Addressing Myths About Polyamory

Our Forum admin JulietEcho has a wonderful piece up at Daylight Atheism where she responds to common myths about polyamory.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

When it comes right down to it, perhaps the biggest unspoken reason people have for objecting to (or being offended by) polyamory is fear. It’s common for monogamous people to fear that a partner might leave them for a polyamorous relationship (or might demand opening up the existing relationship) if polyamory becomes normalized. But if your partner would actually leave you, or demand that you open up your relationship against your wishes, then you obviously aren’t on the same page. There are tons of people out there (I’d wager a large majority of people) who want mostly or completely monogamous relationships – and they should find, date and marry other people who want the same thing.

JulietEcho also wrote a defense of polyamory on this site several months ago.

If you know nothing about polyamory other than the stereotypes you may have heard, you owe it to yourself to read these pieces. I know I’ve learned a lot by reading them.

  • Trace

    Dr. Phlox.

  • Tsugradstudent

    I missed the original posting by JulietEcho and just read it a few minutes ago. As a practicing atheist and practicing polyamorist, thank you for such a well balanced explanation. I’ve been with my legal husband for 19 years (Yeah, got married way too young but it has worked) and with my ‘unhusband’ for almost 12 now. We own a house, raise kids, and I’m currently finishing up my PhD.

    I just wanted to say thank you for the articles.

  • AxeGrrl

    JulietEcho, you’ve underscored the most important thing in maintaining/establishing healthy, lasting, functional relationships (and not just polyamorous ones): honesty.

    Of course, this first requires that a person take a ‘personal inventory’ and come to terms with what their true needs/desires are. Then…..

    If you know that you want a polyamorous relationship, don’t get involved with someone you know wants monogamy and then cheat on them. If you know you want monogamy, don’t get invovled with someone who’s expressed the need/desire for a more open relationship and then passive-agressively try to control them.

  • Alan E.

    AxeGrrl, I’m glad you bring up honesty. I have two sets of friends who are in polyamourou relationships. One couple is open and up front with their friends with the basic terms of their relationship(s). Thy are a couple, but they have not limited themselves to going out solely with each other. It is never uncomfortable to be around them, and we always have a great time even if an extra date is brought along. Plus, we have had great conversations about feelings and emotionsrelating to monogomy and polyamoury.

    Another couple I friends with aren’t as relaxed. They are gay (2 men) and even got married here in California while it was legal. We found out they were polyamourous while drinking, and even then the only reason given to us was “‘W’ is a very sexual person.” the end. They have been with another person for quite a while now, and he comes with them every time we hang out. This would be ok if there was some basic communication, me and my husband being friends and openly supportive of polyamoury while supportihg our own monogomous relationship. We have been introduced to their partner three times now. The first being simply “This is ‘R’.” The other two times have been “Have you met ‘R’?” Beyond that there has been no communication wih us and it has pushed us away as friends. I don’t need to know every little detail, but I feel that since monogomy us the norm, a little communication with friends is warranted. Plus, when we go out, the married couple treat their third partner like a puppy, and ‘R’ is always clinging to one of them. All I want is a little honesty with friends, because it is still strange to me. Small conversations with close friends will go a long way.

    I know they are slightly different conversations, but I am 100% for polygomous marriages, as long as the situation and everyone involved is equal. The general mindset of polygomy is one “lucky” guy and his gaggle of wives, and no other template. I find this wrong and degrading. It seems that the first barrier to break is this mindset before anyone will be open to polyamoury.

  • TeddyKGB

    A relationship with one person is complicated enough, and I’m pretty sure “spreading commitment around” is a contradiction in terms. The state is not bound to recognize every goofy idea under the sun, and this just gives ammunition to opponents of gay marriage.

    I’m sure someone will tell me how this makes me a horrible person, so have at it.

  • Robyn

    @TedyKGB: You’re not a horrible person, but I will say you are under-informed.

    “Spreading the commitment around” is not a contradiction of terms at all. People commit to different things at once all the time. People commit themselves to being good employees, to being good parents, to being good significant others, to being good friends. It’s only a contradiction if one says “I want only you forever and ever” and is dishonest with each partner.

    The word “commit” doesn’t have to mean “focus on only one relationship at a time”. And no one is saying you have to spend every waking moment with one’s monogamous sig. other–the same goes for poly ones.

    And it’s not a “goofy idea”. If it’s between consenting adults that are all happy with the idea, there is nothing goofy about it. If anything, the government having anything to do with the number or sex of people in a private contract at all is “goofy”.

  • Vene

    *Is greatly amused at how TeddyKGB thinks it can’t work when the first poster has been in a poly relationship for over a decade*

    And fuck the opponents of gay marriage, giving them this doesn’t matter, it won’t change their opinion one bit. Hell, their holy book supports poly.

  • Robyn

    @Vene: Yes. And at least the polyamory that JulietEcho is talking about promotes equality of the sexes. In the Bible, it’s only men that can have multiple spouses.

  • TeddyKGB

    *Is greatly amused at how TeddyKGB thinks it can’t work when the first poster has been in a poly relationship for over a decade*

    And fuck the opponents of gay marriage, giving them this doesn’t matter, it won’t change their opinion one bit. Hell, their holy book supports poly.

    I’m glad I could greatly amuse you. It would appear it doesn’t take much – especially since you are naive enough to believe that not only would Bible thumpers defend poly marriage, they’d use the Bible to do it. How is life in Fantasyland these days?

    I’m not saying that people can’t have relationships with as many people as they want; I am saying that one or all of these participants are deluding themselves to some degree and that asking for polygamous marriage benefits from the state makes splitting benefits ridiculously complicated and expensive.

