Dancing cheek to cheek to cheek?

Dancing cheek to cheek to cheek? May 27, 2014


Dear John,

As I read through your interview with a polyamorous woman (1 Man, 2 Women In A Polyamorous Relationship), I found myself tearing up. Because the woman you spoke with explained the whole love dynamic that I have been experiencing in my life for so long.

I also appreciated her making the point that being poly is about love, not sex. That is so important to stress, because a lot of people believe that polyamory is primarily driven by sex. But for many of us, it is just an expression of love in the way we see fit.

I would rather love two people, and have them both on board with that, then love two people and keep it a secret from my original partner, so that I have to live a lie.

I have many polyamorous friends, and a lot of them are working professionals. An English teacher, a bus driver, foreman at a plastic factory. I am a musician, artist, and mother, and it is so important that I teach my beautiful son that love comes in many forms, and that he has the freedom to choose for himself which form works for him. As long as he and his partner/s are happy, then who am I to say anything? Honesty, after all, is always the best policy.

Thank you again for sharing your views and opinions on polyamory. It gives me hope for society, yet.

So I got that letter in. Interesting, no?

Also interesting (to me, anyway) is that since publishing 1 Man, 2 Women In A Polyamorous Relationship, I’ve gotten in quite a few letters from people living in polyamorous relationships who say it works just fine for them.

“I love two people; they both love me; they also love each other. Where is the harm in that?” they ask.

That’s a fair enough question, don’t you think? It’s one that I’m asked all the time—albeit usually by right-wing Christians (always, alas, bitterly) making the point that if gay marriage is legalized, why shouldn’t three-way marriage also be legalized?

Why indeed? I see nothing at all inherently immoral about polyamorous relationships. If three people living in such a relationship say it is working for them, why should anyone argue it? If no one is being hurt, how is it anyone else’s business?

I personally am a monogamist. Why is that? To put it, I suppose, troglodytishly, because I want my (straight) wife Catherine (Cat) to love me more than she loves any other man. I want all of Cat, not some or most of her. I want her 100% emotionally and physically intimate with me, and no on else.

I want her exclusively. I don’t want the power of our intimacy diluted by one-third.* I don’t want her love for me to be something she does by way of emotionally multi-tasking.

In for a penny, in for a pound—and in for life. Relationship-wise, I personally think that’s the way to go.

Also—and this is no small thing—I don’t think there’s time in life to really love—to really get to know—more than one person. Each person is a world worthy of ten lifetimes of exploration, let alone one. You can only know two people half as well as you can know one, because there’s no more time in life than that.

Exclusivity-wise, Cat feels the same way about me that I do about her. She’s as possessive of me as I am of her. She’s not about to share me with anyone. So that’s how we’ve been living since we got married in 1981.

(As for Cat’s general opinion on polyamorous relationships, she said, “I think being in a polyamorous relationship is a way to avoid emotional intimacy. When you’re splitting your love between two people, you’re giving all of your love to neither.” Which I think pretty neatly nails the gist of it.)

Does being monogamous make me, or Cat, barbaric or simplistic? Does it mean that we see each other as some kind of chattel that we own? Of course not. If for any reason Cat was determined to leave me, ultimately I’d want her to, because by far above all I want her to be happy. We’ve agreed to stay exclusive to each other because we believe that, over the long haul, that’s what provides the most bang for life’s buck. (*snerk!*)

Again, I do not think monogamy or even sexual fidelity, in and of itself, is a moral issue: if a couple agrees to have sex outside of the marriage, and everyone is okay with that, I see no moral foul there. Being monogamous is essentially a practical issue. I want the most I can get of what is arguably the best thing life has to offer: romantic love that lasts, and is exclusive, for decades. I want the most I can get out of the phenomenon of emotional intimacy. When I’m an old man I want to look back on my life, and know that emotionally I could not have gone any deeper with my heart and my mind than I did. And to me that means one wife (or one husband, if I were gay), one marriage, for life. So that’s what I’ve done with my life, and will continue to do until the end.

How about for you? Do you agree with Cat and me that the ideal—that ultimately the most rewarding life prize—is a monogamous marriage for life? Or do you think that notion hackneyed, provincial, old-fashioned? Perhaps you think it’s different for everyone, that it is possible to be as intimate with two people simultaneously as it is with one—that Cat is wrong when she ventures that having two spouses is a way to avoid committing to one.

I’d sure like to hear your thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

* P.S. An hour or so later, I’m finding that consistent within the comments is this reasoning: “Of course I can fully love more than one person at a time. And the proof is that I fully and equally love each of my children.”

So I thought I’d take a quick moment to say this: Yes, a parent loves each of their children equally. But obviously no one does (or should) make love to their children. No one does (or should) give themselves sexually to their children; no one is (or should) be having loving, regular, intimate, emotionally vulnerable sexual intercourse with their children. Therefore, by definition, one is nowhere near as intimate with their children as they are with their spouse. And of course that’s how it should be. No one wants their mom or dad trying to be as emotionally and physically intimate with them as they expect and desire their spouse to be. And for a parent to try to play that role in the life of their child is of course wildly inappropriate.

We are partners–we are equals, peers, comrades–with our spouses in a way it’s not possible to be with our children. We love our children. We both love and are in love with our spouse. Whole different can of Valentine’s Day cards. There may be perfectly sound reasoning leading to the conclusion that one can love more than one spouse with the same depth and intimacy that one can love one spouse alone, but starting with “I love both my children equally” won’t get you there.

And, what the heck, by way of perhaps more clearly defining what I’m meaning to communicate in this post, lemme here toss in a couple of thoughts I shared in response to a couple of comments below:

… That’s really the question, isn’t it? Is the way that monogamous people are wired intrinsic to all human beings? Is it true for every human being–in the way it is true that, say, we all must eat, and we all desire to be loved unconditionally by our parents, and we all know right from wrong–that the overall richest way to spend his or her adult life (or as much of it as possible–and as difficult as doing so can certainly can be) is through exercising whatever discipline it takes to remain emotionally and sexually fidelitous to one other person who is similarly wedded (whether legally or not) to them? I believe that it is the case: I think it’s that truth which informs and sustains the whole marriage/coupling compulsion. But I know enough about life to know that I could be mistaken about that.


So, to my point of view, when you say, “I can share those thoughts, attention, affection, and emotions with the person in front of me…and with the person to whom I am traveling…and the person from whom I am traveling,” I hear support for my idea that one of the main things happening there is that you’re simply not experiencing as much love—as deep of a love, as complete a giving of yourself, as fully an enmeshing with another—as you would if you were physically and emotionally fidelitous to but one person. To me (as obnoxiously suggestive as this metaphor is) you are snacking in several places, but eating well in none. What I hear is that you are (and perhaps purposefully so, which is fine) avoiding full emotional and physical commitment–and that ultimately the reward of such commitment would be better for/to you than anything you’re now doing. Which I know sounds obnoxiously aggressive and necessarily offensive. For which I apologize. I’m only being as honest as I can be–AND, again (and again and again and again), I’m not so dumb that I don’t realize that of course I could be mistaken about this aspect of human nature. I’d be very surprised to learn I am–that what I believe is true about this stuff is not true for any human, in the way it’s true that all people, say, desire for their parents to love them well and unconditionally, or know right for wrong. But maybe I am mistaken, of course. …

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  • Brian Morse

    The issues of morality in romantic and loving relationships always comes down to one issue for me. That issue is consent. I worry that, in some instances, multiple partners is not genually chosen, but coerced. That is not the case with the person who wrote you the letter. She wrote, “I found myself tearing up. Because the woman you spoke with explained the whole love dynamic that I have been experiencing in my life for so long.” I believe that there are genetic predispositions to a variety of loving and romantic wants. What makes one moral and the other imorral? I find the answer to be consent.
    Our society rightly does not allow adults to have romantic/loving relationships with children. The adult probably has a genetic predisposition, but we’ve determined that the child is incapable of giving consent. The same goes for romantic/loving relationships between humans and non-humans.
    When it comes to “gay marriage”, there are two consenting adults. Consent is the key.

  • Diana

    “I would rather love two people, and have them both on board with that, then love two people and keep it a secret from my original partner, so that I have to live a lie.”

    This rang a bell with me. I think that if one is genuinely in love with more than one person then, yes, it is better to have it all out in the open. So often, the greatest hurt in adultery is the being lied to part of it–when someone you thought you could trust sneaks around behind your back.

    Yet, I see your point too. The depth that can arise with monogamous love–I mean, we each have a limited amount of time and energy and when we’re not spending those commodities on one thing, we’re spending them on something else. So I cannot see a polyamorous set up permitting the same depth in the relationships having the same depth as that which would be exclusive between two people.

    Finally, some people are just not mature enough to handle the demands of polyamory. If balancing the needs of two people in a relationship is hard, how much harder when you have three, four…?

  • Brian M: I’m sure I just misunderstood this, but … did you just say that adults “probably” have a genetic predisposition to have sex with children?

  • Aunt Tasty

    I desire monogamy for the same reasons you do, which I usually define as, “NOPE. I’m not sharing. And I want 100% of the attention.” That’s me, though. Consenting adults, two, three, four, of any genders are consenting adults with personal agency. I offer no opinion or need to control them based on my discomfort with polyamory. That’s my issue, not theirs.

