation where the intentions of both parties are clearly stated, but still one finds himself (it is me we’re talking about, after all) with a friend, and not a lover.  And while I am happy to be friends, there is that moment when I realize that the attraction is a little bit more than merely physical, and there is nothing I can do about it.

It’s one of the things that really sucks about being polyamorous in a monoamorous-dominant world.  Because it’s one thing for someone to not be into you, but it’s quite another when they might be into you, but it does not matter because you have other women (or men, or both) in your life.  It makes one ponder what the world would be if we all were polyamorous, or at least poly friendly.  It makes me, specifically, yearn for a world where polyamory was not so strange, so uncomfortable, so radical.

Then there is that little voice that, in the back of your mind, whispers little things to you like “just wait, she’ll change her mind” or “she really is into you, she’s just not sure about the poly thing; she’ll get over it!”  But, that’s a tricky road to navigate, because it’s probably a delusional little voice.  While that voice might keep that flame alive, that flame might just burn you as well as a potential friendship unnecessarily.

Then there is the other voice, the one that says “dude, you are just infatuated.  Even if she changed her mind you would have like a month of really hot sex, and then what? Can you expect a monoamorous girl to first get involved with you then accept the potential role of being your close friend who you used to have sex with a lot? perhaps even still do occasionally? That’s a lot to transition to from a monoamorous worldview.”  And that voice, while possibly also wrong (because who knows? she might end up being a long term girlfriend!), has a point.  Because a friend who I have sex with is not a stretch of the imagination for me; a polyamorous, sex-positive, slut.  But for someone who has a different set of experiences, that might be destructive, hurtful, and it might preclude the possibility of a friendship continuing.

It’s so much easier when all you’re interested in is sex, because in that case when the rejection comes you can just move on and not worry about it.

So, what to do? What do you do when you realize that being platonic friends with someone may be too hard for you, even if the friendship itself will almost certainly be rewarding in itself? I mean, I know monogamorous people deal with this all the time (and for them, I advise them to just get over it already and be polyamorous, knowing most won’t), but monoamorous people are generally used to suppressing such desires. That’s why cheating is so rare.  Right.

Ugh….  Having a conscience sucks sometimes.

It sucks because in such situations you really do want to be friends with them, but you also know that the attraction will sit there between you the whole time.  You can try and keep it away from your conversations with them, but it will poke it’s head out now and then to remind you, and possibly her, that it’s still there.

Of course, then you realize that you’ve had a couple of drinks and you are tired, and that is potentially skewing how you feel.  So maybe you should just sleep on it.  Perhaps tomorrow you’ll feel differently.

Yeah, that’ll work!

Well, good night then.

Poly date night

People do polyamory in a plethora of possible ways.

Some people rarely if ever spend time with their partners’ partners, but keep their relationships separate.  Others, like us weird people, spend a fair amount of time together.  Date night is no exception. 

So, last night I came hone from work to find Ginny hard at work on dinner.  OK, that’s not quite true.  I found Ginny at her quite disorganized desk, in a bathrobe, watching something (probably dumb) on netflix.  Same difference.

In any case, I was sent to start water boiling (I am actually quite a good cook, so this is really under-using me in the kitchen, but nonetheless it was a necessary first step).  After a few minutes, Gina and Wes arrived, earlier than Ginny expected.  Ginny then appeared from upstairs to greet all and sundry and eventually she continued with dinner prep.

Chicken parm, a bottle of red wine (drank, by Gina and I, in orca wine glasses of course!), and some conversation was enjoyed by all four of us.  We followed that with adorable cupcakes that looked like monkeys which I bought from a bake sale at work. 

Then Ginny and Wes went out for bourbon while Gina and I stayed in for a while (Bible-reading, of course) for a couple of hours before going to get a beer (or two, in my case), at the Resurrection Ale House down the street (a theme might be deduced from this…but no, we are not becoming Christians).

Chemistry, cosmology, and quantum mechanics are discussed.  What do people usually talk about at bars? Stop looking at me like that! Whatever, we are smart…or pretentious.  One of those.

Finally, after some time (space, and dimension too!) Ginny and Wes met us at the Ale House as we finished our beers.  Our re-assembling into a four-some, with various affectionate greetings seemingly went unnoticed by the others at the bar (at least it seemed that way) and then Gina and Wes went home, dropping Ginny and I off on their way by the house.

In the end, I go to bed (with a touch of the drunk from two very good ales I had with Gina) with Ginny and the morning comes early. 

This all seems so normal to me.  I imagine this would seem rather abnormal to other people.  This was a pretty typical evening with the four of us (Jessie was elsewhere last night), and it does not seem odd at all.

Polyamory really is not very radical a practice, once you get yourself past the strange non-monogamy thing.

Being polyamorously single

It is not a position I would have anticipated being in at this point.  Boy meets girl, girl meets boy’s girlfriend, girlfriend and girl get along and become friends.  Boy dates girl, boy falls in love with girl, girlfriend breaks up with boy, boy stays with girl.  Girl gets job in Atlanta, plans on moving there, and boy decides to go with her to start a new life.  Change in location causes anxiety, frustration, fear, and girl very suddenly breaks up with boy, moves out, and cuts off contact with boy.  Boy is alone, sad, and in a new place where he knows few.  Boy is still polyamorous, but he hurts too much now to love.  Boy is polyamorously single.

Becoming single while polyamorous

It can be difficult, being single.  Several years back I decided I was going to be single.  I had ended an awful relationship with a girl named Lauren whom had ruined me financially and decided I needed time to heal.  For more than a year I did not date at all, and eventually discovered that I was capable of being alone and happy.  The happy part took a while, but it came.

