When polyamory isn’t an option, is cheating an option? November 19, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: cheating, marriage, monogamy, Non-monogamy, relationships, sex
Nearly a year ago, Wes wrote this post on the blog about whether it is permissible, morally, to accept an offer of sex from someone in a monogamous relationship. I was not in agreement with him when I read it, but my disagreement was based on a moral foundation I know Wes does not accept (primarily Kantian), so I didn’t argue since it would have turned into a meta-argument. I find his logic sound, I just found the basic assumptions to be lacking somewhat. I carry different moral foundations that the argument presented in that post, and so I realized that it would turn into a conversation about meta-ethics and moral foundation theory, rather than about the question at hand.
Over the last year I have thought about this issue a little, and I have come to agree with his argument, Kantian counter-positions or not, but only in some cases. I agree that the point of harm is the decision to cheat, and that acting on it only adds the potential harm of STDs or pregnancy (if precautions against such things are not taken, of course). The emotional harm was already done, and it is this point where the other person should focus their attention on why they care if their partners wants other sex/romantic partners, and possibly accept polyamory as another option.
My reason for refusing the proposition of sex from a monogamous person, morally, has to do with what Wes Said in his post:
the fact that someone is a cheater raises all kinds of concerns about that person’s trustworthiness, character, compassion, and decency. I have absolutely no problem with categorically turning down cheaters for those reasons.
I think that everyone should have a negative response to such a proposition if the person asking is untrustworthy. I think that a decent person would not even want to sleep with someone in a situation where you can’t trust their character, personality, etc. I have trouble finding it possible to both be a decent person and wanting to say yes to such a person. But if an untrustworthy person is still appealing to you, then I suppose you can do whatever you like, even if I don’t think it’s the right decision. I would not will that maxim to be universal law, but I can’t make decisions for other people either.
However, not everyone who requests, or at least wants, to have sex with someone besides their committed and supposedly exclusive partner (married or not) is untrustworthy or a bad person. Sometimes, they have good reasons to want and request such a thing.
Why am I writing about this now? Well, because I had a long conversation with a long-time friend today that both depressed and angered me. It spoke to all the reasons why I advocate for non-monogamy, especially where it rubs against traditional and conservative (patriarchal) notions of marriage, relationships, and commitment. I’m writing about this because this friend of mine needs and wants romantic, emotional, and sexual intimacy in her life, and is not getting it.
The occasional 2 minutes is not enough.
My friend, who will obviously remain anonymous, divulged to me today that she has been unhappy with many aspects of her marriage for a while. Sex happens perhaps every month or two, and lasts just about long enough for her husband to be done. The old squirt and snooze.
Now, she has talked to him about her lack of satisfaction with this amount of physical intimacy, and he had insisted that things are “OK” and that he’s just not going to change. He’s happy, he’s not going to change, and with her not being able to support herself right now (she’s a house-mom), leaving is not much of an option. She’s stuck in a situation where she is unhappy, stuck at home most of the time, and wants more from life. He’s not going to give it to her apparently, and her transparently finding it elsewhere is not a realistic option. Polyamory is not an option.
She does not want to hurt him, she does not want to put the kids in a situation of going through a potential divorce (her parents were divorced, which was hard on her growing up), and her kids are fairly young. But she is also seriously considering accepting what she knows are open offers to receive some level of emotional, sexual, and possibly romantic intimacy from other people she knows. She’s thinking about the possibility of cheating.
I want to tell her to do it. I want to tell her to find the happiness she wants, even if it means cheating. Her situation, with a selfish and un-giving husband, is a situation where the chains of monogamy are most clear to me. This type of situation is why Ashley Madison exists. My friend would benefit from polyamory (ideally, if she wanted that), but that is not an option she can count on happening with any level of probability. She wants real intimacy, and cannot get it because of this traditional definition of marriage which keeps too many people (both men and women) in unhappy situations, which lead to cheating.