  • LynnC

    while I personally identify most with Monogamy, I have trouble understanding your reason. I don’t think of emotions as a pie that you can piece out to people, but that you definitely have enough love to go around.
    People love their coupled parents as much as the next person loves their single parent.
    When people have their second child they don’t suddenly start loving the first child half as much as before.
    We are capable of loving multiple people equally. In my opinion at least.

    Unless this was an equitable 3+ way partnership though (everyone attracted to everyone and equitable in emotional and physical sharing) I could see where the hurt comes from. I want to be the one my partner can come to when they are having a bad day and need a shoulder.
    Ugh. It is a tricky thing now isn’t it?

    I think that there isn’t a best way, and monogamy isn’t going to become archaic any time soon. I think though that it is good that people realize what they are predisposed and owning that and searching for those relationships instead of sucking an unsuspecting partner prone to the other way in.

  • BarbaraR

    I have known several people in poly relationships. At first I assumed it was some sort of ongoing orgy arrangement, but eventually I learned that isn’t the case at all. It is indeed about trust and mutual love and selflessness, perhaps more so than in monogamous relationships.
    Personally, it isn’t for me; marriage to one person is enough work. But if a poly arrangement works for others, it’s perfectly fine with me.

  • Yes, people love each of their parents and their the children the same. But (I hope), people don’t have sex with their parents or children. By definition, therefore, the relationship a person has with their parents or children isn’t as intimate as the one they have with their spouse; you’re never physically anywhere near as intimate with anyone as you are with your spouse. With a spouse, you give, and receive, your all. You can hold back there, of course. But if you don’t–if you give virtually your all, constantly, to your spouse, can you do the same with another person? That’s the question.

  • ErikaBeseda

    i get it. both sides. i guess that for me the bottom line is this:
    i only walk in my own shoes. i can not and will not judge a relationship between adults. period.
    also, i do have the capacity to love more than one, i love all three of my children, i love all my BFFs (there is 6 of us) so why cant someone have romantic love for more than?
    also: i had to look up troglodytishly, i like that word. i will use it today.

  • But you don’t (I hope) sexuallylove your children. And I’m guessing you don’t give yourself sexually to your BFF’s. So those relationships are not, and cannot be, as intimate as the one you have/would have with your spouse. The question is, can you give your physical and emotion all to a person who is giving their all to not just you, but to you and at least one other person?

  • ErikaBeseda

    ha! nope, i don’t love my children sexually. however, intimacy, is different for different people. i share intimacies with my bffs (we call ourselves sister-wives) that i do not share with DH.
    to answer your question, i honesty do not know. i do know that many many people do not believe that monogamy is for everyone. and i am okay with that.

  • Reed

    It is a moral issue because in any close relationship there’s the potential to make the other person(s) very happy or hurt them very badly. What could be more *moral* than that responsibility?

  • Michael Edwards

    He said “The adult” meaning “the adult in an adult-child relationship”. Some adults may be predisposed to pedophilia though, as he rightly notes, the child in that case cannot truly give consent (because of the power differential), so we do not allow it.

  • Michael Edwards

    Besides the complex issue of emotional availability, I think there is also the practical issue of finances. I worry that in some cases a third party might be left out in the cold financially as to pension, Social Security, inheritance, etc.

    To me as a Christian, I treasure the image of total mutual dedication to one’s partner implied in monogamy. Being sinful humans, we don’t live up to that full mutual giving, yet it is a beautiful sacramental image and embodiment.

    I cannot rule out the ability of some people to give themselves wholeheartedly to more than one partner. But for me, it would be challenge enough giving myself wholly to one. 🙂

  • 2TrakMind

    I can’t imagine how a person can equally love multiple people, in a romantic sense. Even more, how could one not compare the love they see shown to the other person and not sense that they are not being loved equally? It’s kind of like with our kids; no matter how you try to show them love equally, they always perceive differences in the love you show the others. Even if your love is genuinely equal, they always perceive it to be different. Maybe it can be done; I know I couldn’t do it.

    I don’t see this issue as being a moral thing, either. When it comes to God; He’s not most concerned about how moral we are; He’s interested in our well being. He loves us and knows that certain things are for our better and others are inherently harmful. God doesn’t punish us for “moral failure;” but we do bear the consequences of our decisions. I can’t say, necessarily that God is against this kind of relationship, but I do see that they are rife with opportunities for relational destruction. It would be interesting to hear the experiences of some who have been in a committed relationship like this for a long period of time, say a minimum of a decade.

    Referring back to the letter you received; it’s interesting that she found comfort in the statement about “poly” not being about sex, but love. On the contrary, the word “amorous” is very much about sex, so if these relationships really aren’t about sex, the use of the term “poly-fidelitous” would seem to make more sense.

  • Oh, right. Duh. Of course that’s what he meant. Whew.

  • that1guy

    Oh John, thank you so much for your follow-up article on polyamory v. monogamy. It was interesting that you posted it when you did, as my wife and I were just discussing the original post this weekend. It was an affirming conversation and helped us to realize just how much we value each other.

    Just for background, I have been following your blog for some time now. So many of your articles make me want to stand up and cheer. I was born and raised into modern Charismatic Fundamentalist “Christianity” and only broke free of it several years ago. My wife and I have been on an incredible spiritual journey, discovering and exploring what it truly means to follow the example of Christ, rather than being good, American, Conservative “Christians”. It has been a difficult, painful, beautiful, rewarding journey. I was overjoyed when I came across your blog, as well as several others, that showed me there truly is hope for modern American Christianity.

    That being said, your original article detailing a successful polyamorous relationship left me unsettled. On the one hand, there was a hormone fueled side of me that found the notion of two women at once incredibly arousing. But there was no way I’d ever be ok sharing my wife with another man. (Yes, I am THAT guy. Don’t judge too harshly.) As I explored the idea in my own mind/heart, I realized that it would be, for me at least, purely sexual. It may actually work for some, but in our marriage it would be destructive and hurtful bringing another person into the relationship. I would be sacrificing trust and intimacy. Much as you yourself implied, I am unable to love more than one person at a time at that level. If I understand your wife correctly, we would be avoiding intimacy.

    Just for the sake of curiosity (and because sometimes I am insecure and things like this keep me up at night) I mentioned the article to my wife. Her initial reaction is that someone is getting the short end of the stick in that relationship. “There’s no way I could share you with another person. I’d always feel like I wasn’t enough for you. I want to be the one who satisfies you.” We both saw another person as a division of our interests, our love, and our intimacy.

    I sincerely hope that those in polyamorous relationships are fully committed to both other partners equally and no one ever feels less important, but I am skeptical. As for my wife and me, two is just right. She is enough for me and I am enough for her. I can’t imagine sharing this love we have with another person.

    Thank you, John, for what you are doing. You have a beautiful ministry that brings me tremendous encouragement and affirmation. I appreciate you, Sir.

  • Brian Morse

    Michael is correct. Thank you for asking for clarification. I could have written more clearly. My point is that consent is my method for interpreting the morality of a relationship. In the case of multiple partners, I don’t personally understand the desire, but IF all involved are sincerely consenting, I won’t stand in the way. My concern is with girls raised in tightly closed “cults”. I question consent in those cases.

  • Dan the Quaker

    I recall when my wife was pregnant with our first (and only) child. I was worried. I loved my wife so much. Would I have to love her less in order to adequately love our child? Would I have to ration what I assumed to be my limited supply of love? The moment our son was born an amazing thing happened. The love that I had expanded exponentially. I realized that it wasn’t a question of allocating my fixed supply of love but rather than I had more than enough love (an endless amount it seems) to give to both of them without short-changing anyone. I wonder if perhaps this is something like what occurs in poly relationships.

  • that1guy: good to see this here! thank you.

  • Exactly right, Brian. You said it perfectly.

  • Our Quaker meeting has a poly family that attends. Here are blog entries from the mom and one of the husbands, explaining how they came to be a poly family, and what it means to them



  • Marissa Knittel

    I’m currently in a polyamorous situation and many people have asked, “how can you love two people 100%?” To that I ask: do you love your parents 100%? If so, 50% each, or 100% each? What about kids? If you have 3 kids, do you love each only 33% or do you love each kid 100%?

    It’s not about fictitious limits to how much love one can allocate (measuring love in what? grams? liters? inches? hours?), but about the fact that it is entirely possible and normal to love multiple people 100% in different ways. The problem is a practical issue of location and time, because, alas, there is only 1 of me and I am unfortunately bound by the rules of time and space.

    That said, there are plenty of monogamous people who are separated by distance and time, who still manage to stay connected with each other and love each other. For as much as it would be absurd to dismiss or question the capabilities of two monogamous lovers distanced by space and time on that fact alone, it’s absurd to question the same of poly people who practice time-management to make themselves available to their partners.

  • Gary

    I am curious John if you have more than 1 child? And if you do…was your love diluted mathematically by the birth of each successive child? I agree that this is not a moral issue…but I take exception to the notion that loving more than one means I must dilute or in some fashion divide up my love bank so to speak. Any parent instinctively knows that love does not work that way.

    There are many great reasons to choose monogamy. But if your logic is correct…then choosing to have more than one child would not be fair to the first child who must give up 50% of your love for them. Hell, even having one child would not be fair to your spouse as apparently that love has to come from someplace.

    Think about it.

  • ErikaBeseda

    this. times infinity.

  • Andy

    “If Cat wanted to leave me, I’d want her to, because by far above all I want her to be happy. We’ve agreed to stay exclusive to each other because we believe that, over the long haul, that’s what provides the most bang for life’s buck.”

