Moral Perfectionism, Moral Pragmatism, Free Love Ethics, and Adultery

Kelly: You are a moral absolutist, Jaime.

Jaime: Nonsense. You are the one who wants to impose monogamy on everyone, whether they like it or not.

Kelly: No, when we talked the other day, I conceded it was your right to have whatever kinds of open relationships you wanted. I only said that, given human nature, I didn’t think open relationships were a good idea for the vast majority of people and so we should not encourage them as a general rule. But you were saying it was wrong for everyone to be monogamous. You are demanding everyone be promiscuous. You make promiscuity your absolute moral principle for everyone.

Jaime: Well, whether or not you conceded my “right” to multiple partners or not, you still had a firm view of what sex should mean to people and what it should not mean to them. What we were both doing was asking, “What would be the most ideal for all people?”  And that’s perfectly fine, we were discussing morality, which is about what is truly best, not merely what should be politically permissible.

Kelly: But what is truly best for people varies! How can you talk about a “truly best” for all people?

Jaime: Well, what is truly best does vary, but it also does not. I think we could imagine an ideal human being as one who was perfect at every kind of rational investigation, had a perfect memory, had a perfect ability to express sociable and humane virtues, had a body which could excel at every kind of physical activity, had an adventurous courageous spirit willing and able to execute dangerous tasks, had a mind which was able to get the maximum pleasure out of every situation and which knew how to find the most intrinsically pleasurable experiences and maximize them in his or her life all while still being able to maximally produce the best works of art, the best political outcomes, the best philosophy, the best comedy, etc. In short, an ideal human being would fulfill every human potential to the maximum and have every kind of pleasure to the maximum.

Kelly: But that’s impossible. There are time limitations, there are physical and mental limitations, there are some good pursuits which by their nature require developing oneself in some excellent ways that would preclude simultaneously developing in alternative excellent ways. No human being could develop every talent maximally or pursue every good in life maximally. We are not gods, we must acknowledge our limitations and construct realistic accounts of a good human life which recognize them and work the best within them. Setting such ridiculous, unachievable standards for people such that they have to be literally perfect is not a helpful way to do moral thinking. If anything it strikes me as counter-productive to good moral thinking since it burdens people with impossible standards so that they feel bad about themselves for their inevitable natural limitations. And by only setting such high bars in every area of life for them, rather than training them in how to figure out which standards they can best attain and which ones they cannot, it means they might use their time and energies on the wrong pursuits for them.

Jaime: All of that is true. I do not mean to imply that everyone can attain full human perfection with respect to every possible human talent or have every kind of wonderful experience. I recognize there must be trade offs and that, absolutely, we must encourage others to make judicious choices among their own individual options for how to best use their limited time and resources so they can live the best lives possible. That is the hardest and most crucial moral task we have in life—figuring out where we can most excellently direct our finite energies at any given moment in our lives so that we can live as powerful and enjoyable goodness-producing lives we can.

Kelly: So then why won’t you respect monogamists’ choices to “forego” all others? What if they do not have the time to pursue multiple lovers or what if they do not even find it pleasurable to be with people they are not in love with or would feel guilty if they did or jealous if their partners did? Why especially should they even worry about being promiscuous when they are utterly and contentedly in love with one person and feel no lack in reserving their sexual expression for only that one person? How are you not being a moral absolutist here? How are you allowing for these people to have a different path to the good life than yours?

Jaime: I am not saying those people do not exist or that they should necessarily change their lifestyles in order to be good people. I am saying though that those among the monogamists who might have a lot more pleasure if they opened their minds to at least explore other possibilities should feel completely free to contemplate such an alternative and should not feel selfish if they do. I think that the countless people who already long for extra partners or are outright having affairs should not have to beat themselves up because of an absolutist norm in the culture which says anything outside of monogamous is morally suspect. Even common practices of pre-marital sex are in a murky ethical land where people accept that most people engage in it and yet its moral status is ambiguous and the unashamedly promiscuous (rather than the serially monogamous) are both celebrated as the equivalents of super heroes by some and feared like super villains by others. And many who think they will be, or who actually are, happily monogamous should not be ashamed and terrified if they accidentally do get emotionally and/or sexually involved with an extra person, to their own complete surprise. I want the default assumption to be that sex is good, that jealousy is bad, that love and intimacy with as many consensual autonomous people as one can find it with is always good and that the impulse to want to limit others’ pleasures is suspect.

Kelly: But that last part is not allowing the monogamists to be who they are and feel as they do without your judgment. You may want them to be more open, but what if they are not and what if their partners have committed to them that they would not be. If their partner marries them knowing it is a monogamous relationship from the start, how can you blame them for being furious when their partner starts behaving in a promiscuous way behind their backs or when their partner wants them to remain monogamous even as he or she has affairs?!

Jaime: Well, obviously I would full throatedly denounce anyone who takes a “promiscuity is okay for me but not for my partner” attitude. Those people are as selfish and possessive as jealous monogamists and then they are even worse since they are also hypocrites. So, yes, I have no use for such people. And as for the people who break their monogamous arrangements; they are a good reason to not have such an unquestioned norm of monogamy in the first place. It is forcing all people, even those who might be very happy and loving in promiscuous arrangements to feel pressured to accept a monogamous relationship as the only respectable kind. When people commit to monogamy either not knowing it won’t fulfill them or knowing this but trying anyway because they think they will be a “bad person” if they cannot be monogamous, then they wind up in this trap where they have to deny themselves varieties of physical and/or emotional contact with others that might still come about or they are “the bad guy”.

Kelly: But is it fair to the other person who remains faithful and denies him or herself just as much to have their partner cheat on the agreement and betray it?

Jaime: Well, if it is something the other partner wants too, then why not have an open arrangement?!

Kelly: But the other partner does not want one.

Jaime: Then why is the other partner jealous that their partner has another lover, when they don’t want one themselves? Either get an extra lover of your own or don’t be upset that your partner has one!

Kelly: But it hurts them to think of their lover with another, it makes them feel inadequate and unloved.

Jaime: But it should not hurt them to not be adequate to fill another person’s life completely. Talk about teaching people to expect, and to get, happiness only through the fulfillment of unrealistic, unattainable ideals! We should not have to feel that much responsibility to satisfy another person in order to feel worthy of love and secure in ourselves! Feeling loved should not require being loved to the exclusion of all others in all sexually and emotionally intense ways.

Kelly: But for some people it does. And their lives will be much worse if their partners divide their love and their sexual and emotional energies like that. They will not get enough love that way. Why don’t those people count? Just because you can imagine a different cultural set up where everyone blissfully accepts non-exclusive relationships, does not mean the people who require exclusivity for happiness will cease to exist or that they are small, mean, selfish people. They can and constantly do have big hearts which love many people even though they don’t have sex with all of them! Why do you want to impose on them a standard by which they are made to look inadequate, just because the way they romantically love and feel loved requires a dimension of exclusiveness for heightened specialness?

Jaime: Because I think they are setting themselves up to get hurt over something they don’t have to get hurt over.

Kelly: But that ignores that when they are cheated on, it is not their partner only pursuing extra pleasures but their partner is usually explicitly betraying their promises. Regardless of whether you think those promises are foolish or ill-made and unfair, they are promises—vows, even. Even if you think someone should not make a given promise, do you think it is okay for them to break it? And when breaking a promise will crush someone else who made the exact same promise to you, is that irrelevant?

Jaime: No, it is not irrelevant.

Kelly: We do not live in a world where pleasure and pain are just abstractions. Even if in theory total promiscuity would increase total pleasure, in the existing world with its existing network of commitments, institutions, psychologies, and obligations, more pain results from adultery than pleasure on a net accounting. So it is irresponsible for you to claim that anger over infidelity is only a matter of selfishness. Things are not that black and white here.

Jaime: But all that pain caused by adultery is not the fault of those of us who favor permanent egalitarian promiscuity, but it is caused by the monogamists’s institutions and expectations.

Kelly: Look, hate those institutions all you want, but being indifferent to the suffering of people who believe in the institution of monogamy for perfectly valid reasons—at least according to their own judgment and the judgment of many billions of people, the world over have seen them for centuries—is unfair. You cannot recommend actions as morally best which would only work in a hypothetical world and not in the real, existing world. That’s where you are a moral absolutist whose demands would be counter-productive to the real life flourishing any legitimate, defensible morality must serve.

Jaime: I am not a moral absolutist, I’m a moral idealist, there is a difference. I don’t believe in narrowly circumscribing the boundaries of our practices so that they only protect the current state of feeling and behavior. I believe in encouraging people to be ever experimenting with a wider view of how to flourish and to have pleasure and to increase the flourishing and pleasure of others. That involves partly challenging people not only to try new things but to have an open minded attitude receptive to new things, rather than to treat their present feelings as psychologically fixed for all time.

Kelly: Fine, but will you realize that adulterers are often not brave new “first adopters” of the improved moralities of the future but selfish people who weigh the actual pain they will cause others against their own, lesser pleasures and knowingly choose the course that will lead to more hurt and pain for others and not as much increase in pleasure to themselves?

Jaime: I will admit that if you will admit that many faithful people suffer emotionally and sexually depleted lives for the sake of not hurting others and that they are as much victims as those who are cheated upon and that a more pleasure and autonomy embracing ethics would be the path to everyone’s greater happiness.

Kelly: Hypothetically.

Your Thoughts?

More debates between Jaime and Kelly:

On The Ethics of “Sugar Daddies” and “Sugar Babies”

A Debate About the Wisdom of Trying to Deconvert People

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Cattygurl

    I disagree with this statement:

    “I will admit that if you will admit that many faithful people suffer emotionally and sexually depleted lives for the sake of not hurting others and that they are as much victims as those who are cheated upon and that a more pleasure and autonomy embracing ethics would be the path to everyone’s greater happiness.”

    The former is a choice because they have a choice in the matter and have the option of leaving said relationship, while being cheated on is a situation where choice/consent was removed from one party.

    ALL relationships have compromise, it is up to the individuals involved to decide what they will be. Also, an open/poly relationship does not mean that cheating or dishonesty does not occur (it can, and does). It is just as reasonable for someone to say “I want to have a monogamous partner” as it is for someone to say “I want to pursue polyamorous relationships.”

    What we should have as a society is not a pressure to conform one way or the other to some specific structure of relationship- but to actually talk about consent and ethical behavior in relationships, make sexuality less of a taboo subject, break down gender roles- and simply allow people to express consensual desires with consenting, compatible partners.

    • flynn

      That bit also got to me, along with the general thrust of the two posts. They don’t seem to be about polyamory, but the “right” to lie and cheat. Witness the fact that, in part one of the discussion, Kelly talks about cheating. Jaime never objects to this, and develops the issue. We seem to end up with, “people are going to break this rule, so we shouldn’t have it” intermingled with the much better arguments about happiness. I’m curious about what’s being left out here. Compare Cattygurl’s mention of the occurence of cheating/dishonesty in open relationships, seeing it as a bad thing (I agree) with Lee’s disapproval of mainstream poly culture’s disapproval of cheating (if I read that right). So cards on the table here: what are we actually talking about? If you think that having relationships that your partner does not know about is essential, that is a separate matter from non-monogamy. You can’t just plunge ahead until everyone knows what the assumptions are.

    • http://www.polygrrl.com PolyGrrl

      I think that relationships are contracts, and they can be structured any way that you choose. If you have an agreement with your partner(s) that you will not have sex with other people, and you break that agreement, you lack integrity, and to me that’s just wrong. I also believe that for a lot of people, part of the “hotness” of “cheating” is the forbiddenness of it, the badness of it. Personally, I would never do it, and I can’t understand people who say that they couldn’t help themselves, or passion got the better of them, or whatever – you always make a choice. To me, being true to your word is morality. This doesn’t mean agreements can’t be changed, of course.