Eventually she will likely leave him (that’s my guess) when she is able to be economically independent. Whether she would be better off doing now, I cannot say. I’m leaning towards yes, but I don’t have to deal with all of the consequences of that decision. But for now, she remains unhappy, unfulfilled, and there is a world out there full of people who would love her more and give her some of what she desires.
And I know there are many people like her out there.
Is cheating sometimes the only option?
So, what is she supposed to do? She has the option to cheat, if she wants it. She has said that she has people who only need her “yes” to get at least some of her desires fulfilled. She could do so in a way that would almost certainly not be found out. She could do so with people she knows and trusts. Does she have a better option?
Is it better to live with this lack of fulfillment while not breaking her marriage vows and possibly exposing her family to harm, or is it better to take the risk of having an affair and possibly having a secret boyfriend? In her place, I would be very tempted to take the risk and have some happiness, rather than live unhappily. Of course I don’t have to make that choice, which is why polyamory is the shiznit.
I would not want to live a life of quiet desperation. I would not want to hurt someone I loved, but in this situation that love seems to be mostly one way (I’m assuming she still loves him, and his actions clearly indicate he does not love her; at least not well). I would want to broach the subject of polyamory with my partner, and if that didn’t work I would be very tempted to leave and/or cheat, if I were in a similar situation.
So, what would I suggest she do?
You are probably guessing that I would advise that she try to have a serious conversation with her husband about some sort of non-monogamous arrangement. And ideally, I think she should do that. But then I think that if she does that, he will suddenly look differently at her going out on a Saturday night to see friends. He might, in fact, insist that she not do so. That would make any cheating harder to pull off, even if she didn’t accept his (hypotheitical) insistence of not going out anymore, because he would be curious and prying if he suspected she wanted to do so. So, given that, is it not only easier pragmatically, but in terms of her ability to find some happiness, just to cheat?
He seems to think that things are fine. He’s happy getting his rocks off every several weeks, but she wants more and she could get away with doing so. Probably. So, in this situation, is it better to cheat?
In a world where polyamory is more mainstream, no it would not be better. We, however, are not going to get to that world any time soon. And yes, the idealist in me wants her to take a stand for her desires openly, and demand that he make a better effort to try and fulfill her needs (she has done this, somewhat, to no avail), and to demand that he either let her go find it willingly or share, and fly the polyamory flag. Or, at least fly the find-a-partner-who-treats-me-well flag. She has not said she wants to be polyamorous per se, but she has said that she wants sexual and emotional intimacy, and he will not give it any more than he already does.
So should she cheat?
Yes. I think she should. And when she can get away, she should. Because in this case it is not the seeker of extra-marital sex who is untrustworthy or a bad person, it is the person she is stuck with who is. And I am not convinced that such people deserve the respect of marriage vows. I don’t think he’s given all he can give to their relationship, and she shouldn’t have to suffer because of that.
Polyamory is great, but it can’t solve this problem because polyamory requires the consent of her husband, and he almost certainly will not give it. And if he should be hurt by any such cheating, he should take responsibility for being a terrible partner, both emotionally and sexually, and deal with it. You can’t be an un-giving partner and also expect your partner to be happy just with you.
Just a Friday morning October 11, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: Doctor Who, monogamy, Non-monogamy, polyamory
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This morning was a little different than most. But in another way, it was not all that strange, for this house. Last night, Jess and I had a date which involved her coming over here after work and hanging out with me around the house for the evening. Jess is the woman I started seeing recently, and despite the fact I’ve only known her for 4 weeks, things are going very well and I see signs of it continuing for some time. In short, she’s amazing and I’m really glad I met her.
We stayed in, while many others went out for karaoke, and we watched Doctor Who (she’s new to it, and is hooked!). So, most of the evening was spent in the living room, cuddled up on the couch, but eventually we got tired and we went to bed. Since we don’t have an extra bedroom, I fixed up the futon in the library (which is really just a part of the living room), so really we went to futon. When we all win the lottery and we have a huge mansion with a dozen extra bedrooms, that won’t be necessary. But that hasn’t happened yet. Also, none of us play the lottery. I guess I’m just going to have to sell a million copies of my book. But seriously you can get it for free (or whatever you want to pay). But if you all acquire it for free, my ‘selling’ a million copies is not going to get us that mansion/castle/small island with its own airport and private beaches. You will totally be invited to our 25-person hot tub.