    Hold the phone, John: You have to fight for your marriage in times of unhappiness! Unhappiness is inevitable. Did you not take a vow to Cat when you two were married? Does that vow contain some small-print legal escape clause concerning one’s level of joy? Or was it “for better or worse?” (I’ll assume your wedding vows contained some semblance of the traditional form therein).

    Forget about polygamy, polyamory, etc., for a moment. Our very understanding of what a marriage consists of may be the REAL issue, here.

  • Andrew of MO

    I appreciate this discussion. I myself am monogamous and heterosexual. Personally, I have enough of a challenge disappointing one woman, let alone several people. But I also think it would be nice of the church to be cognizant of the various ways humans can express relationships and sexuality and be ready to welcome them in community. For once, can’t the church be at the forefront of the human experience, instead of reacting to some new development?

  • wakingdreaming

    I am polyamorous, and have been for a few years now, after having been in monogamous relationships throughout my adult life previously The problem with monogamy for me was that I was often falling for more than one person at a time, and I had to either ignore my feelings for all but one person, break up with one person for another, or make a decision to be unfaithful to whoever I was with. I always hated that. A few years back, I was in a long term relationship with someone with whom I’d discussed the idea of polyamory occasionally. For a long time, neither of us felt secure enough in our own relationship to try “opening things up.” But we eventually got to the place where we knew we were secure with each other and were interested in dating other people. Interestingly, we got there at the exact same time.

    That particular relationship didn’t work out, but it wasn’t because of the polyamory. We stayed together for about another two years after that. We just decided we made better friends than partners. We’re still very close today. We just aren’t a couple anymore.

    Not everyone wants to be polyamorous and that is totally fine. I don’t think any less of people who are committed to monogamy. I think people want and need different things and there is absolutely zero fault in that. It doesn’t make you barbaric or simplistic. It’s what both of you want, and it fits your needs and desires, so it’s what you should do!

    On the other hand, I don’t think that having romantic relationships with more than one person at a time means avoiding emotional intimacy, or cutting your intimacy down to a third. I think it’s entirely possible to love two or more partners equally. Think about your relationship with your parents. Or if you have children, your relationship with them. You have DIFFERENT relationships with each of those people, but you don’t love any of them any more or less than the other, right? Even if your relationship with one fits a different need, or has a different style, than your relationship with another, it doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing some of your love for one just because you love another. Connecting in DIFFERENT ways, at the same time, doesn’t have to be mean connecting LESS.

  • Amanda

    I’m a married, monogamous, mother of two, and although my relationship status isn’t up for any kind of changeroo (it took the two of us long enough to find each other and we’re rather happy as a duo), I can see how someone could be in a romantic relationship with more than one person without it diluting the love for the first partner. I love my kids and having #2 didn’t decrease my love for #1, so why should love be finite in terms of romantic relationships when it isn’t in terms of filial?

    As long as the parties involved are competent, consenting adults I see no reason to think the less of someone’s love because it’s expressed in a poly vs. monogamous format.

  • wakingdreaming

    I see that you’re attached to the idea of sex as the ultimate form of intimacy, and that you believe you couldn’t navigate having that form of intimacy with more than one person at once. That’s fine, of course. But not everyone feels that way. I think sex CAN be very intimate, but isn’t automatically so, and isn’t necessarily the MOST intimate thing I can share with someone. There are things about me that take more trust and intimacy than having sex with someone. But for me personally, even those things aren’t necessarily limited to being shared with just one person at a time.

  • Merseine

    So far you’ve spoken of gay and straight folks. But what about us bisexuals? I truly believe that God made me bisexual, so am I to deny that part of me? Am I any less a perfect child of God because of my bisexuality? I love a man and a woman – and as others have said, I believe your math to be wrong. I can give 100% love to one and still have 100% love to give to the other. They are different people, so the love I give to each is different and is reflected back to me by each in their own unique way.

  • You don’t have (I hope) sex with your children. And because of that you are not (or shouldn’t be) as intimate with any of your children as you are with your spouse.

    Think about it.

  • I never once said sex was the ultimate form of intimacy. But if you ADD sex to a loving relationship, that relationship becomes, right away, more intimate than is the loving relationship with a person with whom you never have sex. I love my best friend Bob. I don’t have a sexual relationship with Bob. That means I CAN’T be as intimate with Bob as I am my wife.

  • About the kids thing: see the P.S. I tacked to my post above. Thanks! And thanks for the comment.

  • Liz

    I’m a little put off by the comparisons of romantic love with the love you have for parents/children. To me they are different types of relationships and really can’t be compared.

  • Please see the P.S. I’ve attached to the end of the post, addressing the idea that it’s possible/natural/workable to equate one’s love of one’s children with one’s love for one’s spouse.

  • No. Because … well, see the P.S., if you would, that I appended to the post.

  • That was certainly my point; I added the P.S. to the post specifically because so many were equating the two. (And of course I understand what people are saying there; no one’s saying they have intimate sexual relations with their children. Which is why I’m saying it doesn’t hold up to say that I can love two children equally because I love my children equally. There may be perfectly sound reasoning leading to the conclusion that one can love more than one spouse with the same depth and intimacy one can love a single spouse, but starting with “I love both my children equally” isn’t that path.

  • Pavitrasarala

    I fully agree with you, John, and for the exact reasons you’ve stated. Plus, just speaking for myself, I’m mildly autistic… it’s already a three ring circus just juggling a “traditional” marriage while balancing the needs that stem from my disability. I think my head would implode in a spectacularly messy fashion trying to manage more than one intimate partner or spouse, be it emotionally, sexually, physically, spiritually, or otherwise.

  • Marissa Knittel

    Thanks for the response John.

    I believe the distinction of loving and being in love to be a semantic one. Yes, love for one’s parents and love for one’s romantic partners are not the same. Then again, no relationship ever is the same. We all share different parts of ourselves, different vulnerabilities, different accomplishments, different phases of our lives. We all choose how to allocate our time and energy, and some monogamous relationships have more of that romantic focus and time than others, sometimes due to work requirements, family requirements, or personal space requirements. We all choose to focus our vulnerability and intimacy to various people in various ways — that’s the point.

    I think a better analogy, and perhaps more on-point for this blog, is the love and intimacy we share with a romantic love and the love and intimacy we share with God. The sexual element is obviously missing, but that’s neither here nor there, as we all know sex isn’t what relationship, poly or monogamous, is about. We are capable of being intimately vulnerable and “romantic” with more than one being, showering them with our love, affirmation, and affection. If it’s possible to share that kind of intimacy with God and with a human, what’s to say that the same couldn’t be true with God an TWO (or more) humans? The limiting factors would be physical, as I outlined earlier, since we have a limited amount of time and energy, but as I also mentioned above, we ALL choose how to allocate that. Some monogamous relationships have barely any time for romance at all by virtue of the requirements of the people involved, but that doesn’t negate or make impossible the fact that it can, and often does, work.

  • See, if you will, the PS I appended to the post, in which I address this comparing of the love one has for one’s children with the love one has for one’s spouse.

  • Liz

    Agreed. Besides, in this day and age romantic relationships seem to come and go with far too much ease, so the comparison doesn’t really equate for that reason (at least in my mind). Interesting discussion even though I lean more to you and your wife’s way of thinking about the issue.

  • James Walker

    I may find myself ganged up on here, but from what I’ve seen in the (admittedly very few) poly friends I’ve encountered over the years, there is a certain “arms length” characteristic of the emotional commitment and intimacy in such relationships. I cannot help but feel that each partner in a poly household is holding some part of themselves back from the other partners in order to diminish friction, to avoid confrontation and to prevent the pain of loss if (when) one or more of the partners leaves. Since our society has no in-built support mechanisms for poly relationships, they (like gay couples in states without any LGBT+ marriage protections) are relatively flimsy structures that are held up only by the trust between the participants. Anything that shakes that trust can fracture that relationship permanently and irrevocably.

  • wakingdreaming

    Okay, now I’m aggravated, because you’re taking this disagreement in obviously absurd ways. NO ONE here is suggesting that one should be sexually intimate with their children or their parents, and I think you know that. That’s absurd. Those of us making the comparison between loving more than one partner equally, and loving more than one child or parent equally, are just using the closest analogy we can think of. Because other than your spouse or other romantic partner, who are you closer to in life than your parents or your children? Maybe your really close friends, I guess?

    Like I said to you in response to your reply to someone else, elsewhere in the comments, I see that you consider sex to be the ultimate form of intimacy between people, and for you it would not work to share that form of intimacy with someone other than your wife. That is fine.

    But please do not try to sidetrack the discussion by making insinuations that no one else here is making. When there is no exact comparison to be made between two different things, we use the next best example. That’s all that is happening here.

  • Matt

    I am bisexual, and monogamous. I can be attracted to men, and I can be attracted to women. I have been attracted to both. But ultimately I want one person for life, in my case a woman. It’s just how the chips fell, basically. Let’s not perpetuate the myth that bisexuality necessarily means you can never be satisfied by one partner.

  • Randi

    No, I do not agree with you. To each their own, but you can’t objectively say that two partners will experience deeper intimacy than three or four or more. And perhaps practically speaking, for you, two makes sense, but that isn’t the case for everyone. For some families, MORE makes sense. More support. More help juggling the children’s schedules’. More people to take shifts by the hospital bed when one is sick. More family. More intimacy. More love. Humans are tribal by nature. We are so isolated in our society, and so many of us, outside our 2 parent 2 kid families, have no one else when push comes to shove.