  • Sesoron

    I think the reason why a lot of monogamists prefer monogamy and don’t understand how polyamory would work is related to that notion of “spreading commitment”. Really, one of the ways I define a romantic relationship is the exclusivity — my partner and I do the sort of things together that we wouldn’t do with anyone else, and the fact that we’re excluding others from it is what makes it special. Now, of course, most (I assume) polyamorists would still have criteria for exclusivity, and wouldn’t just go out and bang whoever — but the gut feeling I have is that letting two people, even if only two, in on the exclusive activities would diminish the meaningfulness of that exclusivity. I’ve never been in that kind of situation, so I don’t know.

    And I do agree with Teddy that it seems like it would be a lot more complicated than a monogamous relationship. Say your two partners are having an argument about something or other. If you think they’re both about the same level of wrong, what do you do? If nothing else, it would give rise to a whole class of conflicts that wouldn’t exists in a monogamous situation. Say the three (or more) of you are in different locations, and you want to tell both of them something that happened; whom do you call first?

    Now, obviously there must be sufficient personal benefit to participating in this sort of relationship, or people wouldn’t do it. At most, the reasons I’ve described above (mostly the first one) are why I could never by a polyamorist. I similarly have reasons for why I could never be gay: I just really don’t see any personal draw to it. The question then is, should polygamous marriage be legalized? Obviously I don’t have any moral basis for having a problem with it. I don’t personally understand homosexuality or polyamory, but I don’t want to prevent consenting adults from engaging in either lifestyle.

    There is kind of a practical concern, though. I’d want to know statistics: how many polyamorists do we have versus homosexuals? It seems that the slippery slope to polygamy argument is often used on the side opposing gay marriage, so how much benefit is there to holding back on the polygamous marriage issue until gay marriage is accepted by a wide majority? Something could also be said that, at present in most states in the US, gay people can’t get married, but polyamorists (unless in an all-same-sex union) can still marry at least one of their partners, and can get at least a reasonable facsimile of the rights of married couples. For example, while only one partner may legally be responsible for the funeral arrangements of somebody in the union, at least that can be an inroad for everybody else to agree upon what’s best, with the legal spouse acting as a spokesperson.

    Those are the arguments I can think of for holding back on a more concerted polyamorists’ rights movement for the time being.

  • Vene

    Then you misinterpreted what I meant about the Bible. I mean that they don’t care about any sort of reason because they don’t know the philosophy they say they believe. Why would I try to compromise with those who are unwilling to compromise?

  • Claudia

    I actually have no problem whatsoever with polyamory as practiced between consenting adults. It’s quite frankly none of my business how you choose to construct your relationships. I’m perfectly willing to believe that such relationships can be healthy and honest. Ditto for open marriages or any other arrangement as long as its based on honesty, communication and a common purpose.

    My conflict with polyamory is the matter of formalizing the relationships by law; legalizing polyamorous marriage. I worry that such legalization would provide legal cover for marriages that are less about adult choices and more about religious coercion. How many happy poly families are and how many trapped and terrified Muslim and Fundamentalist Mormon women are there?

    It’s completely unfair for men or women in polyamorous relationships to be at a legal disadvantage in their relationships. The consequences for the spouse that has no legal standing can be devastating in the case of death or separation, especially when children are involved. However law should seek the net good and I’m not sure that solving this issue, fair as it is, would do that. I’d really have to see some numbers that convince me that the aid to legitimate poly families wouldn’t be outweighed by the greater suffering on illegitimate polygamous marriages of girls in repressive religious environments.

    It’s a difficult issue because no matter what you do, some good people are going to suffer. Also not helpful is that the gay marriage issue is lumped in with it, despite it being considerably different.

  • JulietEcho

    Thanks for commenting, everyone, but I’m getting the impression that some of you didn’t read my essay (especially the most recent one that Hemant quoted from) and instead just commented based on your preconceptions about polyamory.

    And I don’t know if there’s even a point to debating about legalizing poly marriage – it would take decades for public opinion to support it. What I want to combat is the ignorance and the stigma. There is a well-founded fear among poly people that if they don’t keep their relationship a closely-guarded secret, they could lose their jobs and have children taken out of their custody by offended relatives. As long as these fears are justified (and they have been justified – I’ve read some tragic accounts, especially about having children torn away), poly people will continue to live in secret, which contributes to the ignorance and misconceptions people have about polyamory.

  • TeddyKGB

    @TedyKGB: You’re not a horrible person, but I will say you are under-informed.

    “Spreading the commitment around” is not a contradiction of terms at all. People commit to different things at once all the time. People commit themselves to being good employees, to being good parents, to being good significant others, to being good friends. It’s only a contradiction if one says “I want only you forever and ever” and is dishonest with each partner.

    The word “commit” doesn’t have to mean “focus on only one relationship at a time”. And no one is saying you have to spend every waking moment with one’s monogamous sig. other–the same goes for poly ones.

    And it’s not a “goofy idea”. If it’s between consenting adults that are all happy with the idea, there is nothing goofy about it. If anything, the government having anything to do with the number or sex of people in a private contract at all is “goofy”.

    Comparing a romantic relationship to other relationships is – and you’ll have to excuse me for this – goofy. A job (or any of your other examples) is not anywhere near as intimate as a sexual relationship (unless, of course, you’re fucking your boss).

    Let’s not pretend that The Unbearable Lightness of Being belongs on the same bookshelf as He’s Just Not That Into You, mmkay?