*sigh* I’m going to have to continue to work and earn money like everyone else, aren’t I? Oh well….
Most people in the house are early risers, having to get to work and such. I am working today, but I don’t start until around 3:00 today, and then I will be working until midnight or so (Friday night, w00t!). But this morning was a day when everyone besides me had work early, and so the morning was a house of bustling, ready-getting people buzzing around me as I watched them all do their morning things. I’m a very light sleeper, so there was no way I was sleeping through any of this, but rather than go upstairs to our bedroom to go back to sleep for another hour or two, I just watched. A house full of people, all getting ready for work in an environment that is not completely unlike any other family. The difference between what I watched this morning and, say, a married couple with a few kids was not big. Rides to work and train stations were worked out, people were doing coffee, perhaps some breakfast on the go, and I had the three women I am involved with all there, together, talking and saying good morning, kissing me good-bye as they left (they all ended up leaving at the same time), and it was actually quite hart-warming.
For anyone who thinks that polyamory is strange, that this thing we do here at the PolySkeptic compound are unbelievable or somehow wrong even, I dare you to see what I observed this morning. I dare you to see this group of adults, and how we share space, time, etc and to continue to think of us as doing something weird. We are doing what most people do. we are trying to maintain the daily stresses and joys of life with jobs, bills, fun, and self-enrichment . We are just doing it outside the mononormative narrative, which is very strange to some people. Those people have strange ideas about the world, or something.
It’s a wonderful life, and I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to be here. And when I get home late tonight, I may see a bunch of people in the hot tub or I may find that everyone is asleep. Either way, I am working this weekend, I have beer maturing and fermenting in the kitchen, and I have life to look forward to. Strange though it may seem to some, I know many readers here understand and I’m glad they are out there being weird too.
Take that, rainy day! You aren’t gettin’ me down.
Monogamy and meeting someone new September 19, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: monogamy, Non-monogamy, relationships
Way back in the 20th century I discovered polyamory while in college.
First, there was Erin. We met early in our freshman year, had instant chemistry, but she had a boyfriend. But our intense chemistry did not slow us down much, and eventually her and her boyfriend went their separate ways, and Erin and I dated through sophomore year.
When junior year came around I met another girl, Lauren while Erin and I were still going strong. These two women complimented each other for me in many ways, and as I started to spend more and more time with Lauren, Erin started to worry. Eventually I (stupidly) broke up with Erin and dated Lauren.
And then I started dating Erin again, this time while not breaking up with Lauren. They both were friends, they knew that I was dating both of them, and they were comfortable enough such that the 3 of us spent a lot of time together. Then I discovered the term ‘polyamory.’ To make a long story short, all that ended badly, due to being young, immature, and not having the experience that could have made it turn out better.
I bring this up today because it is a pattern that is familiar to many people, including monogamous people, and because there is a variation on this theme that comes up with polyamorous people a lot; meeting a polyamorous someone while monogamous.
Now, I have not had this happen to me in my own life, but it happens. And, as a polyamorous person, I see the other side of this frequently. Just recently, I’m seeing the other side of this in my own life. Just recently, someone who has been monogamous with someone for a few years met me.
Over the weekend, at the PA State Atheist Conference, I met a lot of people. I got a chance to hang out with some fellow atheist bloggers, old friends from the community I have not seen in a while, and made some new friends. There were a number of intelligent and attractive women there, and because I like attractive and intelligent women I flirted with some of them (because yes, that is still allowed…) and got some flirting back. In the end, I met someone fantastic.
So, as the conference was ending and people were leaving, I found myself sitting with a woman who I had noticed checking me out, and decided to just go for it. I asked her out. She smiled and said some words that told me that she was monogamous; “I have a boyfriend.” Because, see, a polyamorous person saying this would not be a no to the date, it would just be information about them. But the fact that this was the answer to being asked out, I figured that this was the end of that line of conversation.