    You’ve heard enough stories to know that not everyone can rely on their biological families. We all have the right to build our families as adults–we have the right to choose our people. And saying monogamy is the “ideal” is like saying having two children is best and a 5 child family is taking on too much and won’t be able to really know/care for their kids.

    In truth, there is no ideal. Some people have no children, some have 1, some have 10. Same with lovers. No better, no worse, just different.

    ETA: And I want to clarify that my points about kids are not about whether you can LOVE more than one, but about the practicality of large families versus small ones. There are benefits to your spouse being your ONE person who loves you in that way, and there are benefits to having MORE people who love you in that way/.

  • Mer: So I’m genuinely asking: Can you love and be fully committed to a person of either gender, or must you, in order to feel fulfilled as a person, be in a relationship with both a man and a woman? In other words, can you choose a lane and then contentedly stay in that lane, or is your life really only optimal for you when you have a relationship going with both a man and a woman? Not looking to accuse, or anything like it; anyone who knows my work knows I have no problem whatsoever with anyone being gay or bi or trans or … anything else that does’t harm anyone. Honestly just asking about you.

  • sus4th

    Well—just because you feel like your love would be diluted if you were in a poly relationship doesn’t mean others feel the same way. I know several poly relationships that have ended badly, but I bet I know several poly relationships that I don’t even know are poly relationships that I bet have gone on for years. I can’t imagine ever wanting that for myself, but I can’t imagine myself going into accounting, either, and I hear there are accountants who actually *like* the work they do. (And FWIW, while being an accountant is more socially accepted, I think it’s unnatural. I’m cool with accountants getting married and all. Just don’t go around shoving profit-and-loss sheets in my face, yo.)

  • wakingdreaming

    You can say that you’re not thinking of sex as the ultimate form of intimacy, but all your other words seem to contradict you. Unless sex, or something that results from sex, is the ultimate form of intimacy, then why can’t you be as intimate with Bob as you are with your wife? Are you sure that’s really the case? What if you’re just DIFFERENTLY intimate with both of them?

  • I’ll share that with my wife. Who is an accountant!

  • Mark Kille

    As it happens, polyfidelity is a pretty common term for a kind of
    polyamory where a defined group adults have romantic relationships
    exclusively amongst themselves — e.g., http://loveisinfinite.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/in-defence-of-polyfidelity/

    When people talk in general about polyamory being about love instead of sex, what they typically mean is that the primary goal in the relationships
    is intimacy instead of self-gratification.

  • Mark Kille

    Hi John,

    First of all, thanks so much for being willing to have this conversation in a
    welcoming, non-judgmental way. As a polyamorous person, it means a lot to me.

    Second, it seems like you are making three main claims in your post:

    -1- One way that romantic love differs from other kinds of love is the presence of sexual intimacy.

    -2- Romantic love, and by extension sexual intimacy, is a phenomenon that can be maximized.

    -3- Maximizing romantic love should be the normative goal for people in a romantic relationship.

    The first claim is true for many many people, but not all. There are folks who identify as asexual, for example. And there are people who have true “friends with benefits” relationships where they don’t experience romantic entanglement, but part of why they love that friend is the sex they have. I can’t personally relate to either of these experiences, but I can say that they empirically exist.

    The second and third claims are…problematic.

    My wife is a Quaker who was wounded deeply by excommunication in a different tradition (ETA: my wife has let me know I chose the wrong word here in the context of that tradition, because what happened was a temporary bar from the sacrament instead of a permanent exclusion from the community), and I am a sacramental Christian who gets twitchy if he misses a week of communion. We have never shared communion, not even once. We don’t even call the same congregations our faith homes. I share communion with lots of other people (though no current romantic partners)–am I holding something back from her, or her from me? Should we be “working on” it?

    Or: I want to “do good in the world,” broadly understood. So does my wife. These various efforts take time and energy. Theoretically, we could be using some or all of that time and energy deepening our relationship–especially if we shared the same “doing good” activities, which we don’t. Am I holding something back from her, or her from me? Should we be “working on” it?

    Sexual intimacy, for many many people, is intensely bonding. It can take two people and fundamentally shape who they are and how they relate to each other, the proverbial “two bodies becoming one flesh.” I can definitely see where one could be dubious that it is possible to do so on two separate, parallel tracks. One of the reasons I personally am the polyfidelitous kind of polyamorous instead of the “open relationship” kind of polyamorous is that I don’t think I can, myself, be shaped in that way with somebody independent of how I am shaped in relationship with my wife. I know people who do it successfully and ethically, though. My impression is that it’s like my experience of communion, or someone else’s deep passion for music or social justice advocacy or the like: We can’t always actively share all of the things that matter critically to us with the person (or people) we romantically love. But we fully share the person we are made by our experience and love for those things.

    Anyway, thanks again!

  • wakingdreaming

    Yes! This!

  • fiona

    To answer your question, yes it is possible yo be intimate with more than one partner at one time.You give a little more and then you get a little more in return. I did not set out to be in a polyamorous relationship but when I found myself there, I realized that I had the spirit of polyamory all along even though I was living a monogamous life. In my case, I have been married for 9 years and our third has been with us for 2 1/2 years. She does not cancel out our marriage but more builds upon it. The commitment thing is a myth about polyamory because I am now committed to two people instead of just one. It actually takes more commitment not less. I don’t think its a vs. thing. I think people either have the spirit for polyamory or monogomy. Thank you for hosting this conversation for Christians.

  • spinning2heads

    I think that there are two separate things here– marriage as a legal legal matter, and love, which may or may not include marriage as a religious matter.

    As for love, I personally think I might (only might) be able to sustain the kind of deep strong and loving relationship I want with two different people, but only if I didn’t have to hold down a job or do anything else time-consuming. It would simply entail too many conversations, too much time with those individuals both alone and with friends, too much emotional energy spent. But that’s not hte life I want, so I have one. Also, how could anyone possibly measure up to the one I’ve got? I don’t think it’s possible. So monogamy it is. That being said, other people have other relationship goals and needs than I do, and those might be filled by having multiple partners. I’m all for people pursuing fulfilling lives for themselves, not just the fulfilling lives I think that they should want in some abstract way.

    Marriage as a legal matter is a different thing, and perhaps not what’s under discussion. Still, polygyny (one man having multiple wives) has a long and sordid history of abuses, some of which are even still practiced here in the US (google “FLDS”) and I think the government is right to disallow it. Also, the legal structure would have to change for the contract relationship that legal marriage creates to include more than two parties. It’s not that it can’t be done, it would just have to be worked on. Which is to say, it isn’t as easy to “just extend marriage” to polygamous triads, quads, etc as it is to “just extend marriage” to LGBT folk. It would take reworkign the structure a bit.

  • spinning2heads

    I think the comparisons are meant to be analogies, not literal equivalencies. Not “you love your kdis like you love a spouse” but “you can have parental-love for multiple children, you can have friendship-love for multiple friends, you can have romantic-love for multiple partners.” Whether the argument holds, and whether it’s a tasteful choice of analogies, is a different issue.

  • Gary

    I don’t believe all the wonderful attributes of love we find in 1 Corinthians 13 change simply because sex is involved. It is true to say YOU “give all of yourself to your spouse and no one else” and that is fine and what is right for you. But it is NOT TRUE to say I do…or anyone else who has a wonderfully loving and fulfilling poly relationship. My love is not divided and my relationship is closer and more intimate with my wife (after more than 30 years) than ever. Poly is clearly outside of the relationship paradigm for most people. But for those of us who choose to love more than one…there is not only no diminishing of the commitment and intensity of our primary relationship…it is in many ways greatly enhanced.

  • Dan the Quaker

    Hmmm… It sounds as if you are rejecting the idea because parent-child love is expressed differently and less intimately than spouse-spouse love. Obviously that is true, but they still are both expressions of the same greater thing, which is love. If God is love then both expressions come from the same source. My point, and I think the point of several others, is that perhaps spousal love can expand beyond a binary to a triad in a *similar* way that parental love can expand. The point is more about an inherent characteristic of love rather than about the particular expression used as an example. Additionally, much of marriage is about support and commitment and encouragement and having one another’s back and building a life/home/family together and raising the kids and attending parent/teacher conferences and doing the grocery shopping and driving the minivan to soccer practices and all that unsexy quotidian stuff. I can appreciate how, in this day and age particularly, some might find that three works better than two.

  • Gary

    Agreed. This line of reasoning and questioning is deliberately offensive.

  • Poly Thoughts

    John, you are under the misguided notion that Love is a zero sum game; that for you to love more than one means somehow loving each less than fully. Love of any flavor (phillia, agape, Eros) is not a pie that can only be sliced so many times. Your first born child doesn’t lose out on love ( but might miss out on some attention) just because a sibling is born. Adam had God’s love, and didn’t lose any of it when God made Eve, (or for that matter, the billions of us). Love is a loaves and fishes style miracle, where you will always find that as another sits at the table, another portion is found… Remember the loaves and fishes was not “just enough”, but they carted away bushels of leftovers.
    Opening your heart, considering other points of view, and believing that we are truly made in God’s image, capable of infinite love and kindness…

    You may not be comfortable stepping outside your paradigm, but to insist that anyone else’s paradigm must somehow be wrong, because you are not wired that way, is worse.