  • CybrgnX

    All these silly marriage BS can be fixed easily. Get the gov’mint out of it by removing all tax incentives, so quiverfulls will have to pay for all their progeny.
    Realize that marriage is a business and should be handled as such with written agreements, if the fundy women want to be screwed in life like they were in the past, then tough they can do their religious vows and no one will care or say anything and they can get plucked royally when their honest moral owner get fed up with them.
    Gays, hetero,or poly can do as they wish and if they decide to be ‘in love’ and not need a contract then go for it and don’t whine when you get royally plucked. If you get into a ‘love wedding’ and it all works out then good for you!! as statistics show,you are one of the lucky minority.
    And basically we all do as we wish, and we all keep are tools out of others rear orifice and mind our own business.
    A successful poly-marriage requires the one thing most people do not have…NO JEALOUSY! which is way most will not work.

  • wackadoodle

    polygamy will have an easier time getting accepted than gay marriage, they won’t admit it but the vast majority of people opposed to gay marriage just think two guys having buttseckz is gross. *and the bigots make sure to mention it in every press release*

    Polygamy doesnt have this problem. A guy tells his buddies he slept with another man and they kick his ass for being a queer.

    A guy tells his buddies he slept with 3 chicks and they’re high fiving him and asking for details.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    TeddyKGB: You seem to be making a common mistake when it comes to polyamory: assuming that because it wouldn’t work for you, it therefore wouldn’t work for anybody. (An assumption people make about a lot of unconventional sexual relationships.)

    It wouldn’t work for me, either: I’m non-monogamous, but I’m not polyamorous. I also want only one person to be my primary love and commitment, and I want me to be hers. But the fact is that poly relationships do work for a lot of people. Before just jumping to the conclusion that of course they couldn’t work because it “spreads the commitment around,” you might spend some time actually listening to what poly people say about their relationships and how they work.

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    I am sorry. Maybe I am not modern enough, I find the idea of Polyamory absurd.

    While I agree most of us are raised in a society that says that the only way to be happy is to be in a monogamous relationship.

    But let’s be honest about human nature. We are some emotionally possessive people. I am sure if we walked down the street and did a survey, we would be laughed at .

    someone pointed out, that in the end its about honesty and quite a few of us are not mature enough to be honest with ourselves.

  • muggle

    I too don’t think it could work legally because it’s way too complicated. Look how two people splitting up tie up the family courtrooms. 3 or more is going to be even worse, especially if there’s kids involved. Kids get hit hard in a divorce when it’s just being torn between two parents; does anybody really think being torn between three or more will be better rather than worse?

    And human nature is what it is. Jealousy is going to play a factor. And not just between lovers. I’m not entirely against DNA tests at birth because too many husbands have been screwed by assumptions the kid’s theirs. But you have two husbands and the kids only one of theirs. Or if it’s one husband, two wifes and one has a child before the other. There’s gonna be some jealousy over the bond of a child in common that the third wheel doesn’t have too.

    I just don’t think polyamourous relationships are very realistic. And also they all too often, religious or not, do wind up oppressing the woman and all too often girls, not women.

    That said, I have better things to do than worry about what other people are doing behind closed doors. You tend to your private affairs and I’ll tend to mine and we’ll both mind our own business. OK?

    Let’s mention the C word no one ever does in these discussions. Celibacy by choice. Of course, there’s no legal discussion to be had but there’s reasons to be celibate other than religious and it’s treated with even greater ridicule than homosexuality or poloyamour.

    Relationships are complicated and one night stands dangerous and it isn’t difficult, given that, to see that there can be times when you’ve got so much going on in your life that you don’t want the stress of a relationship.

    I know I’ve had times because of what I already had on my plate I didn’t want the complications and sure didn’t want to risk disease or pregnancy but, man, you think you’re treated like a freak for being gay or seeing more than one person, try openly not being interested in romance at all. That really freaks people out.

  • Chris

    My outsider perspective:

    At one point I was a little taken aback when I started to think about Polyamory – I mean, it really at first seemed like a lame excuse that someone who cheated would give.

    Cheating and adultery is in our nature (not justifying, just stating the fact) –
    men and women do it for different reasons but there is a reason that the urge to cheat evolved. Men have the urge to sleep with a variety of women, while women want someone who will raise their kids and someone who has good genes to father them (not necessarily the same person). I’m obviously generalizing so don’t get pissy if you’re an exception, obviously a lot of people are. I’m just saying I understand the urge to sleep with more than one person at a time.

    The thing I just can’t understand, though, is being OK with your significant other doing it. Probably the worst thing that can happen to a guy is to be cuckolded – I’d personally rather be ass-raped a hundred times over that find out a kid I thought was mine isn’t. This is also true from an evolutionary perspective – a guy wastes all his resources raising a kid that isn’t his.

    But it’s also counterintuitive (and science doesn’t entirely understand this yet, but there are some interesting theories) how homosexuality could exist, considering it ends the genetic line. Perhaps polyamory is the same kind of thing.

    That’s my analysis of it and that doesn’t say anything about the right/wrong of it or whether laws should be enacted to support it or whatever.

    Honestly I see it being a huge clusterfuck to implement laws around it though. Every politician who is for “family values” (all of them) would have to come out against this at least for the next few generations. It would basically say OK to the bullshit polygamy they’ve got set up in those mormon sects in parts of Utah and would pave the way for many further abuses like it.

    I also see monogamy being somewhat of a core component for society to function. I know that might suck for you guys who are polyamorous and completely OK with it, but i’ll be honest, I just don’t see society functioning very well if this gets commonplace. Many people in society would enjoy being polyamorous if they were in a position to be – all those rich CEOs could have 100 wives. An important question is: Would their partners find that the ideal situation? Not to mention, a polygamous society disenfranchises a great number of men.

    No, I keep turning this around in my head and I just can’t see this as a good move for society – I wish I could, but I can’t. That 1 partner legal limit exists for a reason.

  • Edmond

    @Trace

    Nice Star Trek reference. I got it.

  • AxeGrrl

    After JulietEcho’s essays, I’m surprised that people seem to still be equating ‘polyamory’ with ‘cheating’.