As we kept talking (because a no to a dating proposition is not necessarily the end to a conversation, especially since I tend to ask people out I like and I am able to have attractive female friends), the sense of flirtation never quite left but I figured this was an example of how monogamous people are still attracted to other people, even if they may not do anything about it. Then I mentioned my girlfriend, and she gave me a confused look.
Oh, I never told her I am polyamorous, I thought. We had talked some, but it hadn’t come up because we were at an atheist conference and other things were going on.
And then the conversation changed a little. I explained polyamory (she already new what it was), and she expressed some interest in attending the Doctor Who burlesque that most of us here at polyskeptic were putting on that night. It turned out there was one extra ticket, and she showed up!
And then the real flirting started, after the show that night. There was real sexual and personality chemistry between us, but she still had a boyfriend. I knew that at some critical stage that attraction would become too difficult to manage, so rather than suppress it I made sure she knew exactly how I was feeling, what I wanted, etc. She knew I was into her, she told me she was into me, and I knew where it was going if we didn’t get off that train. She showed up, again, after the third show two nights later, and we talked more. I knew we were in trouble, and it was crystal clear when we kissed.
All this time, she had been in open communication with her boyfriend, who is out of town with family business. None of this was completely surreptitious. Had she been hiding her flirtation and interest in me from him, I would have not continued (despite my attraction) because that is a terrible way to start a relationship. I could not trust a person who was lying about me to their partner(s).
Being caught up in all of this whirlwind of the genesis of a potential new relationship, having new feelings for someone I just met, has taken me back to those early college days when I was first falling in love with Erin while having to navigate the right things to do, what to say, etc to try and respect an existing relationship while not pretending that I’m not burning up inside with desire. The difference here as compared to then is that then I saw no alternative to replacing the boyfriend, and this time I find myself wanting to make sure that the boyfriend does not see me as a threat. I don’t want to replace anyone. I just want to love who I love, how I love them, and understand that they want to do the same.
I want to add to, not subtract from, the life of this woman with whom I’m sharing this whirlwind. I don’t want to have her boyfriend see this as a threat, I want him to see that polyamory has the potential to have our horizons broadened, our ability to love enhanced and strengthened, and to break down the walls of social expectations around love, ownership, and exclusivity. A Brave New World indeed!
But from his point of view this is all scary, sudden, and confusing. I have not talked to him so far, but I know this is causing stress to both of them, and all I want to do is make it better. There is not much I can do, however, and so I find myself struggling with wanting to see her again (and again) but knowing that the more time we spend together, the harder it will be to not look threatening to him. Also, the more time I spend with her, the harder the potential end to this ride will be. I would be hurt if it had to end as things are, and so I find myself trying my patience in order to make sure it doesn’t have to. But it’s difficult.
I have to balance the desires that the two of us have with the struggle that her boyfriend is going through, and it is not an ideal situation for any of us.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know that this woman (who I will not name because I have not asked her if she would mind my doing so) is the kind of person I could stay with long term, potentially. I know she loves her boyfriend and does not want to hurt him (neither do I). I know I want her in my life, and that includes all of the sexy feelings we have for each other. Being just friends would be painful, inauthentic, and would ultimately fail in the long run. (I’ve been through a similar situation in the past, and that did not end well. I want this situation to end well).
I know I’m nervous and anxious about this. I know that he must be terrified. But I want him, and any other person in this type of situation, to know that I am not here to hurt anyone or break up any relationships. Poly people (ideally) do not end other people’s relationships; they add to them.
I just want to love who I love, as I love them, and understand that they will want to do the same. I am not a threat, even if the situation seems threatening. That is so hard to understand from a monogamous point of view, and it is a reality that much of our culture still has to learn.
So, here’s to monogamous culture adjusting to a growing polyamorous world. And to all of us loving who we love, how we want to love them, and understanding that they will all do the same.