  • Merseine

    You know, you gave me a pretty good skull-scratcher there…basically, do I need both a man and a woman to be fulfilled? The answer to that is, no. For someone else be part of my life as a requirement for my happiness, my fulfillment…that just feels wrong. That feels so…I don’t know…selfish and possessive. I love my husband and I love my girlfriend. It’s as simple as that. It is who I am, and they are who I love with a love that is both different and deeper than the love I have for other friends or family. Can I “choose a lane?” Sure…but I don’t feel I have to, nor do I want to. In the same way that I don’t have to choose the “vegetarian only” option – I eat both veggies and meat, because that’s who I am. And no, I’m not watering my bisexuality down to a buffet line…it’s just that it is hard to put into words without sounding trite.

    So, going back to your original question – what is it that I need in order to be fulfilled? Again, without sounding trite, the only thing I need for true fulfillment is the love of God in my life. I’ve just found that both my husband and my girlfriend embody for me a portion of that agape-love: they both, each in their own unique way, love me completely, totally, unquestionably as I am in a way that shows me a glimpse – different from each of them – of what God’s love for me is. And that is something that I cherish.

  • anakinmcfly

    It makes no sense that a bisexual person can only be satisfied by simultaneous relationships with *both* a man and woman, any more than, say, a straight man attracted to both short women and tall woman can only be satisfied by simultaneous relationships with *both* a short woman and tall woman.

    As Matt said, please stop perpetuating the myth that being bisexual means you want partners that are one of each. I’m not bi but have had way too many frustrating conversations with people telling me that bisexuality is wrong because bisexuals by definition cannot be faithful to one partner. Which does a disservice to all the monogamous (and single) bi people I know.

  • I think the analogy is so critically flawed–given that it eliminates the entire calculus of the years-long intimate physical relationship–that coming into the ring it fails.

  • Merseine

    I’m not trying to say “bisexual means…” anything. I’m just saying that this is me and this is my situation.

    I’m curious though as to how my story is doing a disservice to all monogamous (and single) bi people. Do polyamorous straight people do the same disservice to all monogamous (and single) straight people? (and of course, same question about gay people).

  • Matt

    When you said “us bisexuals” without any other qualifier it strongly implies a single idea of what that means. But I’m glad we were able to clear that up.

  • Jennifer Easlick Potter

    I don’t think I could ever be part of a polyamorous relationship just because, like you said, I want all of my husband and I want him to have all of me. I don’t know that I condemn them. I’m pretty open minded. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have some discomfort over the topic considering some of the bad press and the true accounts of things like abuse that came out of cult-like communities that promoted polygamy as part of their patriarchal society. I think it’s a topic that is gaining exposure as people share their stories and because there have been television shows based on the concept (Big Love, Sister Wives, etc). I’m sure that as I learn more, I can overcome my discomfort. It’s not for me, but that doesn’t mean I think that no one else should be doing it.

  • Gary

    I submit that you have not known poly couples very well at all…or at least only those “fractured” ones. To define poly by the standard of those unhealthy examples you have known is like seeking to define monogamous marriage only by those who have failed. How you “feel” has no bearing on the beauty of my 2 couple poly quad and I assure you…I hold nothing back from either of the two I consider wives. And I have a pretty great platonic best friend as well.

  • Gary

    I have known many monogamous marriages where one spouse is “left out in the cold financially”. Or emotionally neglected, sexually deprived, etc. There is no weakness inherent to poly that is not also in pretty much every other type of loving relationship. My experience is that quality poly relationships are more protected from these types of issues…not more vulnerable to them.

  • Gary

    John I really don’t get your stance on this whole issue. Tying sex into the discussion the way you keep insisting on doing completely cheapens and distorts the emotional intimacy represented in the relationships be they monogamous or poly.

  • Gary

    You may find it surprising…but I am uncomfortable with those shows as well. To me they represent a totally unbalanced type of poly. But of course I completely support everyone’s right to choose what type of loving (consensual of course) relationship works for them.

  • Gary

    I disagree entirely. If sexuality was required for the truest form of love then it would have been included in 1 Corinthians 13. Intimacy may include sex and it may not. And sexual intimacy is NOT necessarily diluted when shared with more than one. (I speak from experience…you speak from a completely unexpected prejudice in the matter) The principle is the same and the analogy is right.

  • James Walker

    In that case, I’m quite happy to be wrong. 🙂

  • Barton

    What I find interesting is that in all (most?) polygamist relationships you are talking (nearly) exclusively of two women, one man. Is it simply “acceptable” because that’s how it is in the Bible? That seems to me to be a cop out: historically polygamy could be understood by the need to ensure the survival of the tribe/community (more births = greater chances of survival). We don’t have that concern, the human race is overpopulating the world.

  • Jennifer Easlick Potter

    Are you in a polyamorous relationship, Gary? I’ve noticed that I’ve not seen any relationships where there are multiple men and one woman. Mostly I see multiple women with one man. Is this just because my exposure to the poly community is limited or have you had the same impression? And I’m supportive of people having the love life that works for them regardless of how comfortable I am with their choices.

  • James Walker

    there is still a huge problem that our society has no structures to support relationships like yours. if something terrible were to happen and one or more of your partners decided they needed to leave, there is no legal help for unfolding whatever layers of financial interdependency you’ve created among yourselves. I find that scary and think it’s an important evolutionary step for our legal system to find ways to eliminate such pitfalls. (aside from making “non-traditional” relationships illegal)

  • Gary

    I agree. These are the same kinds of issues gay couples face in states which do not have any provision for marriage or civil unions. In my home state common law marriage is not provided for so even heterosexual couples living together outside of marriage face the very same risks. In our case we have not yet blended finances and households though we do hope to do so in the next 3 or 4 years. But at the end of the day some poly groups handle the challenges wonderfully and some not so much. And even with the protection of marriage…many gay or hetero couples who divorce ultimately find out the state protections of the marriage to be insufficient to assure an equitable separation.

    But – In spite of these weaknesses in love and marriage…most of us still believe in the power of love and optimistically embrace it.

  • Gary

    Yes we are a two couple polyfidelitous quad. I do see multiple women more common as well though I am much more comfortable with a relationship like ours. We have a level of balance that works for us. But we are all hetero so I cannot fully appreciate the dynamics of bisexual blends. But I can see how they would have their own type of balance. We do not live this way out in the open so to speak as our situation and some of the family structure would not allow for it without significant sacrifice. We dream of blending household and finances together in another 3 or 4 years…but even then we will likely present it to the world as a platonic arrangement for the financial benefits.

    We don’t feel the need to be recognized by society in order for our relationship to be healthy and satisfying, and I think this is more common among poly folk as well.

  • Gary

    And ALL close relationships of any type share that same “moral” responsibility it seems to me.

  • Hth

    Perhaps you think it’s different for everyone; that it is
    possible to be as intimate with two people simultaneously as it is with
    one—that Cat is wrong when she ventures that having two spouses is a way
    to avoid committing to one.

    Yes, perhaps I do. And perhaps I find it a little cowardly and dickish to hide behind “well, my wife says.” If *you think* that being poly is ipso facto evidence that I have emotional problems (“a way to avoid emotional intimacy”), then *you say so* on your own blog. If you think she’s wrong about that, you say “my wife says this, but I’m not sure I agree.” It seems like you do pretty much agree, but felt uncomfortable saying so yourself. Perhaps it occurred to you that judging the motives and emotional states of millions of total strangers was not going to make you look great and preferred to let your wife take the bullet instead.

    Or maybe you had other reasons for framing that immensely insulting argument in such an oddly passive way. I don’t know you, so it’s hard to say why you do what you do.

  • So … from your “It seems like you pretty much agree, but felt uncomfortable saying so yourself,” I’m going to assume you missed my saying, directly after my wife’s quote, “I think that pretty neatly nails the gist of it.”

  • Mertle

    to be in a poly relationship takes a LOT of emotional maturity. its not for everyone. but its doable.

  • James Walker

    John? passive and indirect?

    pardon me while I mop up the beverage I just spewed onto my monitor…

  • James Walker

    for those who are in poly relationships, I beg patience. those of us who’ve never directly observed a healthy poly relationship in our social circles have no context with which we can reasonably and rationally grasp the dynamics of your households. I’m beginning to understand that what works for one group marriage may not necessarily work for another, and that may be where we can all start to find a toehold for discussion.

    I know because John has posted several blog entries on this topic that he’s as interested in treating this type of relationship fairly as many of the rest of us are. but it seems he, like me, may also be lacking the conceptual “handles” to write about it without tripping over someone’s trigger points.

    please, please recognize that we’re trying. help us to establish some common ground, to give us analogies and comparisons that really work, to build that feeling of “us” instead of divided camps.

  • Bravo James.

  • Bill Steffenhagen

    I have always admired James’ intellect and thoughtfulness.

  • Bill Steffenhagen

    There have been several comments noting the prevalence of 1man/2 or more women in poly relationships. The comments are framed in a wonder-why-that-is sense of inquisitiveness. Why is it surprising? Has it occurred to anyone (other than me) that it is the natural way of poly relationships in the sense that it is common in nature? Many MALE animals have “harams” and while the emotional dynamics are surely quite different, the sexual dynamics are similar. Humans ARE animals after all and males of nearly all species like to fuck around. No doubt there is a natural survival-of-the-species impulse at work and humans are not immune to instinctual influences.