    The bottom line? if the 2 people involved in a relationship come to a mutal agreement and decide that one or both of them being ‘involved’ with other people is ok, then it’s not cheating. To me, it’s as simple as that.

    The two people involved shape what their relationship will be and what ‘boundaries’ are established within it ~ thereby determining how they define ‘cheating’.

    JulietEcho and others aren’t talking about sleeping with other people behind their partner’s back, they’re talking about an arrangment that is agreed upon and is healthy for all those involved ~ and only those people involved can determine those things.

    And I say all this as someone who has absolutely no desire for a polyamorous relationship and who only wants to commit heart and body to one other person……even though such a relationship/arrangement isn’t something I’d ever want, I accept it when people who are in a polyamorous situation (and who have been making it work for years) say: “this works for us”.

  • Revyloution

    Chris, I have to point out that your making a classic error in biology. You are equating evolutionary fitness with the survival of one individual line of DNA. Evolution pressures deal in populations, not individuals. If you look at human mating patterns from that stand point, you will see that our desires increase the amount of diversity in a population. With any sexual reproducing species, the greater the diversity, the faster the adaption to new environments.

    As for legal concerns, I agree with those who argue for delegalizing marriage. It shouldn’t be a government granted licence, it should be private contract between the individuals who want it.

    Muggle, this is one time I have to disagree with you. Our notion of child rearing is cultural, not biologic. There are many societies of humans where the child rearing is not done by the parents. The idea of a father and a mother raising a child in relative isolation to their greater culture is a new one. Look at our close relatives the chimps. Fatherhood is not a big issue. The mother is firmly bonded to the infant until it no longer needs milk. Then it becomes a ward of the entire troop until full maturity.

    Our current mating practices and child rearing traditions are rooted more in our social history than our biology.

  • Heidi

    I have to agree with Muggle on pretty much everything she said.

    Legal poly marriage would be a nightmare for the courts. And it’s not just a problem concerning custody. Imagine the tax laws. Or for that matter, the next of kin laws. Let’s say Lisa, Joe, and Bob are in a 3-way marriage. Lisa gets in a car accident and ends up brain dead and on life support. Joe wants to pull the plug. Bob doesn’t. Who gets to decide? Unless she has a non-contestable living will, there is going to be a long court battle. And what happens to Lisa while it’s tied up in court?

    I can see giving a third person some kind of legal standing, but 3-way (or more) equal marriage just can not conceivably work as a legal entity.

    Emotionally and romantically are are whole different thing. Neither of the only two poly couples I’ve known personally were/are happy in their situation. So I can’t really comment on that side, as I don’t have experience with a truly happy poly couple. I’m willing to take people’s word for it that they are indeed happy, though.

    Also, clearly people who are freaked out by celibacy don’t know my ex.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    If polyamory were to ever become legal, should there be a cap on the number of spouses or should it be unlimited?

  • Tsugradstudent

    As the original commenter here, let me posit a few things. Like Axxegirl (and I apologize if I misspelled your online moniker, I’m trying to write this in a hurry before I leave for vacation) said, its not cheating if the participants involved are FULLY AWARE of the dynamics. In addition, please don’t throw me in with the religious groups such as FLDS because we are consenting adults.

    Secondly, we have a series of drafted Powers of Attorneys in case of a catastrophic illness or accident. J, my legal husband, would not be able to ‘pull the plug’ if something were to happen to me. M, who is more Vulcan than human, would pull it because it would be what I wanted and have expressed it fully. M, on the other hand, is terrible with money so, in any event, I wouldn’t trust him to be an executor of my will, so J is. I would recommend living wills to anyone, regardless of whether you’re married or not. Often times, extended family will get in the way of any decision which is not legally stated, look at Terri Schiavo.

    Would I like legal recognition of both of these relationships? Yes. Would it make my life easier? Yes. Would it open a legal can of worms? Hell yeah. Would I change my life? Hell no. Can I live without it? Yes. Simply put, I don’t need others to validate my relationships. Many couples are not legally validated whether by choice or by circumstance.

    We know what makes us happy and if you think it is sex, then you’re wrong. Many people hear the term “poly-amorous” or polyandry, or polygyny and automatically assume some strange sex cult where every room is decked out in spray on vinyl with studded leather bed sheets. Sure, sex is nice but in the end, its the commitment and the friendship that the three of us share that keeps the relationships going. And I believe that any successful poly grouping will tell you the same thing.

  • muggle

    Actually, Chris, I think homosexuality makes sense evolutionarily (disclaimer: I suck at all science). Given how grossly overpopulated the world already is, it makes perfect sense that homosexuality would be on the rise to address the dire situation.

    AxeGrrl, I’m curious because your posts were very thoughtful but you left out this one point: how do you figure the kids into it? I’ll grant that not all are going to have children but the vast majority of adults wind up parents. Your posts are thoughtful but only seem to consider the effect on the adults involved and that’s selfish. There would be an affect on the children. I guess that and the legal mess and the fact that it is so often used to exploit women and children, particularly in religiuos sects, that make me close-minded to it. I don’t think it’s always (be honest with yourselves, for some it is) about the sex. But I do think it’s somewhat selfish if I’m honest about it.

    Revyloution, it had to happen sometime. But while I dig your point, I also gotta say it evolved in our society for a reason. We probably have more and more children making it to adulthood because of our deeper attachment, especially the father’s deeper attachment, and of those who do, there’s probably less head cases though, of course, it’s also created the headcases who have been suffocated and unable to function because of overprotective parents.

    LOL, Heidi. Mine too. Definitely the direct cause of one period of time when I had too much on my plate to even consider romance. It’s a long story.

