Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 12.1

So you’re all at work right now, and dealing with turkey overload. You’re totally regretting that turkey sandwich you had for lunch, the one you shlepped to work with you in hopes of finally finishing off the last of the leftovers. And you’re willing to endure a year’s worth of U.T.I.s if it means being spared from cranberries until next Thanksgiving. Not to mention you’re just not in the mindset to deal with the weekday – even though you were itching for the weekend to finally END.

And if you spell skeptic in a funny way, you are just dealing with general Monday grossness.

So… let’s get you out of your holiday-induced intellectual coma, and talk about sex.

It seems that a number of folks in the skeptical community don’t do the monogamy thing.  I doubt it’s any higher than folks outside the skeptical community, but maybe we’re less concerned about the stigma of a polyamorous lifestyle. Open relationships are probably healthier than “closed” ones with one or more cheating partners, but is non-monogamy healthier than monogamy? What’s your take? Love one? Love all? Love some? Love a few? Love as many as you can? Love none? Pros? Cons? Is polyamory worth it? Is monogamy worth it?

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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122 Comments

  1. Huh…that’s an awful lot of questions to be asking!

    Healthier? Dunno… not if you do have a single faithful partner and/or a smattering of understanding, or if you have multiple partners and at least one of them is an idiot with protection :-P

    My take? Well, I’m the wrong person to ask about this as I’ve really never had what one could call a REAL relationship, nor do I go out of my way to look for either a relationship or sex. I am, in essence, functionally asexual.

    But as for me, personally, I have a hard enough time loving one person at a time, so I don’t think I could do the polyamory thing. Not to mention that I’m neurotic and likely to become the jealous type.

    I think people have to do what they have to do. If you’re the type that likes multiple people, then like multiple people. But be open about it, don’t engage any partners who would NOT like that sort of thing, and don’t pull the half-in, half-out game and keep going back and forth.

    Is polyamory worth it? The stress it would cause me personally would NOT be worth it, but I’m not everyone.

    Is monogamy worth it? Not if you aren’t getting anything out of it other than the urge to screw other people (as most of my conversations with married people seem to make me think). But if people can find a balance, it’s kind of a touching thing (at it’s core) to say “I am willing to give up sex with everyone else because I love you.”

    A bit maudlin of me, I know, and more than a little bit difficult to expect people to live up to it. But there’s a reason relationships are sometimes called “romances” : On occasion, one has to be a romantic to look past the myriad failings of a monogamous coupling :)

  2. I tried the whole “open relationship” thing back when I was 20. It was a disaster of jealousy and deceit. I was open about who I was with, but she decided to conceal her goings on, and that caused problems. I’ve witnessed other open relationships go to hell as well. In fact, all the open relationships I’ve seen have been among new-agers or wiccans, but then I’m new to the skeptical community, so I have no frame of reference.

    I decided that monogamy is the way to go, and despite being fiercely loyal to my ex-wife, it didn’t stop her from cheating on me (hence the “ex”).

    In short, in my experience, and anecdotally, relationships screw up when someone lies. I don’t think “open” or “closed” has anything to do with it.

    That has not stopped me from finding a like-minded monogamist for a nice relationship this time. And no, there is no possibility of being “open” in the future (if it all works out). It’s not my bag anymore, and the jealousy would be unavoidable for me.

    YMMV

  3. I say “live and let live.” But I personally don’t buy into “polyamory” (wasn’t it called something else 10 years ago, 20 years ago?) as a legitimate lifestyle. To me, part of how you define “love” is a unilaterial commitment – that’s what gives it value. And committment does not necessarily equal possessiveness.

    I guess I am just born to be monogamous. But I have more objective criticisms as well.

    First of all, there is the safety issue. Some afflications cannot be protected against with a condom, etc., and in that sense, there is going to be an increased risk with increased numbers of partners.

    Second, the implication that I hear is that polyamorists are more “open” with all of their lovers, but in a system where you choose to define your relationships by various strata (“primary” lovers v. “secondary” lovers), you are bound to have jealousy/hurt feelings and its wicked step-child, deception. I seriously doubt that there is more honesty in polyamorous relationships than a monogamous relationships (as a group), and I would really like to see a real study done to see if that is the case. In any case, I read a story about a person who was getting “married” to her primary lover and fireworks ensued with her secondary lovers at the “wedding,” and I thought, “Wow, what a surprise!”