  • Um … thank you so much, James, but I’m good. For years now I’ve known a fair number of people in poly relationships–and I’ve heard from and interacted with dozens more. So I am not, by any stretch, without the conceptual “handles” to understand poly relationships–which aren’t, in any event, particularly challenging to understand. What I DO know when I go into writing about anything even vaguely like this is that there is virtually no way to write about it without tripping over a whole lot of people’s “trigger points.” I know that’ll happen. There’s literally no way for it not to.

    With this particular piece I’ve done all I can ever do anyway: be honest. Which, of course, is not necessarily the same thing as being emotionally accommodating. All I’ve said here–which I carefully and constantly made sure to modify with “personally” –is what is true for me and my life. That’s kind of …. my job here. What happens after that is … whatever happens after that. That part of the whole thing is never really any of my business. If it were–if I too much minded when people took exception to something I wrote–I wouldn’t have lasted fifteen minutes doing what I do. (Also 2800+ people have shared this piece with their networks–against maybe … I don’t know … 20 people who took exception to it. I’m okay with those numbers.)

  • James Walker

    sorry for attempting to rope you in as my support group, John. =)

    I’ll go stand over here in the corner with the four other people who upvoted my comment and, thus, maybe feel as inadequate as I do to discuss this topic as fairly and even-handedly as I wish to.

    I have a lot of learning to do, and I hope everyone in the community will be patient with me while I absorb as much as I can.

  • Joyful Girl

    John- Your logic is flawed for how you dismiss wholesale the comparison between romantic love and love for one’s children. Nobody would argue that they’re the same kind of love or that they manifest in the same way; that is absurd. The analogy refutes your underlying assumption that love is finite– you can only fully love one person at a time, loving a second partner dilutes your primary relationship, etc. Why do you believe that humans have the capacity for unlimited familial love to share among children, but limited romantic love to share with sexual partners? Just because of the nature of the intimacy that comes with sexual intercourse? That seems like an arbitrary socially-constructed divide. People experience intimacy in vastly different ways, many monogamous couples stop having sex over time, and some people feel closer to other family members than to their spouses (NOT sexually of course). So to claim that spousal love is particularly limited because it’s universally more intimate does not make sense. And when it comes to time commitments– spouses have sex with each other, parents coach their kids; there many ways to express love, and they all take time and intimacy.

    That said, I absolutely do not believe that monogamous marriage is hackneyed or old-fashioned. I have a deep respect for any relationship that involves love, consent, commitment, honest communication, and all the other wonderful things that come with finding your life partner and nurturing a healthy relationship. Polyamory personally works better for me. I have two life partners and I love them both with all my heart (yes, that’s possible!). We are a highly-functional family unit, we all feel like we are getting our needs met, and we want to raise kids together. I hope one day our society gets to a point where all loving consenting relationships are accepted and we no longer have these debates about which lifestyle is ideal. Everyone can define their own most rewarding life prize and pursue it ethically without fear of judgment.

    My spouse and I were faithfully monogamous for over a decade before we opened our relationship. We had an amazing marriage before, but now we feel even closer and more deeply connected. We are able to talk more openly about our desires and dreams, because we’ve broken down the rules we’d constructed for what a marriage needs to look like. I know many other poly couples who have had similar experiences, and none who are avoiding emotional intimacy. It’s quite the opposite, since polyamory requires a huge amount of self-reflection, emotional intelligence, and open communication. I’m not advocating that anyone else change lifestyles, or claiming that all poly relationships are great. There are healthy/unhealthy, happy/ miserable relationships across both lifestyles. I just believe people should follow their bliss and live their lives with love, kindness, and integrity in whatever form works for them.

  • Huh: my response to you, James, seems to have been eaten by Disqus. How sucky. So, to repeat myself: I have always deeply appreciated your kindness, intelligence, sensitivity, and insight, James. (As I do the four great friends of this blog who upvoted your kind comment above.) We all have a lot of learning to do. If not, we’re wasting our time being alive.

  • I never once said that love is finite. I’m slow, but I’m not slow enough to say that.

  • Teresa

    I would just like to add my 2 cents here:

    A) I’m really surprised/impressed/encouraged by the number of poly people commenting here and by the mostly non-judgemental way it’s being discussed. I’ve been poly for over a decade and it’s pretty great watching the shift in attitude.

    B) I love that the general message here isn’t “I love my spouse way too much to ever want to do this to them”, because that’s seriously the most infuriating and nonsensical reaction and implies a whole heap of things about me, my partner(s) and the relationships we work so hard to maintain.

    C) Being poly isn’t for everyone, and yes some people do get coerced into non-monogamy by pushy spouses or do it to save rocky relationships. These are absolutely the wrong reasons to get into polyamory and go against everything they should stand for. In my experience those people are just trying to get laid or have threesome. Being ethical in dealing with other people and relationships is the key to making this work.

    Personally, the poly relationships I’ve been in have been infinitely more fulfilling and healthier than my monogamous relationships. I don’t think I’d ever go back.

  • Joyful Girl

    I would never think you’re slow, and I am sincerely grateful for the highly intelligent and inclusive dialogue you’ve created here (thank you btw!). I just think when monogamists use language like “splitting your love” there is an underlying premise/belief that love is limited and there is only so much to go around. It’s not that the belief is wrong; it’s just important to acknowledge, because it’s a fundamental difference in how we view relationships. I believe that I can know two people equally rather than half as well, give 100% of my heart to two people, and be with two people fully without diluting either relationship.

  • anakinmcfly

    No, because people generally know what ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ means. Whereas a surprising number of people still don’t know what ‘bisexual’ means. I once had a protracted argument with an older Christian woman who insisted that while being gay was fine, being bisexual was wrong because bisexuality = adultery.

    Loving a man and a woman isn’t bisexuality, it’s polyamory. The ability to love a man *or* a woman is bisexuality.

  • If it works for you then I think that’s great.

  • Lance Schmidt

    I’ve been mulling this conversation over in my mind the last couple of days, and it’s just this morning that some clarity came out of the muddle of thoughts. I experienced some initial discomfort about the whole topic. The concerns mostly centred around love and sexual intimacy, but where I’m at right now after thinking this through surprises me.

    Most surprisingly, I actually think sexual intimacy may be a red herring when talking about love relationships between consenting adults. I think love can be both infinite or finite in the bond that is established whether that be with one or more people across various types of relationships. This thought is heavily influenced by my own long-term relationship in which we both continue to subjectively fall deeper and deeper into love and bonded union with each other over the years even as sexual intimacy has faded and is a non-issue for both of us.

    Where I remain uncomfortable with the idea of polyamory is in the finite nature of time with respect to focus, energy, companionship, being a helpmeet, support, assistance, etc. I have given myself heart, mind, strength and soul to my husband. Much of the joy, reward and satisfaction I find in our relationship is found in being “on call” for him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I want to be clear that I don’t mean a subservient kind of commitment but rather being 100% available for him as my first priority in all things at all times. While other realms of love and even my availability may be boundless or limitless, for the way I have committed to giving myself I cannot be physically present for more than one person.

    I’m going out on a limb of supposition here, but I think this is probably the kind of giving that John is referring to but just perhaps presented in different terminology or language.

  • saulofhearts

    First of all, thanks for taking such a reasonable angle on this subject. As a poly advocate myself, that’s really all I ask for from people who are monogamous: to respect that there’s nothing inherently wrong or immoral about this lifestyle, even if it’s not right for them. Still, I’m a bit bothered by the reductionism in some of the comments you’ve made, as well as your wife’s. She says: “When you’re splitting your love between two people, you’re giving all of your love to neither.”

    Realistically, how would she know that? Have either of you had the experience of “splitting your love between two people” and reached the conclusion that it would be “giving all of your love to neither”? Or is that a hypothetical assumption? Even if you had tried it and decided it’s not for you, does it follow that anyone who “splits their love” is “giving all of their love to neither” — even if they personally don’t feel that to be the case? Could it be just a personal assumption as a result of the way you’ve been raised to experience and perceive love?

    Again, not trying to imply that monogamy isn’t right for you, or for many people. But abstract concepts like love are very hard to quantify. What appears like a “split” to someone might appear to someone else like an overlapping Venn diagram. Who is the arbiter of how to quantify or distribute love?

    It sounds a lot like saying, “People who die young can’t possibly experience life to the fullest.” How would anyone know? While it may seem intutive that someone who grows old and lives to see their grandchildren has lived a “fuller life,” it’s also possible that the prospect of impending mortality (say, a terminal disease at a young age) could lead someone to brief but deeply fulfilling life. There’s no need to quantify it and try to split the difference — and I think anyone in that position would be offended at the suggested they’ve only “half-lived.”

    We all have different ways of experiencing emotions, and any statement that makes a blanket statement about these kinds of abstract perceptions, should always end with “generally speaking” or “in my case”.

  • saulofhearts

    In polygamist relationships, perhaps. But in most “polyamorous” circles I’ve been a part of (particularly in West Coast, liberal cities), the more frequent arrangement is one woman with two male partners.

  • saulofhearts

    I think the media presents more 1 man, 2 woman scenarios, but in most of the poly circles I’ve been a part of, I’ve met a lot of 1 woman, 2 men arrangements. It may depend on which part of the country you’re looking at.

  • saulofhearts

    Totally agree. I’m wary of any “minimize/maximize” statements when it comes to emotions. The basis of any relationship should be to increase love/connection to whatever degree is possible, not to worry about hitting some 100% meter and constantly stressing out if you’re not there yet.