  • Omniphage

    Looking at the comments, I have to wonder if anyone even read the articles. Nobody seems to even acknowledge the points that might be most salient to someone like myself (polyamorous in the sense the article defines it, unable to legally marry any of my partners, and between disability and chronic unemployment, someone who would stand to gain a lot from the simultaneous legal recognition of my multi-person conjugal relationship.)

    I shouldn’t be surprised that most of this comment thread consists of monogamous people holding forth on whether we poly folk deserve any particular rights specific to our lives and needs, and if so which ones, but it’s still painful and disappointing. I’m disgusted that a whole bunch of people with no stake in the issue whatsoever would feel qualified to contribute to this discussion, at least those who self-admittedly remain ignorant on this issue. If you don’t know us and you don’t know what it is to be us, where do you get off thinking your opinions about us and our role in society should be given any serious weight?

    Ditto people holding forth on reasons why they don’t understand how poly could work, regardless of their stance on how others choose to conduct their relationships. Are you really that deficient in empathy and imagination that we’re just ciphers to you? You don’t get it; that’s fine, but laying your confusion out with no particular purpose just seems massively self-serving.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    A lot of the comments claiming that polyamory is unworkable, are. . .hm, how can I put this politely. . . kind of stupid. I mean, given that many people are in happy, long-term, polyamorous relationships, claiming that human nature makes them impossible is kind of like claiming that it’s impossible for humans to build a flying machine. Polyamory wouldn’t work for me, but I know a number of people who it does work for.

    I’ll also note that a lot of posters seem to be confusing polyamory and polygamy. Polyamory refers to multiple, mutually consensual, open relationships. Those relationships are not necessarily marriage. While all the comments about the problems with legalizing polygamy (multiple marriages) are valid, they’re kind of irrelevant to JulietEcho’s post about polyamory. (Did any of the critics actually read her post before commenting? Because of a lot of the comments here seem pretty non-responsive.)

  • http://daisiesandshit.com Tanya

    As a “poly person” I’m a bit confused by some of the comments here…

    Jealousy and possessiveness aren’t traits that are expressed equally in all people. It’s common sense that individuals who struggle with an abundance of either simply wouldn’t enter into a polyamorous relationship.

    Also, very few of the polyamorous individuals I know lobby for marital rights – most of us are simply looking to decrease stigma or eliminate laws that put poly families at risk.

  • Alz

    I do not see the anti-poly posts mentioned. Were they deleted? The posts I read above are honest, intelligent, people wrapping their minds around the issue.

  • Claudia

    Evolution pressures deal in populations, not individuals. If you look at human mating patterns from that stand point, you will see that our desires increase the amount of diversity in a population. With any sexual reproducing species, the greater the diversity, the faster the adaption to new environments.

    Evolution does not deal in populations. At most it deals in individuals and there’s a decent case to be made that it works even at the level of individual genes (Dawkins was the first to propose this, BTW). Evolutionary pressure is manifested in the survival and multiplication of a given individual, or not. It matters not at all whether there are a gazillion other individuals of your same species. In fact, since species have specific niches, it is precisely those species that share your niche that you will compete most fiercely with, which means that it is primarily in obtaining advantage over other members of your same species that evolutionary pressure is most apparent. So how does this theoretically present itself supposedly?
    - Males want to spread their seed around as much as they can. Sperm is cheap and the more copies they can get around the better. Likewise, they have an interest in maintaining females far away from other males, since that way they are assured that offspring is theirs (especially important in species where males collaborate in rearing young).

    -Females have a vested interest in ensuring that only the very best males impregnate them. Ovum are cheap but pregnancy is a huge investment in energy for the female, so they are more likely to be picky. At the same time a female may seek to “partner” (in species who share parenthood) with a caring male while actually mating with the strongest male, since that assures her young (that carry her genes) the best chance.

    However, though I find this all very interesting, I don’t see how it should affect the discussion. What is this about polyamory not being “natural” or it not being destined to work? For those people let me ask you something; If good solid scientific information came out tomorrow that showed homosexuality to not be “natural” but in fact based on an adult choice, would you then take back your support for same sex marriage? If not, why is the idea that poly relationships aren’t “natural” (which I think is disputable) any reason to oppose their legal formalization or to assume that since being poly is a choice that many people couldn’t make then it must be a relationship that can never be stable and healthy?

    I think that in the absence of solid evidence that it doesn’t work, poly people should be taken at their word that it can work. A much stronger case can be made against legalization on the front of preventing coerced polygamy, but insisting that poly relationships can never be healthy is absurd, I think.

  • Vene

    @ dantresomi:

    It may be true that many people can’t personally do poly, but their failure doesn’t mean that we can’t. Many people can’t learn calculus, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn it.

    Muggle said:

    “Jealousy is going to play a factor”

    No, not always. I’m currently in a poly relationship, we don’t have jealousy. We coo when our mates are being intimate with each other, not feel left out (if one of us did feel left out, that’s not a problem, we’d join in). Please try to avoid projection, what you feel isn’t what others feel.

    “I just don’t think polyamourous relationships are very realistic. And also they all too often, religious or not, do wind up oppressing the woman and all too often girls, not women.”

    No, that’s not us. That’s polygamy. There’s a reason we use “polyamory” to try and separate ourselves from them. And this argument is no better than saying that monagamy is flawed because it started as a institutionalized slavery for women.

    “That said, I have better things to do than worry about what other people are doing behind closed doors. You tend to your private affairs and I’ll tend to mine and we’ll both mind our own business. OK?”

    This, I am much more interested in getting to the point where people don’t think I’m an immoral pervert because I have the audacity to care for about more than one person at the same time. That’s what it is, forming an emotional and physical attachment for more than one person simultaneously. We can clearly do the emotional attachment because we can love multiple friends, but why is it that so many people think there’s a line a physical? Emotional attachment is a lot harder to build and maintain.