  4. I don’t think that you can possibly make a blanket statement that open relationships are “healthier” than closed relationships or not.

    There is a huge amount of variability in people’s desire for, and capacity for, secondary relationships. I’ve been in very fulfilling long-term monogamous relationships (though, ultimately, serially monogamous), as well as very fulfilling open and secondary relationships.

    But it’s not for everybody. Some people truly have no desire for secondary relationships.

    The main issue I have seen is when two people have an open relationship, but each has a different idea of exactly how open it is… And that’s where communication comes in! It’s really all about being safe, being smart and being open (in terms of communcation).

  5. Monogamy is worthwhile in the sense of the tireless expression two heads are better than one (get you mind out of the gutter). Polyamory doesn’t have anything inherently wrong with it Two people can have an open and longstanding relationship in which they trust each other so much that they have full confidence in allowing their partner to engage sexually with other people. It is when a person in an open relationship begins to have a second relationship beyond the physical that you run into problems of jealousy and rivalry. The emotional aspect of having someone who cares only for you and that you reciprocate those feelings is what keeps couples together long enough to raise a child, usually much longer than that. As soon as you begin to question whether or not your partner cares for you the most major problems begin to surface. Having sex is not analogous to being in a relationship and it should not be treated that way. So yes I think there is a problem with Polyamory but not open relationships. Having someone to lean on during harsh times or celebrate with during uplifting moments is crucial in a relationship but as soon as you start having to question the sincerity of your partner it completely undermines the construct and does more damage than good.

  6. Well, first I would have to completely separate love and sex as I love my husband of 9 years desperately, yet we have never had sex as I am asexual (female) and he is gay. I have had sex with a few women since we’ve been married, just because I thought I should (looong story). He, however, has had sex with, ohhhh, I would say about 2-3,000 men since we’ve been married. Which, for the record, isn’t a problem with me.

  7. I doubt there is a difference. I’ve yet to know a couple in an open relationship to last longer than a year but knowing the people involved I would hesitate to blame the relationship paradigms.

    I think it’s about the people. Are they honest with each other? Do they both desire the same type of relationship? Looking at their life outside of matters sexual, would they be considered healthy. There are so many reasons that couples (or triples/quadruples/etc.) split I don’t see how the number of sex partners would be a significant factor for changing those stats.

    And even when it is, I feel it’s actually things like honesty that ruins it in the end.
    In the end you need to be on the same page, one lover or many. No demographic has a monopoly on happiness.

  8. To each their own. I don’t concern myself with what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

    I, for one, am a serial monogamist (one lover at a time, and I don’t move on to the next until I’m officially 100% done with the last), and I have no desire to be anything else. I’ve never cheated, been tempted to cheat, or been particularly interested in an open relationship. But that’s just me. While I do expect the same from my partners, everyone else can do whatever the hell they want to do. It’s none of my damn business.

  9. Do as you please I suppose is the easy answer. What works for me is a somewhat traditional marriage/partnership/friendship. Side benefits are more financial security, help raising the kids and the emotional security knowing someone has your back if you get sick or have other difficulties of that there is a commitment to the relationship beyond a current disagreement. I think problems arise when whatever system or form of relationship one chooses is not accompanied with the required level of commitment, work and some reasonable level of sacrifice. If you’re not willing to do your part then why bother and why have any expectations of someone else. I also believe there are times when folk can redefine relationships and make changes with regard to expectations. I know some couples who are still married for many reasons (mostly insurance and financial) and live totally separate lives. I suppose in some states this may be considered fraud instead of just practical.

  10. @Eliot89:

    “…there is a problem with Polyamory but not open relationships.”

    I kind of have to take issue wit that. A close friendship that happens to be sexual needn’t be ruled out because it is close. Again, this all depends on the people involved. Some people may be completely emotionally devoted to one partner but have other sexual relationships. Others may have very dear friends with whom they are also physical. Just becasue you yourself do not find this idea appealing does not mean that it is not possible for others.