      That being said, I’ve chosen to make other types of agreements with pretty much all the partners I’ve had, and that’s usually worked out well. But I was lucky enough to be exposed to this possibility, and I think that most people (all people to some degree) are aculturated to easily understand that it is possible to create their own life and follow their own heart.

      I can understand the points of view of both people in this discussion. However, in my feeling, Jaime seems to swing too much toward the logical and denies the emotional elements of these issues. This makes being in a successful relationship difficult, so I would think this would be a limitation for him whether he is with one or many people. His arguments are sound, but they lack empathy and emotional depth.

      Kelly makes sense from a certain perspective, but is not factoring in personal responsibility for one’s own emotional state. It’s true that some people feel hurt that their partner is with someone else, wants someone else, and generally this is because they feel threatened by it. This feeling is sometimes based on a real possibility, but often enough, it is not, and allowing the relationship to stay stuck based on someone feeling threatened means both people may fail to grow.

      In my experience, if your partner is more fulfilled by having more love and stimulation in their life, they often have more to give you, not less. People do not have a finite amount of love to give out, that is not how it works. And some people crave and are stimulated by (and arguably, need) variety; if they go sleep with someone else who is very different from you, they may appreciate and be attracted to you that much more because the other experience is possible for them.

  • Lee

    I think a key issue is that monogamy is the default, expected arrangement. People don’t choose monogamy – they find themselves in relationships that are expected to me monogamous. When monogamy makes them unhappy, they find that their only choices are to cheat or blow the relationship apart. They find that all social pressure, even among non-monogamous people, is to support monogamy as default – the poly value that ‘I don’t date cheaters” is part of this default support of monogamy.

    The result is that people cheat – probably a majority of ‘monogamous’ relationships of any duration, eventually have a partner who ‘cheats’.

    Here is my favorite essay on the topic, with an excerpt.

    http://open.salon.com/blog/sirenitalake/2009/06/05/why_i_hate_monogamy
    —–
    “The American myth of love and marriage is a recipe for emotional disaster. We still pay lip service to the notion that young people will fall in love and meet each other’s physical and emotional needs for the rest of their lives. That’s obviously ridiculous when applied to everyone, but we have no other model of a “good” relationship. When, as is common, one partner has sex with someone else, the marriage suffers an upheaval. There is a painful confrontation with reality. Most couples lack a cognitive framework to understand the behavior. Rather than understanding, there is shouting, crying, slamming doors, packing suitcases, calling lawyers. If the couple manages to “work it out,” the straying partner is required to express guilt and remorse for what is natural behavior and make promises they may not be able to keep. Rarely does anyone really get over the sense of betrayal. The marriage has a storm cloud over it for the remainder of its existence. This scenario is much more common than the happy, mated-for-life one.

    The statistics on who’s having extramarital sex — 60% of men, 40% of women — lead to the inevitable conclusion that any married person is as likely as not to have sex with someone else during their marriage. Roughly half of all married people qualify as strayers, adulterers and faithless betrayers. Half of just about everybody is going to commit what is perceived as a dreadful sin against their marriage, yet the numbers are high enough that adultery is equally the norm with monogamy. Our beliefs about marriage are in permanent, unhealthy tension with reality, with around half of marital partners attempting to be monogamous against their nature, like gays in the past who tried to live straight. “

  • cattygurl

    “They find that all social pressure, even among non-monogamous people, is to support monogamy as default – the poly value that ‘I don’t date cheaters” is part of this default support of monogamy.”

    I’m quite familiar with the poly community as a lot of my friends are poly. The “I don’t date cheaters” is not really a support of monogamy as it is a support of honest communication that becomes more essential because relationships do often get more complex as the number of partners increase. Cheating is not simply about sex, but more about communication and consent. All of my poly friends are not comfortable dating “cheaters” because they are not interested in being part of a relationship where one partner is being deceptive to another, especially when it comes with an increased risk of STIs. One of the requirements that my friend has for adding a partner is that she meet her partner’s partners and they all get tested. This isn’t possible if you’re dating a “cheater.”

    You make it sound like the only option for people in monogamous relationships is to cheat. One can get out of a relationship where they are not satisfied and explore other relationships without cheating. One can talk to a partner before they act on it.

    The biggest misconception is that open/poly relationships are easier. They’re not easier, they have their separate issues as will any relationship, they are absolutely not free of “cheating” or “betrayal” and the categorizing of poly/open relationships as something that is “easier” than monogamy is patently false. Poly relationships are not magically free of yelling, crying, slamming of doors, calling lawyers, and divorce. Successful open and poly relationships often require MORE communication, not less.

    In either case, none of us, regardless of what relationship structure is suited for us- should act deceptively towards our partner(s). What is lacking in our society is not just a lack of options outside of monogamy, but communication and listening skills when it comes to relationships, period. Relationships based on assumptions- including assumptions that poly or open relationship require any less work- is a surefire recipe for disaster.

  • cattygurl

    Generally, most of my poly (and open) friends have been in monogamous relationships, and it hasn’t worked out for them- hence they are exploring other structures. I’ve also known a few friends to go from monogamous to poly to open back to monogamous. I don’t think people have to even commit to one camp or another permanently, either.

    In a society that freaks out over a politician using the word “uterus”… where Gardisil is assumed to instantaneously turn girls into sex machines (/snark), where we can’t discuss anatomy, biology, or STIs without stigma, where people have NO CLUE what to do in monogamous relationships much less poly relationships, where assumptions trump conversation and communication, where (as Lee has pointed out) deception is seen as a reasonable mode of behavior is relationships over communication and consent… there are issues far deeper than the simple monogamy/non-monogamy divide.

    The gay community has a larger number members that openly participate in open relationships, and these relationships are not free of jealousy, cheating and relationship dissolution.

    I think the OP and Lee are seriously selling open and poly relationships in a misguided way that’s likely to lead to disappointment rather than mindful exploration because it simplifies both monogamy and non-monogamy into gross and reductive simplifications focused on sex, when the reality is that relationships with one (or more) human beings will always have challenges and complexities. Jealousy is not strictly limited to monogamy- just as open or polyamory is not only “permanent egalitarian promiscuity.”

    • flynn

      Yep. Also never going to sell open sexuality by telling someone not to get jealous. We’re primates, people, we’re living brief and precious lives with too little time for the things we love. Jealousy is not going away. When Jaime tries out the line about not getting jealous, he/she should be prepared to hear, “You don’t get jealous? Great, because I just met someone sexier, smarter, and all-around better than you, but I’m staying with you since you pay most of the rent. Also, I won’t have much time for you anymore, but make sure you still do your chores, and be ready for sex when I do have time.” So how about something like, “Jealousy? That could be destructive, but at root maybe it means you want to spend more time with me. Great! So let’s make sure that we are really using the time we have together, and let’s find out whether we can make more time to have other people in our lives. And when you feel jealous, don’t beat yourself up and say you’re selfish. Come talk to me, and we’ll try to find out how to fix it.”

  • Taylor

    I’m personally tired of hearing poly people say that eve very one should do what they feel and then bashing on monogamy. Like it or not, monogamy works for some people. I don’t know where the statistics of 60% of men and 40% of women cheat come from, but I don’t know if they’re accurate. I don’t know if you can get accurate statistics for something like that. I think people who don’t think they can be or would be happy being monogamous should take vows to be. They should realize this and be honest about it with their partners. If their partners want monogamy, they should find someone who also wants it.

    I personally am very happy in my monogamous relationship, and so is my mate. We talked about having an open relationship and realized neither of us wanted one and wouldn’t be nearly as happy in one. We satisfy each other fully. But then again, I’m well aware we’re both not normal and that this is not typical of most people. Maybe it’s because most people want to have or even crave sex or relationships with people other than a single mate, and maybe it’s because they’re not as well-paired with their mate as I am with mine.

    If people want to be in a consenting open relationship, that’s fine with me. But they have no reason to bash on those who WANT TO BE MONOGAMOUS and are in a consenting monogamous relationship. They can’t say that it doesn’t work for anyone. As for people who take a vow to not cheat and then do, a vow is a promise, and they shouldn’t make that promise if they can’t keep it. If someone promises to be monogamous and then fails, that causes pain for their mate and their offspring and they pleasure they have doesn’t even come close to outweighing it. I don’t think they’re victims at all, because again, they entered into a monogamous relationship and made a vow to keep it that way. If they don’t want or can’t handle that, they shouldn’t make that vow. If they make that vow and decides that monogamy doesn’t suit them, as it seems to not suit many people, they should talk to their mates about changing the type of relationship rather than going behind their backs.

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      I know a few people who speak, rhetorically, about how monogamy (small “m,” as practiced between given persons) doesn’t work. There are a great deal of stats that show that sex outside of a relationship agreed to be monogamous is fairly common. When asked what counts as “cheating,” more than just sexual intercourse is mentioned, of course. When partners are asked if they have done those behaviors, the stats show even more widespread “cheating.” Thus many people conclude that monogamy doesn’t work.

      But here’s the thing: I think that the vast majority of people who say that “Monogamy doesn’t work,” mean just that – Monogamy (capital ‘M’, the ideology of monogamy) doesn’t work. Most of us are careless about making the distinction and the vast number of poly people I know who have this argument are making a statement about the ideology, and want people not to be ideologically Monogamous. Within a given relationship, sleep with exactly who you want. If that’s only one person, fine. But dispense with the ideology of Monogamy – don’t assume that just because you’ve been dating for a year it means that the person isn’t dating anyone else. Have you asked? Did they promise to be exclusive? Exclusive in what behaviors? Have you been honest about all of the behaviors you would call cheating, or do you assume that you don’t have to spell out what cheating entails?

      So before you assume that, other than a few weird outliers (which occur in any group of millions), those of us who do state or have stated arguments that critique Monogamy are actually saying that you are being bad by not sleeping with more people, perhaps you should make sure you’ve understood the argument correctly. The only person I’ve ever known who insists that everyone should sleep with more people (as opposed to people should be free of culturally imposed ideological Monogamy because it poorly serves the people of that culture), is considered a genuine whack-a-loon and rarely-desirable-companion by everyone else that I know.

  • Taylor

    Might I add that I’ve been in open relationships where both I and the other person had other partners, and ones where only the other person had other partners. I was miserable. I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t feel like I was as close to those partners as I am to my current mate, and they were not, as others have pointed out, free of jealousy or even deceptive cheating.

  • cattygurl

    Equating cheating and promiscuity to open/poly relationships is actually patently false. There are serially monogamous people that are far more promiscuous than open or poly people. In fact, poly or open relationships where STI testing is done regularly and judiciously prior to the act- is usually far far less promiscuous in terms of numbers of partners per person in a given time frame than your average serially monogamous folks.

    Cheating is not about sexual activity per se, it is about proactive lack of communication and disregard for your partner’s consent- both of which should be absent in healthy monogamous, poly and open relationships.

    We’re not capable of embracing “autonomy embracing ethics” because we do not live in a society free of unwanted pregnancies or STIs to name the most obvious risks with sexual activity. Our sexual activities impact our partners in more than an emotional plane- they could have health and financial implications. Contraceptives are not foolproof, and condoms, for example, do not protect against HPV (which can cause cancer!) and Herpes (which is more or less an annoyance for the vast majority to those that are HIV-, but carry a heavy social stigma). We take on a certain amount of real risks when we engage in sexual activity. This autonomy embracing ethics seem more like prioritizing self interest while ignoring said risk, rather than trying to promote more open communication and discussion of consent. We do not have sex with bodies- we have sex with people. People are not simple tools to provide us with pleasure- every single one of us deserve to be treated in a manner that, at the very minimum-respects our health and full consent as to what the most obvious risks entail, and that requires asking, disclosure and discussion, not autonomy.