    I just find it odd that you say this all while arguing against what consenting adults do with their personal lives.

    Chris said:

    “The thing I just can’t understand, though, is being OK with your significant other doing it.” (It being sex with somebody other than you)

    This is an argument from incredulity, it is a logical fallacy. I have seen this happen on multiple occasions. Just because you don’t know how something can work doesn’t mean it can’t work.

    This might be dickish of me, but I’m actually of the opinion that I don’t need to do anymore at this point. You see, the instant somebody starts to throw around logical fallacies as arguments, that’s the instant they don’t have any legitimate arguments. I don’t deal with people who use fallacies in place of logic.

    I am losing interest so I will stop here and end with an Oscar Wilde quote.

    “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”

    You are asking us to live as you live, we are harming nobody. Our relationships are consensual for all participants. And if they weren’t the problem isn’t that it involves multiple people, the problem is the abuse itself. The burden should not be on us to prove our relationship is legitimate, it should be on the nay-sayers to prove that it is harmful. So far, I’ve seen nothing more than fallacies and projection.

  • AxeGrrl

    muggle wrote:

    AxeGrrl, I’m curious because your posts were very thoughtful but you left out this one point: how do you figure the kids into it? I’ll grant that not all are going to have children but the vast majority of adults wind up parents. Your posts are thoughtful but only seem to consider the effect on the adults involved and that’s selfish.

    I didn’t bring up children because JulietEcho (whose essay is the topic) didn’t mention having children ~ and because some of the comments mentioning the ‘selfishness’ of polyamory weren’t focussed on children being part of the euqation at all. It’s the objections people have to polyamory that are just about the adult relationships that are somewhat baseless, imo. You often find the same thing with the topic of same-sex marriage ~ some people will say ‘i object because i worry about the kids’ but when you scratch a little deeper, they’re against same-sex marriage even when kids aren’t involved, so what’s going on there?

    Having said that, I definitely do agree that the inclusion of children in the scenario does make things more complex and complicated and does require more thought and care…..

    but would it be any more complicated than families where the parents are divorced and have remarried? is living a poly lifestyle which includes children any more ‘selfish’ than divorcing and remarrying?

    and I’m not asking those questions rhetorically, I’m asking them earnestly because I don’t know the answer.

  • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

    I guess, since I’ve always lived in large liberal cities, the “common myths” about polyamory have never come up for me. What I have found is a certain snobbish attitude from some polyamorous folks who feel that monogamy is “unnatural” and anyone uninterested in their preferred lifestyle is a simpleton. This is definitely not true of all polyamorous types, but it comes up enough that I notice it. My feeling is that what consenting adults do amongst each other is their business and if people are happy and loving and satisfied, there’s no problem. Some people have foot fetishes, and some people are vegan and neither of those have any impact on my life. The same holds true with polyamory. But if I haven’t asked you to sell me on the idea, I’m going to remind you that polyamory is no more supported in nature than monogamy and that there are plenty of examples of “the other guy” eating any young you’ve had from the first guy, if you want to talk about what’s “natural.”

    In the end, I think what’s important is not what works for some people or what is the “best” type of relationship, but instead, seeking our own happiness while avoiding hurting other people or getting in the way of their happiness. Adult get to make their own choices in conjunction with the other adults they associate with. I guess it’s most sad to me that the people most likely to demand that the government stay out of their [paycheck, guns, giant 10 commandments statues, whatever] are the same that want to micromanage who you sleep with, when you do it, and how.

  • Argentum

    For me, becoming polyamorous was the result of a serious of events that happened while my wife of 13 years and I were dating in college. We went through a point where we questioned our relationship, and it forced me to face the fact that it COULD end, no matter how much I wanted otherwise. This led to a major internal sruggle with feelings of fear and jealousy, which I was eventually able to get beyond. Not long after that happened, another series of events led to our becoming intimate with a very close male friend, and I was amazed to find that not only was I not experiencing jealousy or insecurity, I was actually took great joy in seeing the joy my partner took in someone else.

    This will doubtless sound very alien to people unacquainted with such feelings, and very familiar to the other poly readers. There actually exists a term within the poly community for this feeling: compersion. I realize there are people who get sexually stimulated by watching or imagining their SO’s having sex with other people; I understand that completely, but compersion goes beyond that… it’s an emotional phenomenon that can just as easily be experienced in completely non-sexual situations. Of course, I don’t expect monogamous people to be able to fully relate to the idea… I certainly would not have been able to do so before I experienced it for myself.

    I truly believe jealousy and insecurity with regard to relationships are culturally ingrained reactions. I’m not saying there isn’t necessarily a biological or hereditary element to them, perhaps in the form of predisposition, but let’s face it, in both fictional and non-fiction media (TV, films, news, literature), whenever a romantic relationship involves more than two people, it’s depicted as a dilemma. How often do you ever see multi-partner relationships depicted positively? I truly believe if people were raised with the idea that monogamous marriage does not have to be the ideal, non-monogamous lifestyles would not seem so alien. That’s the trend I’m seeing with homosexuality.

  • http://daisiesandshit.com Tanya

    @AxeGrrl

    Having said that, I definitely do agree that the inclusion of children in the scenario does make things more complex and complicated and does require more thought and care…..

    but would it be any more complicated than families where the parents are divorced and have remarried? is living a poly lifestyle which includes children any more ’selfish’ than divorcing and remarrying?

    Does the inclusion of children in the poly scenario make things more complex? Absolutely – but only because children make ANY scenario more complex. How many marriages limped along with some semblance of happiness until the stress of raising children finally broke them? Raising one’s children ought to be the priority of any family, and that takes thought and care regardless of the specifics of the relationships.