Eventually I met a girl, Amanda, and began dating again.  She was moving to Denver, and we had little time together.  It was intense, and I decided to spend the summer with her in Colorado.  That lasted a week.  Perhaps it should have been then that I should have taken the lesson that moving to a new city, even if only temporarily, to be with a person that you have not known very long but care about deeply is not a good idea.  Perhaps it is a good idea in some cases, but I’m now zero-for-two.

But all of that was before I was actively polyamorous.  When the girl I was living with broke up with me last year I had another wonderful girl to hold me at night and console my great pain.  It softened it, but it still hurt.  But not this time.  This rime she was my sole love, and when she left….

For now, the project is to move on.  I know that the pain, regrets, and sleepless nights will eventually pass.  I know that I will love again, eventually.  But in the midst of such circumstances, it is hard to keep these pieces of knowledge present in thought.

But, then the obvious question; how to be polyamorous? I mean, when a single person who is ready to date and wants to be polyamorous, how do you start?  When I am ready to move on, where will I begin? As a single heterosexual poly, I will address this question from my point of view.  My experience as a gay or bisexual poly is severely limited as is my experience as a female of any kind being polyamorous.  Thus you may have to fill in some gaps for circumstances other than my own.

The Single’s scene

Meeting single women and telling them you are polyamorous, even if it is after the second or third date, may not be the wisest course of action.  Telling them after you’ve been dating for a while is probably much worse. Telling them up front does not always mean that even if they don’t run away screaming things will be alright in the long run.

Most people don’t know what polyamory is, and when they hear the word, they are more likely to hear “polygamy” or something like that. The concept does not fit with most people, quite simply.

There is, in the single and dating world, a sort of acceptance that you are going to not be strictly monogamous.  But this is not polyamory; it is a sort of game where the way to win is to find that one person with whom you decide to settle with.  Monogamy is the goal, even if it is a long-term goal.  In the mean time people are just having fun and not committing.

So when someone like myself comes along and is not looking for monogamy in the long run, it probably looks like a person with commitment issues.  And when I am with someone with whom I want to commit to a more long-term plan, I usually want a time where I focus on her alone in many cases.  Then once we are settled, established, and secure then I can explore other options.  It is sort of a reversal from the monogamous single’s scene.  And, of course, different polyamorous people go about this in different ways than I do.

As a single guy I can go out and enjoy the promiscuity of single culture as well as anyone.  But this is not very appealing to me because it is largely shallow or superficial.  I may meet someone with whom I will share commonalities, but to sift through it all is time and money consuming.  There must be another option.

Poly Communities

And there are places to meet other polyamorous people.  Polymatchmaker is one, for example.  There are local meetup groups, email discussion groups, etc.  I have been a part of a community in Philadelphia and met some people in the past.  Now that I have been in Atlanta I have met a few people, but I have not known them very long or very well.

So, how do you approach polyamorous people when you are interested in dating them? Well, first you should get to know them at least a little bit.  Meeting them might be helpful, too.  But once you have met someone who you are interested in, tell them what you are interested in. Tell them what you want.

From a monogamous point of view, flirting with or asking a woman (or man) on a date of some kind while their significant other is around would usually be a very quiet and secluded conversation done while you are hoping nobody can overhear.   It would be done in the hopes of something clandestine, and perhaps this is part of the excitement.

Flirting with someone with their partner near-by, perhaps even with their arm around them, is usually a game that monogamous people play at in jest or at most because deep down many people like the idea of the flirtation.  To me that speaks volumes about monogamous dating culture.

Polyamorous people are as different as people of any other group.   Some will want you to just come out and ask, others might prefer more subtlety.  Some will want you to be friends (and possibly lovers) with their partner, and some will never want you in the same room with them.  Some will want to be all over you that moment and others will prefer to take their time, get to know you, and eventually get to a physical relationship.  Sometimes that never happens and people have poly partners where sex (no matter how it is defined) is not a part of their relationship.

Getting what you want

As a single guy in polyamory, I have to first figure out what I want.  In fact, this is true whether you consider yourself polyamorous or not.   Upon figuring out what you want, pursue it directly while keeping in mind that it may not happen. 

One of the first things I learned while being polyamorous is learning how to say no and learning how to accept a no from someone else.  There is nothing wrong with telling the person you are attracted to that you would like to take them out, take them home, or have them on the table right there.  There is also nothing wrong with them saying no, and then possibly talking about something else or wishing them a good day and moving on.

More importantly, there is nothing wrong with what you want.  Depending on what that is, there may be something wrong with acting on it, but the desire itself is not the problem (although someone might be able to think of a few desires that may indicate something wrong with a person, such as wanting to rape or murder, but that’s not what I’m talking about).  Wanting to be single is fine, wanting to love and be loved is fine, wanting your friend’s girlfriend is fine.  In fact, wanting your friend and his girlfriend is fine.  What you do about it is where the thorniness begins.

Weighing the risks of transforming your wants to your pursuits can be dangerous ground.   Be careful to accept rejection of what you want.  The fear of rejection is strong in many, but without risk there is no gain.  In love, the risk of the vulnerability of opening oneself up can leave you hurting or broken, but the alternative is the hurting and brokenness of never having tried.   Find what you want, pursue it, and be prepared to be told no.

All in all, being single while you are polyamorous is not much different than being single and not being poly. It is about finding what you want. My advice is to not assume monogamy. In fact, perhaps you should not assume polyamory either. Pursue each desire on its own terms and be open with your partner(s) with what you want. You may get it, you may not, but your desire is only out of your reach based upon those whom you desire and your willingness to act on your desires.