    Is jealousy sometimes a problem in polyamorous relationships? Absolutely, and I suspect that any polyamorous people saying otherwise are not being honest with themselves… But every relationship has problems. For some people, dealing with the occasional bout of jealousy is worth the benefits they get from having more than one partner, be they sexual or emotional.

    Again, the whole question of whether open or poly relationships are “healthy” depends wholly on the people involved.

  11. Polyamory vs. monamory pros and cons, hmmm where to begin?
    If by polyamory you mean having multiple sex partners; it is fun to have a variety of sexual partnes at the same time, but it will end in disaster. I speak from personal experience, I had 4 girlfriends at the same time, once, and I was happy; until they all showed up at my job at the same time and I lost all of them. I think there is an emotional toll with this kind of behavior, because most people are expecting a monamorous relationship, and if you are not being honest someone is going to be hurt.
    I don’t really see any pros for polyamory, unless you have a monamorous relationship and you have someone who has a crush on you but knows there is a line that they can’t cross; then you have a back up if the primary relationship doesn’t work.
    I think monamory is a lot healthier for everyone, it is more stable and more emotionally satisfying. You have someone you can trust and confide in and you reciprocate. If you are monamorous you probably look forward to and enjoy the other’s company, with polyamory you don’t get that, mostly it’s just; ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ or ‘spin, whir, thank you sir’, unless you really like the other and then you might get breakfast out of the deal, that sort of behavior could lead to permanency, and that’s the difference between poly and mono; permanence, that sense of permanence is what you get with a monamorous relationship, it isn’t there in polyamorous relationships.
    And that is my semi-coherent rant on polygamy and monogamy

  12. I wouldn’t dream of telling someone else what they should do so as many have said so far with regards to other people’s relationships I’m strictly live and let live.

    For myself strict serial-monogamy works. I like the stability of it, and the deeper understanding that evolves through time. Sooner or later something really heavy is going to happen like a bad illness or some other calamity. Short or shallow relationships just don’t survive this. Long monogamous relationships don’t always survive these trials either, but the odds in my experience are way better.

    I truly do not understand bed-hopping. It took me years to learn my wife’s likes and dislikes and vice versa. Occasionally we still make a new discovery. In my experience sex with a new person usually sucks for at least one if not both of the partners the first few times, and it takes quite a bit of practice to get really good. If someone is constantly seeking out a continual stream of new partners they must be far more motivated by conquest than a real relationship or even good sex.

  13. > but maybe we’re less concerned about the
    > stigma of a polyamorous lifestyle

    Or maybe just more open about a lot of things.

    I find it interesting that you are asking this question — as I just heard a day or two ago that women near 30 are more likely to “cheat” on their spouse than at any other age, and it’s thought that it might be due to wanting to find good breeding stock.

    I was reading someone (I think Dan Savage) who was stating that most people in open relationships (or swingers or lifestylers or whatever the word of the week is) are not necessarily in agreement with their partners.

    I think the most important thing is that you and your partner be IN AGREEMENT with whatever you choose.

    Because jealousy and deceit are not healthy.

  14. I’m 3o and I’ve been with my fiance for five years and we’re getting married next year.

    We’ve been in an open relationship for 4.5 years. Open relationships are so different among couples but for us, we are committed emotionally to one another and don’t do the polyamory thing. Rather, we have sex with other people.

    We both view sex as something separate from love so we can have sex with other people without jealousy getting in the way. When we first started doing this 4.5 years ago, jealousy did play a part but we learnt how to deal with it and now we are having the times of our lives. We play with men, women and couples together, plus I have sex with women and he has sex with men on his own. We are open with anyone we sleep with so they know the situation. Plus, we always come first with one another, so both of us feel safe.

    It’s an amazing feeling doing this with your best friend and partner. It’s so liberating and also so much fun. In fact, it brings us closer together.

    Both being atheists we believe this is all we get and want to get as much out of life as we can – and this works very well for us.

  15. Looking through the comments so far, I think to answer the questions originally posed we’d first have to agree on a definition of a polyamory.

    Yeah… I’ve got all the time in the world. I can wait. Have fun with that. (Jaded? Me? Spent too much time in various online poly forums, I guess.)