  • saulofhearts

    The ability to love a man *and* a woman is *also* bisexuality. Just because some bisexuals are monogamous doesn’t invalidate the right of other bisexuals to express the way that they experience their sexual orientation.

    In the past, being “gay” was often equated with NSA sex and promiscuity. It took a while for people to understand that you can be gay and be in a committed relationship. But that doesn’t mean gay men who AREN’T monogamous should shut up, stop calling themselves gay, and refrain from defending their lifestyle.

  • But … I did say exactly what you’ve wished I did. To quote: “(As for Cat’s general opinion on polyamorous relationships, she said, …)”. (I even made sure to–in the original, not just here–emphasize the word “generally,” for … the very reason you mention.)

  • saulofhearts

    Exactly — her general opinion on polyamorous relationships, which is very different from expressing an opinion on relationships in general.

    A poly relationship might be an avoidance of intimacy FOR HER, but the statement doesn’t frame it that way.

  • Angel Blanca

    This is a very interesting post, and, admittedly, I’ve felt the same as you, John, and Cat. The perspective you hold, John, is one of socialization; that’s the accepted norm for our society and our culture. “Love” was expressed physically, sexually through a committed monogamous relationship (although, to be fair, this is a relatively young idea that negates the very pragmatic reasons that often served to support marriage).

    However, I realize now that there is no way to split love. It either is or is not; it’s not quantifiable, which means that it cannot belong or be given all to another. I am capable of giving and receiving love from multiple people simultaneously, and that’s irrespective of whether or not they have access to my body in bed. Conflating the two (love and sex) makes the issue much more complicated than it needs to be, and disregards that how we interact with others differs because each of those others is different.

    I can give all of my thoughts, attention, affection, and emotions to another when I am with them, and then, as I leave, have those same move on to other things or people, because of proximity. Yet, in a polyamorous relationship, I can share those thoughts, attention, affection, and emotions with the person in front of me…and with the person to whom I am traveling…and the person from whom I am traveling. Rather than experiencing all of these things in a binary or linear manner, they become a web of experiences, that enrich the lives of all of those within that web. It’s not a diminishing, but a way of expanding that love.

    This way of life is not something that can be defined to fit within a narrow definition of what constitutes love and how it can be expressed, which is something that you seem to be asking. Polyamory is about being open to the both/and, rather than choosing the either/or, and as such, is about growth individually and collectively. Could such exist within monogamy? Of course, but that does not make monogamy the holy grail of relationships, although that is what is most accepted by conventional thinking and social/cultural mores.

  • And that’s really the question, isn’t it? Is the way that you are wired (and I, and all the people in the world who are in long-term happily monogamous two-person relationships) intrinsic to all human beings? Is it true for every human being–in the way it is true that, say, we all must eat, and we all desire to be loved unconditionally by our parents, and we all know right from wrong–that the overall richest way to spend his or her adult life (or as much of it as possible–and as difficult as doing so can certainly can be) is through exercising whatever discipline it takes to remain emotional and sexual fidelity to one other person who is similarly wedded (whether legally or not) to them? I believe that it is the case: I think it’s that truth which informs and sustains the whole marriage/coupling compulsion. But of course I could be mistaken about that.

  • anakinmcfly

    It’s not the same thing at all. Merseine was *defining* bisexuality as loving both a man and woman at the same time, implying that monogamous bisexuals aren’t actually bisexual. That’s what we were objecting to.

    Bisexuality just means sexual attraction to two sexes, nothing more and nothing less.

  • Angel: So, to my point of view (which, if you care, I say a bit more about in this comment,) when you say, “I can share those thoughts, attention, affection, and emotions with the person in front of me…and with the person to whom I am traveling…and the person from whom I am traveling,” I hear support for my idea that one of the main things happening there is that you’re simply not experiencing as much love—as deep of a love, as complete a giving of yourself, as fully an enmeshing with another—as you would if you were physically and emotionally fidelitous to but one person. To me (as obnoxiously suggestive as this metaphor is) you are snacking in several places, but eating well in none. What I hear is that you are (and perhaps purposefully so, which is fine) avoiding full emotional and physical commitment–and that ultimately the reward of such commitment would be better for/to you than anything you’re now doing. Which I know sounds obnoxiously aggressive and necessarily offensive. For which I apologize. I’m only being as honest as I can be–AND, again (and again and again and again–and as I say in the comment of mine to which I’ve here linked) I’m not so dumb that I don’t realize that of course I could be mistaken about this aspect of human nature. I’d be very surprised to learn I am–that what I believe is true about this stuff is not true for any human, in the way it’s true that all people, say, desire for their parents to love them well and unconditionally, or know right for wrong. But maybe I am mistaken, of course. Anything is possible! I certainly do wish and hope the best for you. You sound like a sane, thoughtful person.

  • Cat Rennolds

    Parenthood is also a matter of years-long physical intimacy. Just not sexual. And for the first couple of years it can be nearly continuous, much more so than one’s intimacy with a spouse. Plus if you look at it like that you have to ask things like, well, how many years were you married before you had kids? There’s a whole lot of math involved around the attention division between spouse and one kid, spouse and mas ninos de eso, kid with special needs, spouse with special needs, spouse with all-consuming profession…the monogamous model makes the most sense for most people, because it is so much simpler. Not easier, just simpler, ie, fewer variables to consider, more understood baselines to default to. There are even people who choose to have a marriage without children,
    because they don’t want to divide their attention that far. But all humans are not wired for monogamy in the same way that we all need to eat. There are species that are, so there are points of comparison.

  • Cat Rennolds

    I do know people who use poly to avoid intimacy, or to avoid the dirty socks part of marriage – you know, the part where you have to dig deep to stay together past the ick – Easy when you just don’t look at the ick. Not very intimate, but easy. I do know people who use polyamory as nothing more or less than moral swinging. Again, not wrong, but also not very deep. This says nothing more about polyamory than golf or multiple divorces do about monogamy.

  • No, of course, as you suggest, you always have to go macro on these things, and see if you can find any sort of universally applicable principals or dynamics. I mean … duh: you don’t have to do that. But … I kinda basically deal in human nature. So I sort of do have to. Or want to, more.

  • Mark Kille

    That is what I have seen the most of, also, but it’s all at the level of anecdote. My own family is one woman with two male partners, for what it’s worth.

    (The stereotype for one man, two women that I’ve seen in poly circles is “mildly homophobic dude and two bi women.” Stereotypes are rarely kind or accurate, though. My main point is it doesn’t seem to have much to do with maximizing reproduction.)

  • saulofhearts

    I think the crux of the issue is this notion of “full emotional and physical commitment”. Who is defining what that is in the first place, and why is it relevant to the discussion? We all have different ways of expressing physical affection. Are couples who only have “vanilla” sex but avoid oral sex not experiencing a “full” physical relationship? What about physically or mentally handicapped people? Is a fully able-bodied person who marries a less able person not capable of experiencing “full” physical commitment? Is a trauma survivor who confides in a therapist each week about prior sex abuse, but spares their partner the details, not experiencing “full” emotional commitment? The “commitment” idea is a neat conceptual argument, but it’s a theoretical one, not one that correlates to the diversity of human experience.

  • Verity Rieman

    It feels to me like you’re being a little dismissive here and perhaps missing the main point. What I think JG is pointing out is that the entire assumption–that your love, or anyone’s love, is a finite substance that you can “give” all of or only some of–is incorrect. I don’t like seeing you blow that off with an “it’s fine if it works for you” without showing more willingness to examine whether your assumptions about love in general are overly hasty.

  • saulofhearts

    I would add that this notion of being “on call” is something that’s only been possible with modern technology. Before a time when we could call or text a partner 24/7, many married couples spent substantial time apart from each other — often months at a time, communicating by letter. If the “full commitment” idea is hardwired into human nature, then are all marriages that took place before say, the 20th century, only partially fulfilled? Are couples who have known each other since childhood and went through high school together capable of a “fuller” romantic experience than those who only met later in life? Does a couple that owns a business and spends every day working side by side have a more “full” experience than a couple that talks on the phone at lunch every day but has entirely separate social circles and career paths? There are SO many complexities to love and relationships, to a point that the notion of “the overall richest way” to spend one’s life is kind of irrelevant.

  • Verity Rieman

    Does this mean that asexuals are incapable of loving anyone as much as you love your spouse? I hope you don’t really think that.

    And what do you really mean by “giving all of yourself”? I get the impression you don’t just mean sexually. Do you truly believe that monogamous partners usually share absolutely everything with their spouses? If I recall correctly, it’s been found that only educated middle- and upper-class folks tend to have any expectation that spouses should even talk to each other much. That means that for millions of couples, the idea that they should give “all” of themselves to each other would seem absurd.

    Now, you might think that’s sad and you might not want to live that way–but hey, most poly folk don’t want to live that way either. As far as I can tell, most of us do want to share our feelings with our partners. So at the very least, it’s definitely not the case that monogamous couples are automatically–or even most of the time–more intimate than poly ones.

  • Verity Rieman

    Personally, I haven’t usually found it to be the case that adding sex to a relationship makes it feel more emotionally intimate. It can be a nice way of _expressing_ intimacy, but I don’t feel closer to my partner afterward so much as I just feel happy to have one more nice, loving thing we can do together. In particular, the more intimate the relationship is before we have sex, the less the sex seems to have any room to improve that intimacy, as it were.