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      I’ve had 2 partnerships in the last 15 years. The first was poly for some of its duration. The second was poly for all of its duration. In the first, the only person with whom I had any hanky panky was the person with whom I eventually formed my second partnership. The first partnership was not doomed by this second: rather, when the first started having problems, I and my eventual-second-partner stopped seeing each other so that I could focus effort and time on the relationship to which I had promised my best effort to work things out.

      In my 2nd partnership of the last 15 years, I had hanky-panky with less than 4 people, no matter how one defines hanky panky, and zero if we’re talking engaging in behaviors that involved penetration of the genitals.

      The ideal that I was “promiscuous” because I was poly for 15 years, which involved one realtionship of 6+yrs, one of 7+yrs, and a couple of smoochy-flings, is a grotesque distortion of the concept.

      I simply am not attracted to people easily. It would be quite easy for me, on a practical level, to be monogamous if all that was required is that I not experience what even my low sex drive would experience as sexual neglect or deprivation. This is not what poly is about at all.

      And cheating – the breaking of a vow – is wrong because it’s the breaking of a vow.

      But ideological Monogamy, which in practice is the monogamy of nearly all monogamous people, doesn’t want the spread of polyamory. While some ideologically monogamous people are willing to say, “What you do for yourself is fine,” and mean it, the Monogamous project treats love as if it is something that is potentially harmful.

      I have **NEVER** heard a monogamous person say that someone can’t go to work because of monogamy. I’ve never heard a non-abusive person say that someone shouldn’t have friends because of monogamy. And yet, there is this idea that there isn’t time for polyamory, and that’s the reason for monogamy.

      Horsefeathers.

      If the idea was that one might not receive enough time & attention, then all you have to do is sit down & figure out how much attention you need to feel whatever it is you’re looking to feel. Then have the person promise to spend that much attention on you (this can include practical details like time intervals or “attention” can be defined in another way, but the point is that it is operationally defined). What the person does with the rest of that attention/time – whether getting a massage from an LMT or a sexy backrub from a friend – clearly has nothing to do with whether or not there is sufficient attention being paid.

      I never hear of monogamous people hashing things out in this way. It may be that some do. I have never heard of it, and, more importantly, ideological Monogamy opposes this. Hashing this out is seen as a violation of monogamy in and of itself. It is seen by ideological Monogamy as “preparation to cheat” or something similar.

      If you have never told your SO that you need X time / week to feel loved or to make your relationship work, then I don’t assume that you’re lying to your partner. I assume that you’re a competent communicator and have said what you really mean: you don’t want someone’s “attention” split, but attention isn’t operationally defined in a way that we would use it in any other context – it doesn’t mean time, so time doesn’t come up. What it means is **love**. Don’t you dare have love for anyone else. Too much love is bad. Let’s prevent all the love we possibly can, unless it is one of us for the other of us or a mutual love for our children, and even then it is okay to be jealous of relationships with the children if they don’t sufficiently differentiate themselves from our relationship with each other. You can take the kid to a Disney movie, but I wanted you to take ME to “The Debt.”

      And so on.

      I don’t want to live in a world where love is operationally defined as a bad thing, a scary thing, a threat. Therefore I will fight all attempts, explicit or implicit, to make this world one in which the default view of love is similar to what I oppose.

  • Lee

    @cattygurl:

    “You make it sound like the only option for people in monogamous relationships is to cheat. One can get out of a relationship where they are not satisfied and explore other relationships without cheating. One can talk to a partner before they act on it.”

    Yes, of course. One can blow up the relationship (get out of a relationship), or take a serious risk of blowing up the relationship (talk to a partner). Or one can continue being unhappy, in a relationship with someone who may be a very good compatible partner in all other regards. Those are available choices.

    Of course the ideal is open honest communication with one’s partner, arriving at a good solution to the issue. The ideal is also good open honest communication before committing to a monogamous relationship – but again, for most people monogamy is the default, and people find themselves in monogamous relationships, they don’t discuss and choose them.

    So, way, way too often, someone finds themselves in a good marriage, with a good person they love, with children, a home, finances and lifetime plans made together, a ‘primary’ relationship that works well and is valuable to both partners and to those in the partner’s lives, that would hurt a lot of people if it ended… and also find themselves very unhappy because of the romantic/personal opportunities that are very much desired and would be fulfilling and rich for them, but must be kept at arms distance.

    It is really easy to tell someone they should end the relationship in order to pursue those opportunities – or to tell them to remain unfulfilled and unhappy because the value of the relationship overrides the value of personal happiness.

    I’m not so willing to tell people that their only ethical options are to blow up a relationship that many people rely on, or to continue being unhappy with no way to end it.

    It is the default, usually unexamined and undiscussed assumption that relationships are and should as a matter of course be monogamous, that leads people to this point. I’d be happy to see that change – to have monogamy or non-monogamy be a thing that people decide going into their relationships, and revisit from time to time. Given that it isn’t, this situation arises all the time.

    I’m poly myself – in the interest of full disclosure, the essay I quoted and linked is by a partner and one of my lovers, who is married to another man I like and respect very much. I am under no illusion that poly is easy, or easier. It does multiply the amount of joy, connection and love I am able to have in my life and to give to others, and that’s worth, FOR ME, the effort of trying to do poly well.

    What dismays me is the easy, blithe prescription that if one finds that monogamy makes one unhappy, that the ethical choices are either to blow up or risk blowing up a valuable relationship, or to remain unhappy, and that those are both vastly superior ethical choices to ‘cheating.’

    The mainstream attitude I see in poly circles is not just that ‘I won’t date someone who is cheating.’ I understand that – there are a lot of good personal reasons to make that choice. But the poly value extends to, ‘if you choose to date someone who is cheating, then you are being unethical.’ In fact, more unethical than choosing to blow up an otherwise good solid family and relationship – which is seen as an ethical choice, preferable, even if the only issue in an otherwise good relationship is monogamy. That is what I mean when I say that poly ethics reinforce monogamy – the broad condemnation of anyone who decides not to give monogamy primacy over one’s choice of partners.

    • http://langcultcog.com/traumatized DuWayne

      Lee -

      Of course the ideal is open honest communication with one’s partner, arriving at a good solution to the issue. The ideal is also good open honest communication before committing to a monogamous relationship – but again, for most people monogamy is the default, and people find themselves in monogamous relationships, they don’t discuss and choose them.

      This. I don’t get this at all. When I was younger I was extremely promiscuous and both honest and unapologetic about it. I got slightly more involved with some women than others, always making it extremely clear what I was about. When I got into the few serious relationships I was in, monogamy was most certainly not the default. There were clear lines of communication and while some of those relationships were monogamous, that was explicitly stated and stuck to.

      The only serious problem arose when I was involved with someone who understood that I wasn’t into monogamy and just said she didn’t want to know about it. My mistake. Things went badly when our relationship progressed to a place where she believed things should be exclusive (we had a child), but chose not to communicate her feelings to me – assuming that I would just get it. To this day I don’t understand that. I am not great person by any stretch – indeed I have made some very horrific mistakes. But I am honest and I am very big on communication. I make this clear to everyone I become personally involved with, friends as well as lovers and expect them to grant me the same courtesy.

      But I do believe that in any relationship – romantic or not, sexual or not, you have a responsibility to adhere to the explicit parameters of that relationship. If you wish to change those parameters, you have a responsibility to discuss it with the other party(ies) in that relationship. At the very least you need to inform them, so they can make decisions regarding that relationship accordingly. If you choose not to do so, then you are cheating – a paradigm I don’t think applies exclusively to romantic/sexual relationships.

  • Lee

    @Taylor:

    “I’m personally tired of hearing poly people say that eve very one should do what they feel and then bashing on monogamy.”

    I apologize if it sounded like i was bashing monogamy. Monogamy does not work for me or the people I’m in relationship with -but it does for a lot of people and i know that. If you and your partner are both happy in your monogamous relationship and that relationship works, then that is a good and valuable thing.

    What I’m bashing is the unchallenged, unexamined, and default assumption that monogamy is ‘normal’ and what automatically exists in a relationship, in the absence of any other discussion or choice.

    That essay I cited would perhaps better have been titled, “Why I hate monogamy for me, and hate the assumption of monogamy as normal.’ But the author is a better writer than that, and she chose the more powerful title. She’s also my partner and one of my lovers, in the interests of full disclosure.

    BTW< I just posted a long comment on the ethics of non-monogamy and of ending relationships – I suspect (hope?) i is just caught in moderation, because I didn't copy it before I posted it and it disappeared.

  • cattygurl

    For one, cheating isn’t simply about wanting to have sex with others.

    Some people cheat because they actually enjoy the drama of forbidden fruit. Some cheat simply because they’ve been cheated on and feel like they need to even the score. Some people cheat because they’re resentful at something completely different and nothing to do with sexual desire for another, and they need an outlet for their resentment. An example would be my friend’s roommate who cheated on her boyfriend because he spent a lot of time with his guy friends, and she was resentful. There’s many reasons to cheat, and many of them is not rooted on a desire to have sex with other people.

    Seriously, I’m beginning to think you’re a bit dense, Lee.

    This is the issue here. You and the OP are reducing poly/open relationships to this gross, reductive focus on sex.

    “What dismays me is the easy, blithe prescription that if one finds that monogamy makes one unhappy, that the ethical choices are either to blow up or risk blowing up a valuable relationship, or to remain unhappy, and that those are both vastly superior ethical choices to ‘cheating.’”

    Do you see how self-serving that is, and how that wouldn’t serve in a healthy open or poly relationship, either? Would you feel valued if the person hid something very important from you that had possible health and financial implications because they didn’t want to risk an argument? Change monogamy with heterosexuality for someone that is gay- and no ethical counselor will tell them to stay in an unhappy heterosexual relationship and hide their homosexuality to their partner simply because s/he doesn’t want to “risk blowing up a valuable relationship.” Say you’re in an open relationship. You know your partner does NOT want you to sleep with her family members, but dang, her sister is smokin’ and by god, you’d be seriously unhappy unless you could shag her a few times. Hey, why blow up and risk the relationship with the primary partner? I’ll just screw her sister, because I get so much value from my primary relationship that I don’t wanna trouble it with this “open discussion and honesty” business. That’s ethical, right? Acording to your line of thinking, it sure is.

    Seriously, your arguments are absolutely craptacular. I’m VERY pro-poly and the fact that you’re trying to use poly as an excuse for unethical behavior… with supporters like you, who needs detractors? My poly friend was also utterly disgusted by your line of argument.

    Oh, my spouse started a business without my consent and loaned thousands of dollars without asking me because he knew I wouldn’t agree and he didn’t want to blow up or risk blowing up the relationship! That’s ethical to you, right- because under your argument, it is. If I like what I get from the relationship, let’s do whatever I want behind our spouse’s back. Screw what my spouse wants/thinks/feels! That’s just a bad partner, that has NOTHING to do with being poly or open.

    Also, this- “if you choose to date someone who is cheating, then you are being unethical”- is generally frowned upon in ANY circle, open, poly, monogamous, straight, gay, because generally speaking, active deception is generally not considered behaviors that should be encouraged.

    I don’t understand your desire and need to defend unethical behavior to try and defend poly/open relationships. You’re doing a disservice to the poly/open people of this world. No sane poly or open person would encourage anyone to stay in their marriage and deceive their primary partner. Even Dan Savage would tell your primary partner to DTMFA- and he’s very pro-poly.

    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=408931 (the first one).