Normalizing polyamory August 29, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: BBC, Non-monogamy, relationships, Sexual revolution, Wesley J. Smith
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A while back, I ran into this:
You knew it was coming. Scientific American — which often pushes cultural agendas as much as scientific ideas — has an article informing us that polyamorous people have so much to teach the rest of us about life. From “The New Sexual Revolution: Polyamory May Be Good For You“
Follow the link for the rest (it’s short).
Then today, some follow up, which links to this article by the BBC about how a polyamorous relationship between four people works. From that BBC article:
“We have a generation of people coming up who are saying, we also want stability and committed relationships and safety and security, but we also want individual fulfilment. Let us see if we can negotiate monogamy or non-monogamy in a consensual way that prevents a lot of the destructions and pains of infidelity.”
At first glance, the writer could seem (if you are unfamiliar with who he is) to be supporting or criticizing this process of normalization, but then we see that he writes very similar articles about pedophilia:
Decadence is on the march! And now, a defense of pedophilia as just another “sexual orientation” has been published in the mainstream left wing UK newspaperThe Guardian. From, “Paedophilia: Bringing Dark Desires Into the Light:”
I have written about this before. In our growing hedonistic culture, pedophilia is in the process of being normalized, downgraded by some from a severe sexual perversion into a mere ”orientation.”
Follow the links if you want to see more, but the bottom line is that Wesley J. Smith doesn’t like any kind of pervert, polyamorous nor pedophile. I am not very familiar with his writing, aside from what I just linked to above, but I would not call him an ally. I would say that in terms of the goals and values that Mr. Smith seems to endorse and the goals and values that I endorse, we are opponents. I’m sure I have more than one opponent in that sense.
The interesting thing is that reading the articles about polyamory could be read as positive, at first glance, because while the conclusions (“Normalization today. Group marriage tomorrow.”) seem dire to the writer, they seem right to many of us. I guess we’re just perverts. No difference between consenting adults who decide to not be exclusive and having sex with children (sorry about your sarcasm meter…).
I’ve thought a lot about, and even written about, how the same information, with the same tone, can look very different to people with different worldviews. Our worldviews are not primarily about having different data, they are about having different values and thus different lenses or filters in the way we interpret and judge the world. The differences between liberals and conservatives, for example, have more to do with morality than information. The differnece between Mr. Smith and myself are more about values, and so when he writes “”Normalization today. Group marriage tomorrow,” he means something different that I would, using the same words.
As I have written before, I look forward to a new kind of polynormativity. But this is not just about making the polyamorous world better, but it is also about being a model for relationships for the world. Wesley J. Smith’s reaction to a basic response to jealousy, and talking about compersion, is to say “Oh, if we could only all be so enlightened.” This could be read as being in agreement, as if to say that the author does wish that everyone could be so enlightened, but by now we know better. This alternative interpretation, of actually wishing for universal enlightenment of this type, would have been in a tone many people,are not comfortable with. However, it’s certainly not a tone that has not been conveyed (by myself, in some cases…wait for it….).
But yes, if only we could all be so enlightened. It’s not that all polyamorous people are wiser and better at relationships than all monogamous people. It’s not even that polyamory is always superior to monogamy. It’s that because we poly people think about relationships more, experience more of them, and because we are forced to deal with relationship skills of higher complexity and more frequency, that we tend to have insights that many non-poly people don’t have. I mean, just look at how poorly non-poly advice columnists deal with questions concerning polyamory–and that’s what they do for a living!
It’s also that we have a community of people who have these experiences who talk to each other about relationships–practically, philosophically, politically, legally, etc–such that we have created a set of resources which have a lot to teach a lot of people, whether monogamous or not, about relationship skills. Put concisely, the polyamorous community may have created the single most powerful resource for understanding sexual and romantic relationships which exists anywhere. We are the experts.
Now, if only we could make ourselves better, as individuals and as a community, we might actually be the enlightened people who could help lead the various societies and cultures all over the world into a better way of loving one another, creating healthy relationships, and having the sex we want.
No pressure though.