    My family is currently structured so that only my husband (my sole primary partner) and I live at home with the kids and secondary relationships are conducted externally. That isn’t to say that the kids aren’t aware of the more serious secondary partners, but they’re only introduced when it becomes clear the secondary relationship has some decent stability, and even then their role isn’t parental but rather similar to the role of a close family friend.

    Should a secondary relationship reach a level of commitment and stability that matches that of my primary relationship we may consider adding that individual to our family as an additional primary (sort of a bizarre promotion *laughs*) but only after a great deal of discussion regarding family roles and a serious appraisal as to how their inclusion would affect the kids.

    Interestingly enough – those are exactly the kind of considerations that I took when contemplating entering into a serious relationship with my current husband after my divorce. Every step of the way I made it clear to him that my children were my first priority and that even though he might be the love of my life, I’d kick his ass to the curb if he didn’t cut it as a Dad. In fact, the only real difference between the considerations made when I remarried and those made due to poly involve the possibility of negative community response – we have rules that keep the poly under wraps in our immediate community because we fear disapproval and how that disapproval might manifest.

    Both of my children have an age appropriate understanding of polyamory and what it means to our family. They’re also aware that there are individuals who think our relationships are wrong for a variety of reasons, just like there are individuals who think it’s wrong that uncle Eric loves and lives with another man instead of a woman. We don’t discuss the details of our sex life with our children, and they’re similarly uninformed of our sex life with others. The only relationships they’re distinctly aware of are healthy, stable relationships; and they’re learning what it means for a relationship to be healthy and stable.

    In the end, poly families with children aren’t any more selfish than single parents who date. The only practical difference is that my children might some day have three (or possibly four) parents who love them, and other than living arrangements, that’s no different than the scenarios created by remarrying after divorce.

  • Argentum

    @Tanya
    Well done indeed! Your situation sets an excellent example for any family, non-monogamous or not. :-)

  • muggle

    but would it be any more complicated than families where the parents are divorced and have remarried? is living a poly lifestyle which includes children any more ’selfish’ than divorcing and remarrying?

    No, it wouldn’t. I don’t understand people who endlessly subject their children to new love interests time after time either. Wait until it’s serious before you introduce them to the kiddies.

    One major difference though: the kid in the divorce scenario knows who their father is.

  • AxeGrrl

    Tanya, thanks so much for sharing your personal situation/experience and giving us a first-hand account of how you and yours deal with having/raising children :)

    muggle wrote:

    One major difference though: the kid in the divorce scenario knows who their father is.

    Why are you assuming that a child in a poly situation wouldn’t know who their father was?

  • muggle

    Um, I’m obviously referring to when Mommy’s intimate with more than one man. Without a DNA or a strong resemblence to one or the other kiddie ain’t gonna know. Or Mommy doesn’t if she keeps kiddie in the dark about man number 2 and is deceiving her kid. That doesn’t exactly make her a candidate for mother of the year.

    To those of you assuming I didn’t read the article, I did. Just wasn’t impressed at all by it.

    It is utter selfishness and not caring how what you do affects others. Sometimes, what’s the right thing to do isn’t the thing that makes you happy.

    That’s the way I feel about it and doubt I’ll change. But you will note that I said to begin with what you do in private is none of my nevermind. But, no, I’m not interested and if you do tell me about it, I’m gonna think that’s screwed up whether I say it or not.

    Just as you probably think being celibate by choice is.

    And Juliet does talk about making it legal which is just totally not very workable.

    Also comparing it to homosexuality is comparing apples to oranges. Two different things entirely.

    I’ll concede some bias.

    I know a woman who caved into this under pressure from her husband for years and years and felt degraded and debased and very unhappy until she had the sense to leave him.

    And my screwed up ex was in part because he didn’t know if his father was really his father (he took after Mom’s side of the family) due to his parents being swingers (their term). I will not equate you with them because there was also sexual abuse that screwed him up but that too. And when Mom died of breast cancer, he immediately married the girlfriend and threw his four sons age 11 to 17 out onto the street because she didn’t want another woman’s children.

    No, I don’t think all poly couples are like this but I do think it’s twisted and gratuitious at best from people who can’t make a committment. Frankly, if what you have going on on the side is the only reason your relationship works, it ain’t. I don’t care how long you’ve been together.

    Also, this bragging about how long you’ve been together is no proof of anything. Religious couples who won’t divorce have you beat on that score even when they’re obviously unhappy. There’s all sorts of reasons why people stay together.

    If you need to escape the relationship in other arms, something’s off. And, no, Tanya, it isn’t cute and all aw shucks that you coo when you see your lover in someone else’s arms. Frankly, I’m cringing at your bragging about your age-appropriate sharing this with your kids remark. Ewww!!! Glad you don’t share the details with them but ewww! You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think you’re messing with their heads.

  • Argentum

    muggle wrote:

    It is utter selfishness and not caring how what you do affects others. Sometimes, what’s the right thing to do isn’t the thing that makes you happy.

    It is NOT utter selfishness. In fact, there’s a good amount of selflessness required. For example, my wife and I are both bisexual. Obviously I can’t satisfy her desire to explore her feelings for other women, and vice versa. If I did not want her to date women, she would respect my wishes, but I don’t feel right in denying her the chance to embrace those feelings. It makes her happy, and making her hapy makes me happy. We both get something out of it.

    Anyway, what relationship doesn’t have some element of self-interest involved? The key to healthy relationships is recognizing mutual self-interests and balancing competing self-interests.

    I’ll concede some bias.
    I know a woman who caved into this under pressure from her husband for years and years and felt degraded and debased and very unhappy until she had the sense to leave him.

    That is NOT polyamory. That is a woman giving in to pressure from an asshole who obviously cared only for his own gratification at her expense. That is a wife refusing to accept that she is in an abusive relationship. The husand manipulated her under the pretense of polyamory.