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      thank you for saying this. I too am very concerned about how these essays make poly about sex and make anti-monogamy arguments reducible to, “But I’m not having the best time I could possibly have in an ideal world, therefore: Poly. QED!”

      This is about what monogamy does much more than it is about what poly does. And what poly does is not just create opportunities for sex. What poly does is returns love to the status of a good thing. It harms us to treat love as an evil. I will not do it.

      I am poly. I will only have poly relationships. And yet, if a partner asked me not to have any kind of sex that would spread disease – including simple mouth-to-mouth kissing – I might very well agree. However, if a partner wanted a relationship in which it was forbidden to speak about being attracted to someone or spend time with people to whom I’m attracted, I would not agree. Not ever. Not even if offered something that they imagined might offset what I was giving up. Crushes create some of the most marvelous joy on this planet and spread no disease at all. The only interest my partner could possibly have in forbidding a crush is the interest in making sure that such a crush doesn’t become a loving attachment, and the only interest they might have in that is making sure that I not forsake the current attachment.

      But here’s the thing – one can’t forbid attractions/crushes: they happen. And if you accept them but try to prevent love, then you’re creating a world that I oppose with every fiber of my being. When my partners are happy, I am happy for them. I am one of the lucky people that really experience jealousy almost never. But even if I did experience jealousy, I would not use that jealousy as a reason to make love into an evil. I will not participate in such a conversion.

      Why can’t Jaime & Kelly talk about that? This is what I and my poly friends talk about when we have conversations like the above. We also have conversations about getting some sexy-time, but those are identical to the conversations that single people have. Those aren’t the conversations about the impact & nature of monogamy & polyamory. Those latter conversations barely touch on sex.

  • cattygurl

    one more:

    “What I’m bashing is the unchallenged, unexamined, and default assumption that monogamy is ‘normal’ and what automatically exists in a relationship, in the absence of any other discussion or choice.”

    This can apply for someone that is BDSM, someone that has specific fetishes, someone that is homosexual/bisexual/transsexual.

    So talk about it and don’t go deceiving people. You can challenge monogamy without excusing cheating. Seriously. I’m shocked that I actually have to exaplin this to someone that *is* poly, because I expect this from monogamy-only folks, but goddamn is this disappointing.

  • Lee

    ” For one, cheating isn’t simply about wanting to have sex with others.”

    Of course.
    Yes people ‘cheat ‘ for lots of reasons – some of which are not the reasons I’m discussing. People do that in poly relationships, too. Dishonesty for the thrill of dishonesty is wrong, and it happens, and it is not what I’m talking about. Cheating for the purpose of punishing your partner happens, and is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who find themselves unhappy at being in an otherwise good monogamous relationship, and find themselves in a monogamous relationship that has no room for non-monogamy, and how they got there, and what are the possible responses and consequences of that. I thought I was really clear about that, in the first paragraph of my first response.

    “You and the OP are reducing poly/open relationships to this gross, reductive focus on sex.”

    Well, no. Actually, i am talking specifically and repeatedly about relationships. Relationships often include sex as a substantial or major part – but it’s the relationships I’m talking about. I’m really not sure where you got the idea that I’m talking about getting laid because one wants to get laid and is too selfish to keep it zipped up – if you somehow read that into what I’m writing , no wonder you’re confused by my argument.

    “Oh, my spouse started a business without my consent and loaned thousands of dollars without asking me because he knew I wouldn’t agree and he didn’t want to blow up or risk blowing up the relationship! That’s ethical to you, right- because under your argument, it is.”

    Of course not – he is taking from you something that belongs to you, without your consent. Seriously, as a poly person, you are confusing ownership and relationship? Really?

    And THAT is my primary point. Monogamy as ownership over one’s partner’s sexuality and ability to have relationships, is seen as default. Even the poly community defers to that claim of ownership. And THAT is what I’m trying to point out and question.

  • Daniel Schealler

    I don’t think Jamie’s a moral absolutist.

    He does come over as kind of pushy though.

    He’s like an opposite-land prod-nose – only instead of tut-tutting in disapproval over promiscuity, he’s tut-tutting over disapproval of monogamy.

    Hang on.

    Hmm. This might just be my paranoia talking… But still, that’s interesting.

    Daniel, did you pull a switcheroo to mess with our heads on this one?

    Because it’s starting to feels like you’ve taken a stereotypical ‘relativist in favor of polyamory’ vs. ‘absolutist in favor of monogamy’ dialog and reversed the positions.

  • Lee

    @cattygurl:

    one more:

    “So talk about it and don’t go deceiving people. You can challenge monogamy without excusing cheating.”

    As I’ve already said several times, talking about it is best. It’s the right thing.

    Yes, cheating is wrong. So is blowing up a relationship that is otherwise good, solid, and important to many people. So is being deeply unhappy with no recourse.

    I’m not excusing cheating – I’m pointing out that the automatic unexamined impulse to put “thou shalt not cheat” in an ethically preferred position over these other wrongs, is at least in large part because we accept uncritically the idea that being in relationship means we own our partner’s sexuality and right to other relationships.

    What I’m trying to argue – probably not well – is that this automatic default undiscussed, unexamined assumption that being in relationship means we have ownership claims on our partner’s sexuality and right to relationships, is at least as ethically wrong as any of the above wrongs – and a deep root cause of them as well.

    And further, that this deep aversion to cheating in poly communities, which I accept does have part of its root in valuing honesty in relationships, is also at least as deeply rooted in an acceptance of right to ownership as the default in a relationship – unless you have permission to love someone else, you have no right to do so. And, unless I know that you have permission, I have no right to be in relationship with you – because that other persons owns those rights.

    I’d argue that a system that by default grants ownership of our ability to love and of our sexuality to someone else, without even asking if it is what we want, simply because we enter relationship with them, is the most deeply unethical part of this entire thing.

  • cattygurl

    “I’m pointing out that the automatic unexamined impulse to put “thou shalt not cheat” in an ethically preferred position over these other wrongs, is at least in large part because we accept uncritically the idea that being in relationship means we own our partner’s sexuality and right to other relationships.”

    So again- start talking about it. We can’t expect to change that without talking about it now, can we? You think cheating on your partner is going to make it any easier or any more acceptable?

    If you actually have any respect for your partner and the importance of consent, being deceptive is unethical. You inform your partner because you actually acknowledge that you DON’T own their sexuality, and you WANT to give them every opportunity to say either yes, no, or talk it out. Being deceptive IS trumping your rights over those of your partner, there’s nothing egalitarian or commendable in that act. You want people to give you the freedom that you’re not willing to give your partner- because freedom regarding sexuality absolutely comes with the right to say no as well as yes, unless you’re a rape apologist. Unless we’re talking about masturbation, sexuality will ALWAYS require, if you want to talk about ethics, negotiation with your partner(s) in some way. Unless you’re a rapist, it’s not going to what you want, the way you want it. Your partner’s body belongs to THEM, and ESPECIALLY considering we don’t live in a perfect world free of unintended pregnancies and STIs, what you do with your body with others can SERIOUSLY impact your partner’s body. I can’t believe I’m even having to explain this to a poly person.

    Look, if you want to justify poly people cheating in monogamous relationships, that’s on you. I refuse to personally be the one to taint the poly/open community with that trope of bullshit. YMMV.

  • Lee

    OK, It’s clear that you are either unwilling or unable to actually address the point I am actually making.

    First, what makes you think **I** don’t talk to my partners about this? What part of ‘its best to discuss’ and of ‘cheating is wrong’ didn’t you get? Of course people should be honest with their partners. They should also not abandon otherwise good relationships because monogamy doesn’t work for them. They should also not resign themselves to a life of unhappiness because of limited passion and joy.

    All of these are wrong.

    “Unless we’re talking about masturbation, sexuality will ALWAYS require, if you want to talk about ethics, negotiation with your partner(s) in some way.”

    Exactly – that’s my freaking point. My point is that we have a culture and default set of assumptions that for many (most?) people impose an agreement that never got discussed or negotiated – in fact, that cant be discussed or negotiated, without deeply violating that cultural norm. That default is that each partner, without discussion or negotiation, by default, owns the other’s sexuality and right to form loving relationships.

    That the culturally ‘normal’ lack of discussion or negotiation gets people into ethically untenable positions – in which every choice is ethically wrong.

    I’m asking why, in that case, the only choice that gets harshly judged, is the choice that accepts and rewards that default assumption of ownership over part of another person’s being. You’re responding by harshly judging that one choice.

    I know of couples who have been sexless for 15 years or more, because one partner can’t have sex any more, or has no more interest in sex, and would feel betrayed if the other partner, who is still loving and loved, engaged, happily living life together – in some cases, caring for the other partner – would feel betrayed if the other partner ever had sex with anyone else. That looks to me suspiciously similar to ‘if I can’t have her, no one can.’ It is ownership, control – with the default weight of social approval behind it.

    People often tell the partner who craves and misses passionate connection, passionate relationship with another person, who is often caring for the sexless partner – “just leave.” Leaving, abandoning the partner, is seen as ethically ok, but ‘betraying’ the partner by having sex without permission and without telling her is unacceptable.

    These are extreme examples – but I think they are illustrative. As long as the sexless partner is still in relationship, that partner controls – owns – the sexuality of BOTH partners. The only way out is to stop being owned, by leaving – even if that means abandoning a partner who needs you.

    You are actually making my point, cattygurl. Instead of addressing my argument about the fact that there are MULTIPLE ethical dilemmas in play – and the central issue of what it means to let one person own something of another by default, without discussion – you continue to insist that having sex without one’s partners permission is the OLNY unacceptable wrong in these ethically fraught situations.

    You are making a defense of the default primacy of assuming ownership of one person’s sexuality and ability to have relationships, simply by virtue of being in relationship with that person. Actually, it isn’t even a defense of it – its simply a statement that this is the way it should be.

    So I’ll ask more directly – why is abandoning someone you love, or accepting being unsatisfied with one’s life, ethically preferable in all cases to ‘cheating’? Is there a way that you can make that argument universal, that doesn’t require an assumption that partners by default, without actively choosing otherwise, own each other’s sexuality and access to loving relationships? And if that assumption is made – what justifies it?

  • Daniel Schealler

    @cattygurl and @Lee

    I’ve been following the exchange. Haven’t had much to add specifically to any points you guys are making. It’s all good stuff.

    If it’s alright with both of you, I’d like to introduce two topics into the mix.

    There’s at least two kinds of possessiveness that it might be worth distinguishing between.

    In no particular order:

    The first is straight-up sexual possessiveness: If you have sex with anyone else I will get jealous. I do not want you to have sex with anyone else with me.

    The second is perhaps more subtle – time, attention, and resources possessiveness: If you are going to spend significant portions of your free time, attention, and resources on anything else I will get jealous. I do not want you to spend significant portions of your free time, attention and resources on anything other than me.

    The stereotypes would be that the former is the domain of men and the latter the domain of women – but as with all stereotypes these are worth looking at skeptically before we draw too many conclusions.

    In my own relationship, my partner and I are comfortably sexually monogamous – neither of us view it as a particularly large sacrifice.

    The time/attention/resources thing though does raise it’s head occasionally as a source of friction.

    I’ve been described as having the personality of a cat – intensely affectionate when I feel like it, but otherwise am completely satisfied to sit by myself and be left alone. Introverted + obsessive = hardcore loner. I have a powerful need to be left alone to my own devices.

    My girlfriend on the other hand is entirely the opposite. She’s a bottomless spring of loving attention and affection that has to be invested in something or she’ll pop a fuse… And also needs a certain level of affection to come back the other way in order to not feel neglected. She has a powerful need to feel appreciated.