  • Verity Rieman

    Indeed, some people aren’t mature enough to handle polyamory. I tend to figure those same people usually aren’t mature enough to handle monogamy well either, though!

    I mean, yes, balancing more people’s needs is trickier, but with patience and forgiveness, a lot of mistakes can be fixed. It seems to me that the people who screw up _badly_ at polyamory (as opposed to the ones who decide it’s just too much hassle for their tastes and voluntarily quit trying) are the ones who exhibit poor relationship skills in general. And often, the extra challenge of trying polyamory even briefly leaves people with improved skills that they can still use if they go back to monogamy.

  • Verity Rieman

    Actually, now that I think about this a little more…the times I _have_ felt more intimate with someone once we’d had sex, I think it was because I wasn’t sure how else to get close with them; sex ended up being a substitute for verbal intimacy. And sex on top of verbal intimacy feels almost redundant, whereas sex as substitute for verbal intimacy is never quite adequate.

  • Mark Kille

    “Is it true for every human being…”

    When talking about relationships, it almost doesn’t matter what the rest of that sentence is. The answer is going to be “no.”

    “…that the overall richest way to spend his or her adult life (or as much of it as possible–and as difficult as doing so can certainly can be) is through exercising whatever discipline it takes to remain emotionally and sexually fidelitous to one other person who is similarly wedded (whether legally or not) to them?”

    And the answer to this one is, indeed, “no.”

    Look, I am not interested in trotting out all the intimate details of my relationships or anybody else’s. So I’m just going to go by analogies here. You may find them unpersuasive, but they express the reality of my own lived experience.

    A musician doesn’t guarantee the richest music by only ever performing with the same single partner.

    An athlete doesn’t guarantee the richest performance by only ever competing against the same single opponent.

    A pastor doesn’t guarantee the richest pastoral care by only ever counseling the same single parishioner.

    A chef doesn’t guarantee the richest meal by only ever cooking for the same single eater.

    And so forth, and so on.

  • Angel Blanca

    No, John, you are not, in fact, reading me or my comments correctly. The love I experience now is actually deeper because it’s not dependent upon fulfillment in and through one other person. I give myself more fully and engage in relationships much deeper because I have freedom. When you can choose to leave because you have something else that can offer solace, it becomes more a decision to remain committed and involved, and it gives greater meaning to the interactions.

    You’re convinced of your perspective, which makes perfect sense, but it’s flawed because it begins with the premise that only with one person–a mate with whom one is monogamous and married–can one be engaged “fully” in what it means to love. And that premise informs everything else and leads back to that conclusion, which is, in critical thinking, called begging the question.

    With everything, I ask, “What do I believe?” “Is it true?” “What difference does that make for how I live my life?”

    In reading through your post and your various replies, it’s clear what you believe. It’s the second part that is more troublesome, because your answer is based upon your experiences, which you presume to be normative, rather than an objective assessment of what is and could be true–capital T, truth. For you, John, it may not be possible to love and engage others fully outside of the relationship status indicated above, and that’s your reality, which makes that a perfect choice for you.

    However, I can and do love fully emotionally and physically multiple people simultaneously without any lessening of self or experience. It’s not “snacking,” but choosing to enjoy multiple meals of differing cuisines and getting filled by all of them, rather than limiting the experience.

    Of course, all of this is just words on a screen. Should you ever actually engage poly relationships and those in them, you’ll be able to observe how deep and how rich and how fulfilling they can be. Is this true of every poly relationship? No. Of course, it’s not true of every mono relationship either…

  • Lance Schmidt

    I’d like to clarify being “on call”. It has nothing to do with technology but rather an orientation. I’m a self-admitted technophobe and about the time I discover some new cool technology my friends laugh and let me know it’s last decade’s news. From that perspective your logic doesn’t resonate with me. I still hand write letters and send them through the post, although heaven knows that here in Canada it’s now $1.00 per stamp so e-mail is winning out. 🙂

    Where I do whole heartedly agree with you is about “the overall richest way” being in question. As a gay guy, I am often reticent to post opinions or weigh in with an opinion on something such as polyamorous relationships because of the weighty knowledge I carry that one can use the same subjective “feelings” and “beliefs” arguments from a heterosexual perspective toward same sex relationships. While I think that it is a false equivalency to compare monogamous same sex relationships and polyamorous relationships, I can see how it would be similar for a heterosexual to use the same logic to advance the idea that heterosexual relationships are more rich than same sex relationships for a variety of reasons, i.e. natural pro-creation, sexual complementarity, etc.

    I also suspect socialization plays a far greater role than we might imagine in how we perceive, judge and experience relationships.

  • LynnC

    It is a good question.
    I guess I was focussing more on emotional intimacy as opposed to sexual intimacy.

  • EnGekko
  • djfree79

    I claim agnosticism on the morality of polyamory. i just haven’t honestly wrestled with the issue enough to make any strong claims one way or another. But I can tell you this much: I love more than one person. As a gay man, I am deeply committed to my husband, and will have him – and only him – for life, God willing. But that doesn’t mean that my heart and my desires suddenly shut down because I am happy in my marriage with my husband. I have loved other men, and I find that I still have very deep feelings for them (one in particular whom I could say that I still love, and probably will until my dying day). But being in a relationship with more than just my husband? Like Cat, I just don’t see how that could work. It is SOOO much energy and work to maintain a good, healthy committed, relationship with my hubby. Absolutely worthwhile, and totally satisfying, but it takes effort nonetheless. I couldn’t IMAGINE trying to split my emotional energy to make it work with someone else in the mix. So for me, polyamory just seems practically implausible. I would dare say it’s probably untenable for most. But I wouldn’t be surprised to find a small portion of the population for whom it works well…perhaps even better than monogamy.

    The other piece of the story is that I’m jealous as hell! It would work out well for me to be with both the men I love, but I frankly wouldn’t want to share either of them! They should both love ME and ONLY me (not each other or anyone else)! Selfish, I know. Human desire is a crazy thing. And because I see how selfish that is, I make zero effort to ever pursue anyone other than my husband, despite any feelings I have for them. It wouldn’t be fair to him, not to mention the fact that it would have 0.1% probability of working out the way I would want it to.

    But again, this is me. People come in so many varieties, no?

  • Timothy L. Northrup Jr.

    Hey all.

    Thanks for your sensitivity on this, John. I can’t possibly read all the comments in a short time span, I’ll have to devote an hour or two this weekend. But, here are my initial thoughts.

    I think we too easily mix up the short term “In love” feeling and the deliberate choice it is to love someone through thick and thin. If you think you must always be emotionally elated in a relationship, or if you are the type of person who finds that far more fulfilling, I think Polyamory actually has a pretty good shot with you. But what you, Cat, and several of the other people here describe is indicative of a desire for something different, and at least in some ways deeper.

    That said, mixing the physical with the other aspects misses something for me. I guess one could call me a homoromantic asexual for all how I really don’t like sex itself. The conflation of sex and romance has always mystified me about people, really. So in that way, the whole monogamy/polygamy/anythingelse is a bit of a weird point to debate. the couple/group needs to negotiate at the start about how best to meet their needs. that is the ultimate display of respect and affection i can think of in that arena.

  • Lex

    Dear John,

    I understand that you mean well in your Post-Script addition in exploring the differences between the two different kinds of love within the analogy and trying to justify your position therefrom. However, in doing so you fall into what’s know as an “appeal to analogy” logical fallacy. An analogy is only useful to compare single qualities of separate entities, not to liken them in each and every quality they posses. For example saying “Reading is like riding a bike” generally means that once one learns to read, they never forget, as many find with bike riding. What it does not mean is that you need to wear a helmet when you open a book. So too with bringing the sexual aspect of one type of love into the argument; it does not necessary invalidate the common trait that the analogy is trying to point to, that loved can be shared amongst many individuals.

    I think it would be useful for you to recognize at least two different underlying philosophies of how love works: the first being the “Malthusian” philosophy of love, the second being the “Buddhism” interpretation (not, as far as I know, a part of the actual spiritual practice, but taken as an idea from the writings).

    The Malthusian philosophy of love is that to which you and your wife subscribe: that each of us has a particular amount of romantic love to give, and that by spreading it amongst more than one it becomes “diluted” or “weakened” for all. Most people I know hold this underlying idea.

    The Buddhism interpretation, as I have called it, comes from a quote of the Buddha: “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” See that this offers a different foundation for love than the above idea; that instead, love can be shared amongst many and not necessarily lessened because of that.

    Actually, in my experience, those relationships I have had with many persons have been far more meaningful and emotionally satisfying to me, in line with the buddhist quote I have given.

    Just trying to do my part in bridging the gaps between viewpoints, because they can be very difficult to see. I think these two philosophical views can be very useful in understanding those who ascribe to monogamy or polyamory, and in why they acsribe to their views.

    I thank you for your compassion, patience and genuine curiosity, your struggle to understand. It is a very beautiful thing.

  • de_la_Nae

    I dunno mate.

    I’ve felt, what seems from where I’m standing, the most love I’ve ever felt for anyone between a couple people at the same time.

    Maybe that’s on me. Maybe I’m just that bad at loving, or at least ill-experienced.

    But so far I’ve not found much use for strict monogamy. It seems to mostly add unnecessary sorrows.

    Like I said, maybe that’s a judgement on the self more than anything else.