    And my screwed up ex was in part because he didn’t know if his father was really his father (he took after Mom’s side of the family) due to his parents being swingers (their term). I will not equate you with them because there was also sexual abuse that screwed him up but that too.

    It’s good that you’re not equating polyamorous people to swingers, because they are two very different things. Polyamory is about intimate emotional and (usually) sexual relationships between multiple people, whereas swinging is about casual sexual relationships between multiple people with no desire or expectation for emotional committment. Of course, I’d have to say that relegates what happened to your ex to the realm of irrelevance with respect to any discussion of polyamorous morality and child-rearing.

    No, I don’t think all poly couples are like this but I do think it’s twisted and gratuitious at best from people who can’t make a committment. Frankly, if what you have going on on the side is the only reason your relationship works, it ain’t. I don’t care how long you’ve been together.

    I don’t know any polyamorous couples who are only together because they are poly. For about 85% of the 16 years my wife and I have been a couple, it’s been just the two of us. Our happiness with each other has never been dependent on whether one or both of us was also with someone else.

    If you need to escape the relationship in other arms, something’s off.

    Again with the failure to grasp the point. That statement would be perfectly valid if applied to an affair committed by someone in an assumedly monogamous relationship, but that is not the kind of relationship being discussed here.

    You clearly have a shitload of bias.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Have I been living under a rock? I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone involved in polyamory. I’ve read about it online, but I’ve never had anyone tell me that they practice it in real life. Are there statistics on how many people we’re talking about here? Exactly how common is it? Are atheists more likely to be polyamorous? I’m guessing most people involved with these relationships are obviously not likely to be conservative religious believers, but there seem to be a disproportionate number of polyamorous readers of this blog. Is there something about polyamory that lends itself to atheism? Or is polyamory simply more common than I’ve ever imagined?

  • JulietEcho

    @Anna: I think the simple fact that non-theists don’t have religious taboos/”sins” to worry about makes them much more likely to try non-traditional relationships. See also: homosexuality. See also: living together before marriage.

    Additionally, yes – polyamory is more common than you’ve imagined. The risks usually overwhelm the rewards of “coming out” as polyamorous. People can lose custody of children if offended family members or exes find out, people can lose jobs (especially jobs where they work with children, as polyamory is viewed as a perversion rather than a legitimate relationship configuration), and happy polyamorous families have little incentive to expose themselves to all the hate, bigotry and negativity they’d encounter by being public. And as you can see, even by reading comments on blogs like Friendly Atheist and Daylight Atheism, it’s not just religious people who display scorn and disgust when it comes to polyamory.

    You might know polyamorous people but not *know* they’re polyamorous people. If you throw out a few hints (or obvious statements) that make it clear that you think all consenting adult relationships are fine and dandy, someone might even be inclined to let you in on their secret. It’s a tremendous relief and comfort to have friends and family who know – who address Christmas cards to all three of us, who invite us all to family events, and who don’t think of one of us as a simply a “housemate” and the other two as a “legitimate” couple.

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  • Al

    I am an atheist and a vocal supporter of gay marriage rights. I’ve also been in a happy hetero, monogamous marriage for many years.

    Polyamory might be a great lifestyle for some people, but it will never gain legal recognition in the US. It is a complete waste of time, and honestly, it distracts from the equal marriage rights movement.

    I don’t have any moral objections to polyamory among consenting, equal adults. However, there are far too many logistical problems to overcome.

    Modern society is built around the idea of a couple and uses that structure as the basis for practically EVERYTHING, most importantly laws. Just stop and think about how much in society would have to change for polyamory to be practical. So, that’s one very large strike against.

    Add the historical fact that polyamorous relationship have been mostly based on unequal memberships, with a central leader figure and subordinate followers. Another big strike.

    The only way I see polyamory working is in a new society, where everything is built from the ground up.

  • Anna

    Juliet, thanks for your perspective.

    I still do find it odd that I’ve never met anyone involved in polyamory in real life. Keep in mind that I travel in *very* liberal circles, and I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. I also grew up with two lesbian moms, so I’m no stranger to alternative families. I can’t think of anyone who would keep their relationship a secret from me knowing my background and my political and social views.

    Re: trying nontraditional relationships, perhaps that’s true for people who were raised in a repressive religious atmosphere and then decide to “break out” and explore other options. I’m not suggesting polyamory is a form of rebellion, but it could come about because people are shedding the shackles of an extremely conservative upbringing and want to see what else life has to offer. That’s not true for all atheists (I was raised without religion), but it may be true for a significant number.

    I’m not sure the comparison to living together before marriage or homosexuality really holds water, though. I imagine there are just as many theists as atheists who fall into those two categories. Very conservative believers may not act on their desires, but I have a feeling there are many more who do and simply feel guilty or angst-ridden about it. I would have a hard time seeing a specific link between atheism and living together (widely accepted) and being gay (not as widely accepted, but not uncommon).

    I have nothing against polyamory, but I do think it would take most people some time to get used to the idea, and I would question how widespread it is. Are there any statistics on how many people are involved in these relationships? I wouldn’t think there would be nearly as many polyamorists as there are people in same-sex relationships, for example. Even prior to Stonewall, there was a thriving gay and lesbian community, but I’m not sure there’s a parallel in terms of numbers here.

    I’m also curious if there’s ever been any research on polyamory as a social trend. I hadn’t heard of it prior to this decade, so I wonder when it really began to take off as a subculture. Perhaps the rise of the Internet helped polyamorous people network, but I wonder about the origins of it. Was there an organized polyamorous movement prior to, say, the 1970s? Are there historical examples of people involved in long-term polyamorous relationships, as opposed to “open marriages” or polygamy?

    I’m a sociologist at heart, so that explains my curiosity, LOL. It would be fascinating to do some research in this area.


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