    The disconnect between the two are certainly manageable – we’re very happy together. But every now and again one or the other of us gets our hackles up. Sometimes I start to get a little bit resentful about demands on my personal time that I think are unreasonable… And sometimes she gets resentful about being neglected because I’m spending too much time with my nose in a book/on a computer/working on a side project at the office on the weekend.

    The trick is that we’re both ‘right’ in a sense. I am certainly entitled to a certain degree of time to myself – but at the same time my partner is entitled to a certain degree of attention and my time and energy. So there’s compromise on both ends of the relationship, and we both have to work to get it right.

    These two different kinds of possessiveness/jealously/whatever seem (to me) to be related but distinct, so it might be worth distinguishing between them in the context of the discussion you guys are having.

    For example: If you’re in a poly relationship, is it reasonable to expect an obligation to a certain level of time/energy investment? If so, how much? Does having a set guaranteed level of time investment make it easier or harder to continue with a poly relationship? Do you think men and women have reliably consistent and significantly different patterns of behavior in terms of these kinds of possessiveness?

    Just wanted to put that out there. Feel free to ignore if you think it’s too large a digression from the topic at hand.

  • Lee

    @Daniel Schealler:

    “The first is straight-up sexual possessiveness: If you have sex with anyone else I will get jealous. I do not want you to have sex with anyone else…”

    This is the one we’ve been arguing – but I think the cultural norm (to the extent that such norm are useful descriptions) is broader than sex, and I’m arguing that it’s more than jealousy.

    “If you become emotionally, romantically involved with anyone else, you are betraying me.”

    My argument is that the feeling of betrayal – and the cultural reinforcement that it really is betrayal – is evidence of an sense of ownership: “you’re giving someone else something that belongs to me.”

    In a lot of ways, the emotional part is stronger than the sexual. It isn’t uncommon for people trying poly on for the first time, to say something like: “I can handle him/her having sex with the new person, but I don’t think I can take if if they fall in love.” In fact, its not all that unusual for couples to agree with each other that they’re free to have relationships and sex with others, but not to fall in love – a promise doomed to failure.

    For me, a lot of the espoused values of the ‘poly community’ simply accept and translate the ownership protocols of monogamy such that they can be applied to multiple people.

    I think the time/resource/availability issues are not unique to poly and not terribly relevant to this conversation. The challenges are real, and often difficult, but they don’t come freighted with the same emotional risks. The other demands can be work, hobby, need for alone time. One of the challenges of doing poly well, is balancing the need for me, of the people I am in relationship with – but that’s true of everyone in relationship, poly or monogamous.

  • cattygurl

    “They should also not abandon otherwise good relationships because monogamy doesn’t work for them.”

    This part: because you are disregarding your partner. If you don’t get this part, I really don’t know what else to say to you.

    If your partner wants monogamy and wants you to be monogamous in order to continue a relationship with them, then YOU acting in disregard of that and utilizing deceit, is taking someone’s consent away. Is this so difficult to understand? I repeat: When you act in deceit, you are actively taking your partner’s consent away.

    As for your sexless marriage trope- see my Dan Savage link.

    “we have a culture and default set of assumptions that for many (most?) people impose an agreement that never got discussed or negotiated – in fact, that cant be discussed or negotiated, without deeply violating that cultural norm.”

    So, basically you’re saying that if culture dictates that you don’t talk about a subject, you’re within your rights to be deceitful. Oh, you’re a piece of work. This can be applied to STIs. so I take it you think it’s all right to not disclose STI status to your partner because we have a culture that indeed does terribly stigmatize STIs. Hey, it’s HARD to talk about it without violating cultural norms, so it’s ok if I refuse to talk about it! That’s just awesome. Ugh.

    The multiple dilemma that is in play is that you TALK about it. You discuss what you want, and what your partner wants. And as adults, if you cannot come to a conclusion that is agreeable to the BOTH of you, then you talk and figure out what happens from there. If your partner agrees to don’t ask don’t tell, then having sex outside your relationship isn’t exactly cheating now, is it? If your partner says if you sleep with someone else, I’d like a divorce- then you respect that divorce if you want to have sex with others, because clearly your partner has stated that he or she wants something you cannot offer, and they are within their rights, just as you have the right to say I want a divorce if I cannot sleep with others.

    Just because there’s a culture of lack of communication does not make it right to be deceitful. Our culture is deeply fucked about communication on many, many things. Are you trying to change that? It seems you aren’t- you’re trying to shove polyamory down everyone’s throats, and using a terrible example to do such. You’re the flipside of the same coin as monogamists.

    “Abandoning someone you love, or accepting being unsatisfied with one’s life, ethically preferable in all cases to ‘cheating’?”

    Generally, we have a universal distaste for deceit for a good reason, yes? Abandoning someone you love? If you discuss something with your partner and he/she says “I do not want to continue this relationship anymore if you choose/continue in this behavior”- that is not “abandoning” them, is it? Seems you’re far more possessive of your right to your feelings than showing respect to your partner. If you’re so against ownership- why is it that you don’t seem to see that people have the right to extract themselves from any relationship at any time for any reason? Polyamory is actually the acknowledgement that there is more than 1 person for us- so why are you so stuck on making your monogamous partner stick with you by using deceit? As for being unsatisfied in life, we all don’t get to force our views on others. People that love and care for each other split up ALL THE TIME for many, many reasons. Loving and caring for someone does not mean that you have the right to keep them with you using deceit. Well – maybe YOU do, I do not.

    “Is there a way that you can make that argument universal, that doesn’t require an assumption that partners by default, without actively choosing otherwise, own each other’s sexuality and access to loving relationships?”

    It’s not ownership, it’s consent. Do you not understand that sex is not an absolute risk-free activity? Do you not understand that people have differences in sexuality and boundaries? Do you not understand that people have… gasp… different needs? What part of STI risk do you not fucking understand? Are you stuck at three years old where you don’t get that the world doesn’t revolve around you? If you get that the world doesn’t revolve around you, you learn to ASK, not ASSUME that everyone is the same way and wants the same things. If you’re mature, you make every effort to TALK, DISCUSS, even if it makes you and your partner uncomfortable. Sexuality does not just involve sex, it can involve non-sexual activities. Assuming polyamory is just as wrong as assuming monogamy. Humans are different, we have lots of variety, and that means we always should ASK, DISCUSS, and if we can’t agree to terms, respect your partner if they do not want to continue. Not everyone is polyamorous, just like not everyone is monogamous.

    Actually, it’s better to come from the place where you don’t assume anything- you ask your partner, you discuss, and you seek for compatible mates, rather than keeping a mate with you through the use of deceit.

    Fucking hell.

  • Lee

    cattygurl, you are responding angrily to things I haven’t said. Please, reread my post – please – and try to respond to my points.

    “So, basically you’re saying that if culture dictates that you don’t talk about a subject, you’re within your rights to be deceitful”

    No. Again, what part of “Dishonesty is wrong” aren’t you getting?

    i’m not excusing dishonesty. I’m also not willing to blindly condemn it in all cases, regardless of circumstance – sometimes it might be the lesser wrong, and not just in these circumstances. Doesnt make it not wrong. And I also never ‘cheated,’ and expect I never will, despite being in a sexless marriage myself for some time – blame partly to both of us. I came close, but backed out because it was too wrong for me.

    What I’m doing, is I’m pointing at a set of multiple wrongs, and asking why, among those multiple wrongs, one of them is universally reviled, while the others are actually encouraged, and saying that to me this looks like support for a default assumption of ownership. You seem unable to respond to that point.

    I’m not saying that one is not wrong. I’m asking why it is MORE wrong. You aren’t answering that question.

    BTW, I’m very familiar with Dan’s position on this. I don’t entirely agree with it, for reasons that are more complex than you seem willing to listen to.

  • cattygurl

    @Daniel- I’m not even talking about jealousy here. Lee’s talking about ownership, and while he claims to abhor it, it’s otherwise. He’s basically saying that if one cannot get their way in a relationship, it’s justifiable to use deceit in order to keep the relationship. If that’s not a passive aggressive form of control, what is?

    Lack of ownership means that we communicate openly, respect consent and act without deceit.

    Also, this:

    “If you’re in a poly relationship, is it reasonable to expect an obligation to a certain level of time/energy investment? If so, how much?”

    Everyone has needs, and everyone’s needs are going to be different. People are not obligated to fullfill our needs and vice-versa. We ask, they consent or not, or negotiate, they ask, we consent, or not, or negotiate. That is how ethical relationships are conducted, full stop.

    That’s what I’m trying to say.

    There are *some* cases where having sex outside a marriage in understandable- i.e. your partner has alzheimers or coma where there is little to no chance of recovery, severe brain damage- where they can no longer consent- or where they are severely debilitated physically through serious illness/accident or severe mental illness where there is little hope for recovery, and you want to keep caring for them physically and financially and they want you to make medical decisions for them.

    However, a partner with the ability to consent has told you that they do not want to be in a relationship where you have sex with others, you leave. You respect their consent and you leave.

    Loving and caring for someone in no way does not give you the right of ownership to have a relationship with them. Insisting on that is called… being a stalker.

  • cattygurl

    “I’m pointing at a set of multiple wrongs, and asking why, among those multiple wrongs, one of them is universally reviled, while the others are actually encouraged”

    Abandoning someone is not always wrong. People abandon abusive partners that claim to love and care for them, and there is no way that leaving an abusive spouse is wrong. You don’t have to use deceit to abandon them, either.

    Being deeply unhappy is what it is- if you’re deeply unhappy because you can’t see eye to eye with someone, you don’t have the right to use deceit to make them stay with you or agree with your pov.

    Cheating on the other hand does always use deceit. That is why it is universally reviled, although there are exceptions as I’ve pointed out.

    It doesn’t have to be based on ownership- it can be based on respect for consent.

  • Lee

    “Lee’s talking about ownership, and while he claims to abhor it, it’s otherwise. He’s basically saying that if one cannot get their way in a relationship, it’s justifiable to use deceit in order to keep the relationship. If that’s not a passive aggressive form of control, what is?”

    Oh good christ. Please stop telling me what I’m saying. You’re not any good at it. Again, what part of “dishonesty is wrong” are you unable to read and understand?

    What I’m saying is that sometimes, in the face of a partner who is exerting control in the relationship by using presumed ownership over one’s sexuality and freedom to form relationships, that ALL of one’s possible responses are damaging, often to a lot of people, and carry their own ethical problems. Blowing a family apart, damaging children and financial security, is even encouraged. Giving to the emotional blackmail and living an unhappy unfulfilled life is seen as a rational choice, and encouraged – but not as much as blowing the family apart. And the fact that the partner using presumed ownership to blackmail control from their partner is doing something wrong as well – isn’t even mentioned.

    I’m not justifying ‘cheating.’ I’m pointing out that in a galaxy of damaging unethical choices, only that one, the one that challenges the assumption of ownership, is condemned with this kind of heat and vehemence – and that this points to an acceptance of that kind of assumed ownership between partners in a relationship. And I’m also noticing that I don’t see any condemnation of that unexamined assumption of ownership o that one can control one;s partners emotional and sexual bonds as a matter of course – even if one isn’t having emotional or sexual connection with one’s partner.

    Sure, open, honest, courageous communication is the most ethical and ‘best’ way to do relationship. It’s what I want and work for. If if is blanket unethical to do relationship any other way – well, you just condemned a hell of a lot of relationships as unethical, many of which work quite well for the people in them.

    Given that a lot of relationships have ethical problems of one kind or another – I’m pointing out that the ethical problems we choose to focus on and condemn, as a society identifies and reinforces social constraints on relationship. In this case, the constraint that partners by default, without discussion, assume ownership over each other’s sexual and emotional lives.

    And I find that ethically nightmarish. I think that assumption leads to the kinds of dilemmas that cause people to have to make these no-win ethical choices.

    And I find it interesting – and troubling – that even those who practice relationships that claim to challenge ownership of others, continue to accept and even reinforce the ethical calculus that condemns THIS wrong, but not THAT wrong in a way that actually, IMO, reinforces that default assumption of ownership.

    “It doesn’t have to be based on ownership- it can be based on respect for consent.”

    Correct – it doesn’t “have to” be based on ownership. But it very often is.

  • Lee

    “However, a partner with the ability to consent has told you that they do not want to be in a relationship where you have sex with others, you leave. You respect their consent and you leave.”

    Lets try a real world example.

    A couple with a home, a mortgage which they can handle but only just, three pre-teen children, and caring for one of their parents. They like each other, are a solid economic team, good parents together.

    On of them decides s/he no longer wants sex or emotional passion, but will end the relationship if the other partner seeks it elsewhere.

    If they divorce, they cant afford two households and will lose the house they built together and that the children grew up in. They’ll have to move to neighborhoods with worse schools, and will no longer be able to afford the kids summer camps and music lessons for the child with real talent. Cost of keeping two households means that savings for the kids college funds wont be possible. The parent they are caring for will need to be moved from a high quality assisted living facility to a ‘rest home.’

    This is not a hypothetical situation, BTW. I know these people. And this, or similar, is not even close to uncommon.

    What is your ethical calculus here, cuttygurl? They both have lots of reasons to stay in the relationship. The both WANT to stay in the relationship. Ending it would damage both of them, and a lot of people outside the two of them.

    The one partner is, in effect, using the relationship to blackmail (probably unconsciously, unknowingly – with that default assumption of ownership) the other into accepting a claim of ownership over their sexuality and access to passionate relationship – in what is otherwise a very good relationship.

    The other partner is faced with a choice to give in to that blackmail and live a life without passionate relationship – which is very important to that person – or to blow up family and household and damage parent and children and the children’s futures. Or to ‘cheat.’

    You claim, cuttygurl, that the only ethical choice here is to end the relationship, or perhaps to give in to the ‘ownership blackmail’ and accept a life devoid of passionate relationship.

    I’m arguing that ending the relationship, under these circumstances, is also deeply unethical – and that this becomes a no-win choice between unethical options.

    And further, I’m arguing that the knee-jerk advocacy for ending the relationship or giving in, and against ‘cheating,’ illuminates an invisible, deep social acceptance and reinforcement of the dynamics that create and maintain those default claims of ownership.

  • cattygurl

    Lee,

    Sure, the guy can choose to have sex outside his marriage without his wife’s consent.

    And if he does, there are possible repercussions. What if he sires a child outside his marriage? His partner now has the legal right (at least in CA) to sue the guy for child support- and if his wife works, add her to the lawsuit and use the wife’s income as consideration for the amount of the final child support due. He could bring home and STI and infect his wife, despite being “careful.” If his cheating is discovered, the wife may choose (and it’s not unfounded for her to do so) to opt for divorce.

    Cheating won’t possibly stop his family from coming apart, and may complicate divorce if it comes to that- and those are real consequences to his actions as well.

    His cheating doesn’t necessarily make him a better man, nor does it make his decision “better” than divorce, especially if he ends up with divorce and more child support, or if he infects his wife with STI and it results in say, cervical cancer- as HPV can’t be stopped by condom use. And yes, these are also possible real-life consequences to his actions. In fact, my former boss ended up in a similar scenario- except he ended up with a divorce, lost his wife as a friend, and an additional child support in addition to his own kids with his wife since he ended up splitting with his baby momma, and two kids from his first marriage that now is very wary of him, and he is paying for family counseling for him and the kids in an attempt to rebuild his relationship with his kids. His wife, to her credit, has wanted her kids to have a good relationship with their dad and fully supports the counseling and encourages them to go/does not obstruct this process.

    And then there’s another real-life example. I have friends with kids that are still legally married and still live together for similar reasons you are posting in your example, but they actually talked about it and came to a resolution. They agreed not to date for a year post-divorce and go to therapy. A year passed, they finally agreed to begin dating but not bring dates or partners home, and agreed to live together until the youngest is in college- at that point, they will sell the home and split the proceeds. They have shared this arrangement for over a decade now, and still go to therapy once a month or every so often together to discuss issues with their arrangement to maintain emotional peace on both sides.

    So no, cheating still isn’t automatically a free pass in this case, and it does not “free” you from the consequences you are trying to avoid- and at the end of the day, just as you have the option to cheat- because we always do- doesn’t mean your partner, if they do not agree with your decision, have to stay with you.

    Life is messy that way. Dealing with people is messy. We don’t always get to do what we like or avoid consequences we don’t. Life can be full of painful choices, and people have the right to leave if they don’t agree with our behavior.

  • Daniel Schealler

    @cattygurl

    I hesitate to jump in here any more than I already have done.

    You guys are going great, and another speaker in the mix will just make it look like two-against-one, which I don’t want.

    That said:

    1) Cheating might in some contexts be fairly considered the least evil of all possible actions.

    2) Cheating might in some context be fairly considered not to be evil.

    It appears to me that Lee is arguing in favor of 1) but you are arguing against 2).

    I don’t think that 1) and 2) are equivalent – so I think that there’s a communication problem somewhere.

    Note that it’s perfectly possible that I’m the one in error here.

    Don’t want to stifle the debate though – please continue.

  • roggg

    Lee: A relationship is allowed to continue by the implied consent of the involved parties. If you deceive your partner as to the nature of the relationship (exclusivity being one aspect), then that implied consent is not informed consent. How is deceiving someone in order to obtain consent EVER a superior ethical choice? I dont think monogamy is a superior default position to poly at all, but I dont think we’re even arguing about that. You are defending deceit as a means of obtaining consent to continue a relationship. I think this is self-serving and unethical, as do many others.

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      lee isn’t advocating deceit – he’s claiming that he wouldn’t advocate breaking up the relationship, wouldn’t advocate dooming one partner to joylessness AND wouldn’t advocate deceit.

      He also has said that deceit isn’t necessarily the most evil of possible actions.

      I quote from both roggg & lee -

      roggg:
      “How is deceiving someone in order to obtain consent EVER a superior ethical choice?”

      Lee:
      “Superior” implies good, so no, of course not. I’m not arguing that it is.

      Fine. I’ll argue that it is **POSSIBLE** (in extreme instances) that deceiving someone in order to obtain consent is a superior ethical choice. The below is, admittedly, extreme, but it is also taken directly from my own life with the health condition and forbidden action altered for both clarity and anonymity. Finally, let me say that in my own life the resulting dilemma hasn’t yet occurred for me, but there have been times when I feared it might come down to that dilemma. I have, so far, always received a last-minute reprieve.

      Person A has hemophilia.

      Person B swears person A to an oath forbidding person A from ever giving blood. This is because person B is concerned for person A and also does not want to have a relationship in which the other party is routinely risking death. The resulting emotional trauma for B is a thing of fear and a thing to be reasonably avoided. Perhaps there are other potential consequences as well – maybe person B joined a mortgage thinking that person A was going to survive long enough to help with the payments. If person A dies, then, person B may have credit problems. Or maybe emotional considerations are all that are at play. either way, consider the following:

      Person A is out & about without Person B. Person C is terribly injured. The only person of the right blood type to give a transfusion who is available is person A. Person A is holding a cell phone and thinks about calling person B to get an exception, but time is running out. The unique emotional nature of the topic also makes it possible that permission, were it to be given, would be given insufficiently quickly. It appears to Person A that there is a non-zero chance that the act of asking permission would cause person C to die. Person A gives the blood, plus loses more besides because halting the bleeding after donating is not automatic. Since A didn’t know the outcome of the event, try to answer the ethical questions without knowing whether A survived or didn’t survive the donation, but assume that since a donation was made that A was in the presence of medical care the entire time.

      in this situation, “cheating” – meaning breaking the promise, a form of deceit (and not just any form of deceit, but the specific form that we have been discussing and which I assume that roggg means by “deceit” in this instance) – has occurred. It is objectively wrong.

      I argue that it is also less wrong than letting person C die.

      Depending on exactly how likely it is to have taken long enough to acquire permission, breaking that promise may or may not have been less wrong than inflicting a risk of death on person C. If the odds were a trillion to one against C dying, then I would argue that the call should have been made, that cheating is “more wrong” than inflicting the minute risk of death on person C. If the chance was 10%, then I think that inflicting the risk of death on C would have been “more wrong”.

      Now you can say that this is patently inapplicable to sexual cheating. I think Lee’s point is that you don’t know it is patently inapplicable until you stop to consider it. I think he has never defended cheating. I think he merely says that we have to condemn unethical behaviors that aren’t cheating, and that when judging a person, we should stop to consider whether or not the person was in a situation with no good options, like Person A above.

      Those are modest suggestions with which I can agree. I strongly condemn dishonesty, especially forms of dishonesty that subject others to risk.

  • Lee

    @cuttygurl:

    “So no, cheating still isn’t automatically a free pass in this case, and it does not “free” you from the consequences you are trying to avoid”
    Of course not. it is one bad choice of many. Bad choices have bad consequences. Every choice in this case is bad – there are no choices without bad consequences. Trying to find a ‘least bad’ option does not magically strip away the bad (or potentially bad) consequences, and I never claimed otherwise.

    I’ll assume that you’re using the generic “you,” and not referring to me specifically.

    “and at the end of the day, just as you have the option to cheat- because we always do- doesn’t mean your partner, if they do not agree with your decision, have to stay with you.”
    Sure. And the partner also doesn’t have to hold the relationship’s financial and family obligations as blackmail to control your access to passionate and connected relationship.

    I’m finding this interesting.

    I’ve asked the same question several times now, in different forms: Why, in a situation with competing unethical actions and choices, do we condemn the option of ‘cheating’ – and essentially ignore or even condone the ‘blackmail by relationship’ to assert control over a partner’s access to sex or passionate relationship?

    In response to that question you offer repeated condemnations of cheating, with not even an acknowledgement of the question itself. Why is that?

  • Lee

    @roggg:
    “How is deceiving someone in order to obtain consent EVER a superior ethical choice?”

    “Superior” implies good, so no, of course not. I’m not arguing that it is.

    But, less bad, of a universe of choices that don’t include good choices? Sometimes. Even cuttygurl offered examples where ‘cheating’ is the less bad option.

    And again, my underlying point, which NO ONE is taking on, is this:

    Why is ‘cheating,’ which is the option that in part says “no, I’m not going to let you own my sexuality and access to relationship” – why is THAT choice so roundly and universally condemned, when there are plenty of other bad ethical actions and choices in play, including the asserted denial of a partner’s access to sex and passionate relationship with the threat of damaging the children and other dependents if the partner doesn’t give in? Why is one ethically bad choice almost universally attacked, and the other ethically bad (arguably worse) action almost universally ignored or even defended?

    I’m saying that at least one factor is that we as a culture accept, support, and defend the blanket default assumption that being in relationship means we own our partner’s sexuality and access to relationship – that we defend that relationship blackmail because we believe that our partners do in fact by default own our sexuality. And that this assumed ownership is also unethical – and too often leads to these kind of morally fraught choices between ethically bad options.

    • http://www.polygrrl.com PolyGrrl

      Totally agreed. I also support people in monogamy (which does seem to be optimal for many, if not most people) if that is their free and happy choice. I also believe that everyone should know about what other possibilities are open to them.

      I’ve written an essay called “Monogamy, and the Myth of “The One”, in case anyone is interested: http://www.polygrrl.com/monogamy.html.

    • flynn

      Possibly the reason “no one” is taking on your point is that you keep moving the goalposts. Here was your scenario:

      >So, way, way too often, someone finds themselves in a good marriage, with a good person they love, with children, a home, finances and lifetime plans made together, a ‘primary’ relationship that works well and is valuable to both partners and to those in the partner’s lives, that would hurt a lot of people if it ended… and also find themselves very unhappy because of the romantic/personal opportunities that are very much desired and would be fulfilling and rich for them, but must be kept at arms distance.

      Nothing about joyless, sexless, passionless relationships full of emotional blackmail. In fact, you said that having to seek “permission” was the wrong being committed–that is, the need to tell your partner is the problem, not your partner’s response. Now you’ve shifted to this:

      >asserted denial of a partner’s access to sex and passionate relationship with the threat of damaging the children and other dependents if the partner doesn’t give in

      Do you see how this is not the same thing as a healthy primary relationship? Of course, someone in your original scenario fears that the big reveal will lead to all the bad things you mention, but that’s the time when Dan Savage puts his hand on your head and says, “go forth, my child, and be happy.” Really, though, the fear that your partner will freak out is not the same as your partner freaking out. This is why cattygurl keeps talking about consent.

      For the record, I agree that monogamy is a model which cramps a lot of people and I would like to move to a more open model. But that does NOT mean that my expectation that my spouse is not currently in another relationship since I haven’t heard about it is a terrible, terrible imposition. It’s about the same as my assumption that they’ll come home after work, unless I get notified otherwise.

    • Lee

      No – I’ve moved to a specific instance, to illustrate the issue. yes, my specific instance is toward one end of a spectrum, for clarity. cattygurl’s point was that it is never ok – I’ve offered a scenario that requires more analysis than just ‘cheating wrong.’ i offered it t see if I can get her to actually respond to the point about balancing ethical problems.

      “Dan Savage puts his hand on your head and says, “go forth, my child, and be happy.” ”

      IOW, Dan says,’ yes, damage your children’s financial security and future, consign your parent to bad care, its better than being dishonest.”
      I’m aware of his point – I don’t agree, not in all cases. Again – y’all keep pretending that there are no other ethical issues in play, other than being dishonest to the partner about sex.

      “Really, though, the fear that your partner will freak out is not the same as your partner freaking out”
      You;re right, it’s not. Some people know their partner’s well enough to be pretty sure, some are just scared. Again, my point is that the stakes are really high. If yo think your relationship will survive that discussion, and you’re wrong – its the children, the parents, lots of other people who also suffer. That risk belongs in the equation, even when one isn’t sure. And often, one is sure.

      And, one more time – my main purpose isn’t to defend cheating. It is to ask why the preferential condemnation of cheating, given all the other potential ethical wrong actions and choices in play. And again, the response is to dive in and condemn cheating, and ignore the other ethically bad actions and choices in play..

    • flynn

      As I read it, Dan Savage says, “go have a secret extramarital affair if you’re trapped in a blackmail situation, but be aware that everyone thinks of this as cheating, because the definition of cheating doing that thing that you are doing, and lots of people hate it and will judge you. Decide if your love is worth it.” And he beats the drum about changing the norm, talking about it, making assumptions explicit, being willing to change. This stuff takes work. We can rage all we want about the current norm, but it won’t change itself. But sometimes even when we try to be honest, we get stuck in a situation like DuWayne described.

      So do I get your meaning here: the poly community says that cheating (sticking with this word since it’s what we have) is generally to be avoided. Many will not date “cheaters.” Some are very vocal about it and ostracize not only cheaters but even people who date cheaters. This duplicates the default position that monogamy is the only option. The default option is what allows spouses to pull the blackmail thing. Blackmail is wrong. Is that the situation, pretty much?

      If so, we’re being asked to compare the wrongs of breaking up, cheating, and outside people’s condemnation of cheating (you identify it as this, but cattygurl keeps pointing out that she is actually condemning exposing people to risk without their consent, which is the inevitable result of cheating. Did I miss your reply to that?). You’ve painted a picture of an intolerable situation that evokes a lot of sympathy. I’d certainly feel conflicted about that. However, you earlier painted a picture of a pretty good situation. Not feeling so conflicted about that one. So here’s the problem: how do we know, when we are dealing with a secret affair, what is true? In any situation, you can’t be sure, but being able to get independent confirmation helps. So I’m in a relationship with a “cheater” and I want to check that things are OK: I can’t meet the spouse, but you (the “cheater” character) say you’re being responsible. Is this affecting your kids? I can’t meet them, but you say it’s OK. I can’t meet your friends? How about your other partners? Would you tell me if you had them? I can’t call you on the phone, or be with you in public. You know the drill. So, yes, I’d feel sympathy according to the severity of the suffering, but I can’t know the severity except based on the reporting of the potential cheater, who is motivated to represent it as severe. If I’m to tolerate this sort of individual in a poly situation, I’d expect them to pass a higher bar in demonstrating honesty and good faith. But, given the problems inherent in a secret relationship, it would be hard to know when to trust them. So perhaps my tolerance-with-conditions is so high a bar that no one could pass it?

  • Lee

    @Daniel:
    Thank you – I think that’s a very succinct and accurate way to describe how we’ve been talking past each other.

  • cattygurl

    “In response to that question you offer repeated condemnations of cheating, with not even an acknowledgement of the question itself. Why is that?”

    Uhm, maybe this is because I come from a background of doing STI education.

    Why is it that you also do not even acknowledge that cheating could very well compromise your partner’s health and finances? You’ve not said one thing about the real world risks of cheating, and the possible consequences for your partner.

    “And the partner also doesn’t have to hold the relationship’s financial and family obligations as blackmail to control your access to passionate and connected relationship.”

    So you’re saying that if someone wants a divorce and asks for child support, etc- that’s blackmail? It’s not blackmail if what people are asking for are reasonable. It may not be what YOU want, but it’s not blackmail to leave a relationship and ask for child support, etc.

  • Lee

    cattygurl, would you please read what I’ve said before you misrepresent it?

    Of course cheating has potential bad consequences, including potential compromises to your partner’s finances, and if you are still having sex, potentially to health. How many times do I have to say ‘cheating is a bad choice. Bad choices have bad consequences,’ before you’ll recognize that I’ve said that cheating is a bad choice with bad potential consequences?

    It is one of a universe of bad choices, all with their own bad consequences.

    Divorce also has bad consequences, including to finances and to health. I’m in the middle of a divorce ( caused by a fundamental value mismatch over money issues, and no, I didn’t cheat. Neither did she. We’ve been honestly and openly poly for years). The financial consequences have been severe, for both of us and for our children. Loss of health insurance for one partner _ potentially devastating to health. Struggling to hold onto the house our children grew up in, to minimize their loss, while I maintain a separate household elsewhere on the same combined income we had between us before divorceLoss of college opportunities for children – we’ll probably lose the house within a year as a consequence of the divorce. Having to give up lessons and performance options for our talented children. This is typical, normal, in a divorce. Divorce also has profoundly damaging financial and potential health consequences.

    i’m not denying the bad implications of any of those bad ethical choices. I’m pointing out that they are all bad – and highlighting that the way we evaluate those bad choices has more to do with what we think a relationship means, than it does with the actual comparative consequences of those competing bad choices.

  • cattygurl

    @Daniel

    I think you are confusing unethical with evil.

    Using deceit to stay with a partner is always unethical. It may not be evil, but it’s unethical.

    I’ve also listed instances where the unethical is removed more because one does not have a consenting partner (i.e., coma, brain damage, etc).

    Also, Lee absolutely refuses to address that there are health implications to sex. (you as a general you, not you specifically) If you are poly and you tell your partner you’ll break up with them if they have sex with untested partners, are you being controlling of their sexuality- or are you just upholding your standards (which you have every right to uphold) and protecting your (and your other partners’) health? By Lee’s focus on ownership, protecting your health (which is a VERY IMPORTANT part of being sexually active) in this manner would very well be controlling. In Lee’s mind, if you and your poly partner have a family, bought a house together, have kids, caring for extended family members- then cheating (ignoring your partner’s request for tested partners only) is not a bad thing, and if divorce is threatened, it’s blackmail.

    Lee is saying that it’s a terrible thing to control sexuality of your partner and block their access to partners. I’m saying that it’s not a bad thing to have standards and limitations to your sexuality and be aware of what kind of risks you’re not willing to take. Lee has refused, thus far, to acknowledge that sex is not a risk-free activity, that there are possible health consequences. I really don’t know of someone that is open to doing anything and everything sexually. ALL relationships have some kind of boundaries, sexual and otherwise, and a healthy relationship is not about lack of boundaries, but a respect for them. I am arguing that Lee’s focus on control is actually a foundation for irresponsibility, not responsibility. We are humans, we are social creatures, and as social creatures we do not have complete freedom. The buildings of a fair society does not hinge on lack of control- it hinges on this radical notion of seeking enthusiastic consent.

    Abhorrence of cheating doesn’t come just from the concept of control- it could actually come from a true abhorrence AGAINST control- that asking and consent is very important (instead of assuming).

    • Daniel Schealler

      @cattygurl

      I think you are confusing unethical with evil.

      Perhaps ‘evil’ was the wrong word – I only intended it in the sense of something like ‘a property of badness that involves a non-negative magnitude that can be assigned to an action when applicable and compared against similar properties of other actions’.

      But that’s a bit of a mouthful so I reduced it down to ‘evil’.

      Feel free to substitute whatever semantics for ‘evil’ you deem fit.

      1) Cheating might in some contexts be fairly considered the least x of all possible actions.

      2) Cheating might in some contexts be fairly considered to not be x.

      Where x = ‘unethical’, it still appears to me that Lee is arguing in favor of 1) and you are arguing against 2).

  • cattygurl

    it is the fact that you feel that controlling other’s sexuality is a general “bad.” Considering that who I have sex with not only impacts me but can impact everyone else and has impacts to their life, I’m saying that your basic premise of “limiting my partner’s access to other partners” is a bad thing is not a good premise overall.

  • Lee

    cattygurl:
    “Also, Lee absolutely refuses to address that there are health implications to sex. ”

    Bullcrap. This has been an interesting discussion, but I’m really getting tired of being insulted and having my points and beliefs fundamentally misrepresented. How many times do I have to say “cheating is a bad choice, with bad potential consequences – so are the other options”, before you stop telling people I refuse to acknowledge or address that cheating is a bad choice with bad potential consequences.

    If you can’t stop misrepresenting what I say, cattygurl, I’m afraid I’m done.

  • Lee

    @SuWayne, in reply to #9 above:

    “But I do believe that in any relationship – romantic or not, sexual or not, you have a responsibility to adhere to the explicit parameters of that relationship. If you wish to change those parameters, you have a responsibility to discuss it with the other party(ies) in that relationship. At the very least you need to inform them, so they can make decisions regarding that relationship accordingly.”

    I agree. Relationships have agreements and promises in many areas, not just sex. cattygurl way up above accused me of reducing relationship and poly to sex – but in fact that’s the opposite of my point.

    in the specific example I offered, two partners have agreements and have taken actions together regarding their economic partnership, planing for their economic future and that of their dependents, home ownership, neighborhood and schools, parenting their children, caring for their parents – ad their passionate, sexual lives.

    One partner changes the sexual dynamic, by losing interest in passion and sex. S/he gets to do that – requiring someone to have sex they don’t want is about as bad as it gets.

    But that partner also says, in effect, I’m also choosing FOR YOU that you’ll never have sex or passion again – and if you don’t agree to let me impose that on you, I’m going to blow up all those other promises we made together, in ways that will damage a lot of other people as well as you and me.

    That partner has reduced the entire relationship to control of the partner’s sexuality. And this is not unusual – Dan Savage keeps being mentioned, and he deals with people in this or similar situations all the time.

    I agree without reservation that the best, most ethical response here is for the two partners to sit down and work out an agreement that honors all the promises them made to each other, and that gives them both enough of what they want and need in their lives. No question. This is what I strive for in my relationships, its what I would like to see in all relationships.

    But in the real world that often does not happen – too often. Again, see Dan’s column. It’s tragic. there are no good outcomes – I’m not offering that scenario to try to argue that cheating is a good outcome – I’m saying that in this scenario, tragically, there are no good outcomes – and that decision-making to try to minimize the damage, is really all that is left.

    And. When we, most of us in this society, evaluate the decisions that people make in these kinds of ‘no good choice’ tragedies, we not only condone, we often actively approve the action that lets one partner choose for the other that s/he will never again have sex or passion – at penalty of blowing u every other promise and obligation between the partners.

    That, in turn, comes form a default, unquestioned assumption that when we enter relationships we surrender ownership of our sexuality and passion to our partner, explicitly and totally, unless we explicitly say otherwise – and even that is suspect.

    • http://langcultcog.com/traumatized DuWayne

      Lee -

      Shit, totally missed that – nested comments can be very confusing…And don’t worry about misspelling my name, I’ve done it myself on occasion…

      One partner changes the sexual dynamic, by losing interest in passion and sex. S/he gets to do that – requiring someone to have sex they don’t want is about as bad as it gets.

      But this is also changing the parameters of the relationship and should be discussed. This has been one of the most common problems I have observed in relationships – one that can be much further complicated. One of my closest friends is married to someone who doesn’t often have sex with him, but he is also more than 120lbs heavier than he was when they got married. At the same time, they have renegotiated their partnership on several occasions.

      Ultimately the only romantic relationships that can last, are those that are renegotiated on occasion. Not so much to change the nature of the relationship, as to discuss the changes that have happened in the lives of those involved in the context of the relationship. In some cases that will mean fundamentally changing the nature of the relationship, while in others it will just mean deciding to splurge on softer toilet paper. But without communication on a level that has the potential to fundamentally change the nature of the relationship, they are pretty much doomed. Even if the relationship doesn’t end persay, it becomes a hellish quagmire of unmitigated misery*.

      This is true of other relationships as well, but will generally have different parameters.

      That, in turn, comes form a default, unquestioned assumption that when we enter relationships we surrender ownership of our sexuality and passion to our partner, explicitly and totally, unless we explicitly say otherwise – and even that is suspect.

      No, I get that. Believe me, I get that. Having explicitly stated terms at the beginning, my ex thought she could default to that at a point in the relationship of her choosing and not tell me she was doing so. The damage that resulted from that will never be completely mitigated and hurt more than just me and her. It is why I have become a serious hardass about communication in relationships. While it often means having uncomfortable, possibly even painful conversations, it beats the hell out of the alternative.

      *I had one such relationship and that is exactly what happened. That has also been my observation. And as this is a skeptic heavy community I will note that it is backed up by research in the fields of interpersonal communication, social negotiation theory (communication), social psychology and the psychology of interpersonal relationships. – though in the literature it is rarely, probably never actually described quite that way.

      I think, if I ever actually engage in research into this, I will describe it that way – excepting that “doesn’t” would of course become “does not.” Unfortunately I will probably not end up doing such research, as my focus will be on the intercultural experience of, expression of and cultural reaction to certain mental illnesses and the linguistics of treating mental illness (sorry, quite the mouthful that, but trust me – if you had my brain you would find that infinitely fascinating).

  • cattygurl

    Relationships are often messy, complicated things.

    Actually, a guy gets a lot of free pass for leaving a sexless relationship- women get condemned far more than men do in these type of situations, socially speaking. If you look at, say the case of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie/Jennifer Aniston, I saw a lot of consternation and judgement regarding the women, but not a whole lot regarding the guy.

    Also, you come from a background of divorce. I do not, but I do have the experience of a very kind co-worker becoming infected with HIV through a cheating partner- actually, under a similar circumstance, except replace a gay man and a straight woman in the scenario caring for older parents, but no kids. One of the reasons for HIV being higher in African-American women come from gay partners that are staying within the relationship and infecting their female partners. Many of these men do not intentionally infect their wives, but will mention social pressure, practical concerns, not wanting to impact the kids with divorce, etc – the same reasons you’ve posted as a reason for their action. I will say that societal pressures for GLBTQI folks are incredibly real and serious, especially in minority communities where discrimination is more prevalent- but at the same time, it does not help to condone such behavior, and people working towards equal rights for GLBTQI folks will say no, get out of that marriage and be honest to yourself, do not stay in the closet- as a general rule.

    Having done some STI education, women are at far more risk of STIs compared to men due to our anatomy, so a cheating partner for a woman exposes her to more risk, biologically speaking, than a man. Considering that- again- HPV cannot be prevented by condom use and it can lead to cancer- it’s a pretty big deal to increase your partner’s risk of cancer through one’s chosen behavior, yes? That should weigh in pretty hard in considering ethics, yes?

    In either case, as a general rule- I don’t think it’s a harmful idea to tell people that they shouldn’t stay in a marriage that’s not working for them and that cheating as a rule is probably not a good option. Are there going to be exceptions? Sure, but the general disdain for cheating is valid if you abhor control and if you’re not trying to promote monogamy.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

    Not to interrupt, but I just wanted to say I am really enjoying, benefiting from, and appreciating the discussion quite a bit. It is very clarifying.

    I find these issues very difficult to sift out, which is no small part of my choice to discuss them only through characters and not in my own voice.

  • Lee

    @36:

    I just noticed my egregious typo in DuWayne’s name. I’m prone to typos, but really dislike it when I miss fixing a typo in a name. My apologies.

  • cattygurl

    Interesting that the author used a female name as the pro-monogamist and male name as the pro-polyamory.

    One thing I’ll say is that contraceptive responsibility/unplanned pregnancy/ STI risks often fall on the woman (many men will happily forgo a condom or protest against their use even in this day and age. It is mostly women that have to insist, repeatedly- re: safe sex and be vigilant about contraceptive use and bear the financial burden of hormonal contraceptives).

    Anyhoo, I think a lot of the arguments laid out in this do show a lot of male priviledge inherent in a lot of the arguments. “Free Love” becomes much more complicated when one party socially, financially, and physically tends to have a higher risk of “love and intimacy”= and a positive relationship in ANY form needs to acknowledge such.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      No, both Jaime and Kelly are gender ambiguous names. They were not chosen for a male to defend the promiscuous position and the female to defend the other, you projected that into the text, that’s your prejudice, not mine.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      (and the way I chose Jaime to advance the extreme promiscuity position was because I wanted the original post to start with the bold first statement against monogamy and I opted to go in alphabetical order, so Jaime got that line first and it was all written in one quick take from there. It was that random.)

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      You could say that the arguments show male privilege in not addressing certain issues. you could also say that they sound like how these arguments are handled in queer communities and that insisting that they cannot be separated from “free love” discussions is heterosexist in assuming that male/female sex is the important kind of sexuality that must always be discussed whenever sexuality is discussed.

      Now, it turns out that in his response the author more or less admitted to having heterosexual relationships commonly (though he never said exclusively). Thus your comment on privilege might have been on target to some degree (the author’s statement about divorcing the topics for other reasons could conceivably still be seen as an inadequate defense if one wanted to make the argument that divorcing those topics, while natural in a queer context, is a luxury of men in the current society when the context is heterosexual), but I want to caution you against assuming that authors are heterosexual. In this case, even your critique of privilege reveals social privileging of another kind.

  • cattygurl

    Jaime is actually- at least in So-Cal, where I live with a heavy Central/South American population- Spanish/Portugese for Jacob. It’s generally not considered a gender-neutral name here. Jamie, on the other hand, is more gender-neutral.

    Kelly is a lot more common as a female name, I’ve rarely seen it on men.

    YMMV.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Okay. For whatever authorial intent is worth, and however imperfect the name selections were, they were intended as gender neutral.

      As for related concerns about male privilege, the first part of the debate raised the sorts of practical considerations that you’re saying more unevenly affect women in practice, but admitted that there was no space to do them justice in that particular post. That’s not to say they were not serious issues. The first post was motivated by the specific question of whether, were all things equal (and I know very well in practice they are not), would there be any good reason to wish those we loved less physical and emotional pleasures and jealously want to control their love–even in the ways that polyamorists do. The idea was to explore the value of our attitudes from a radically utilitarian (i.e., pleasure maximizing) perspective and ask not only what could make us most pleased given how we presently feel but what kinds of attitude changes might be necessary to maximize pleasure too. And so I just wanted to explore that position and challenge it, not to endorse it or to really deal with every possible aspect of the issue of multiple partners (at least not in that one post).

      Then in this second post, I was responding to people’s dismissing the very question of whether we could aim at developing ideals that would actively try to change people’s minds rather than just start talking about people as though they were just born monogamists or born polyamorists, or as though it were something that was just merely personal and not a matter for shared inquiry as to generally better or generally worse. That was the launching pad here, the prospect of applying moral judgments or prescriptions on these issues. And I let that discussion go where it went.

      While there are many more ways to go with the topic to give it proper treatment and whereas you and Lee have done a great job developing another crucial axis for the discussion, my interests were less in some of the deal breakers that make Jaime’s ideal quickly look impractical, and more about exploring whether the pleasure and pain and friendship and love and jealousy issues were themselves enough to justify monogamy apart from the very real concerns about disease and pregnancy which I absolutely think are the real reason we are so encouraged to be so possessive, and maybe rightly so.

      Far from taking a “privileged” perspective, in my personal life I have been in some crucial ways quite the opposite of Jaime (who, again, is a character and not me) precisely and consciously because of great fears of unintended pregnancy. I emphatically do not reflexively assume that babies are only women’s responsibilities.

      But again, all this is a matter of “for whatever authorial intent is worth”.

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      Are you assuming that these are first names? Are you assuming that these are last names? Are you assuming that the author lives in So. Cal.? Are you assuming that Jaime is pronounced, “Hi-may”?

      I agree with many things that you say, but if the author doesn’t ascribe gender to a name and you do – and nowhere are gendered pronouns or other cues used – the prejudice is yours, not the authors.

      You may not wish it so. You may have encountered more Hi-mays than Jay-mees with that spelling, you may have encountered that spelling more as a first name than a last, but the author doesn’t know what your experience is. You’d have a leg to stand on if, before you made a gender assumption, you looked up any authors’ home countries & territories & other relevant factors (do they belong to a religious minority community that uses names differently?). If you did that & then found research on how commonly a given name is gendered in that given context, then you would have an argument that you were merely trying to understand the author and that the author used a name that, 79.6% of the time, is gendered a certain way. You could then argue that 79.6 is high enough that assumptions of gender are reasonable and not a form of prejudice. (Although someone else would be free to argue that more than 1/5th of the population is too many people to assume out of existence.)

      You did none of this. You made an assumption. It was a gendered assumption. And now you’re trying to say that your gendered assumption is the fault of the author. You asserted that the parties involved had specific genders and that this was a fact and that this fact reflected sexism. You simply didn’t have any basis for this assumption. There was no predicate fact.

      What happens between your ears is your business, your responsibility. If the author had slipped up & used a gender specific pronoun that you could cite, that would be one thing. What happens in the author’s work is the author’s responsibility. But this is all you. Please, use this as a chance to think about how and why you gendered the participants as you did. Don’t make it about someone else. No one forced you to gender the participants at all. What if you assigned no genders whatsoever? Would the conversation appear different?

      Try it. Seriously. It’s possible, though difficult, not to make these kinds of assumptions.


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