    In all seriousness: I don’t think that I’m taking an “inherently healthier” path by choosing polyamory. I’m just taking the path that works best for me. Some people are better suited to monogamy, and that’s also totally cool.

    For what it’s worth, it’s been five years or so since I entered into the relationship structure I’m in now, and so far? No disaster. Not problem-free, but there’s no such thing as a problem-free relationship. The proof of the pudding is in how the involved parties handle problems. Relationship disasters are caused by the people involved, not the relationship style pursued.

    Anyway. That’s my mini-rant on the subject. Next!

  16. @Spacepope:

    “If you are monamorous you probably look forward to and enjoy the other’s company, with polyamory you don’t get that, mostly it’s just; ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am'”

    Couldn’t disagree more. First off, the relationships you were describing (4 girlfriends who didn’t know about each other) I wouldn’t call it either polyamory or an “open relationship.” That is more commonly referred to as “fucking around.”

    I personally don’t have a problem either with people who are monogamous, or people who do the whole “wham bam” thing — as long as everyone is informed. Communication is key here. Personally, though, I get a lot more satisfaction out of having some level of intimacy with whoever I’m with, and I choose partners with whom that is a good match.

  17. I think we can love whoever and however many.. I don’t believe in meant to be. If nothing bad is happening and if people are happy and healthy, I say this is a case of letting it be.

    And this question reminded me of someone; a, ah, former poster here… maybe you know who I am referring to. He was always talking about loving for love’s sake.

  18. I’ve experimented a fair amount with different types of relationships over the years. For the past 3 years I’ve been with the same guy and although we haven’t been completely monogamous we are also not totally open, as in we’ll only have sex with someone else if we’re both there at the time, that doesn’t mean it has to be a threesome. It’s mostly just one of two other couples that we know with whom we get together and have some fun.
    And just because we occasionally have sex with other people doesn’t mean we love each other any less.

  19. @GreyDuck: I think to answer the questions originally posed we’d first have to agree on a definition of a [email protected]greenishblu: wouldn’t call it either polyamory or an “open relationship

    GreyDuck I agree, especially after greenishblu’s reply. We need to have a clear definition of polyamory in order to properly discuss it. But I don’t think we will get there today.
    greenishblu, whether you call it polyamory, open relationship, swinging, or f’ing around, as far as I have been able to tell it’s all about multiple sex partners and not about commitment or emotional ties or stability
    If you want to have sex with a number of partners that is your right as long as it’s consensual. Let’s not give it a politically correct sounding name like ‘polyamory’ which gives it as much meaning as the catch phrase ‘family values’

  20. “I’ve witnessed other open relationships go to hell as well.”

    I’ve never been in an open relationship, but I’ll cite the wonderful Dan Savage again. He says that most open relationships go to all hell unless the primary partners have been together for a long time (“at least ten years”). Then there’s a sufficient level of trust and security built into the relationship.

    As for whether polyamory is worth it…I say, if they can handle it in a mature and sustainable fashion, yes. The same goes for monogamy. A person with polyamorous leanings shouldn’t go monogamous when she can’t handle it. It only ends up in lots of heartbreak and frustration.

    As for the “love none?” question, this seems ridiculous to me. I can’t even think of an argument for the superiority of loving no one, except from a bitter cynic who would benefit from being loved.

  21. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that my wife has cheated on me in the past but she denies it vehemently and I could be wrong. I don’t really care. She comes home to me everyday and helps me with the kids and the house and the bills. We don’t have sex anymore, I don’t think I am attractive too her now. I don’t cheat because that isn’t the man that I am. Between work, school, my kids and the damands of marriage I don’t think I would have the energy to pursue and affair even if I wanted to. I guess it comes down to how you are able to get through the life. Just do your best not to hurt people.

  22. I seem to be monogamous by default. If I’m in a relationship, I’m not romantically interested in anyone else. It’s not really a conscious decision; it’s just the way I am.

    I have friends who are polyamorous and, while I can understand their point of view, I know it wouldn’t work for me. I don’t think they’re “freaks” and they don’t think I’m a “prude”, and I’m OK with that.

  23. I disagree. Though I don’t have any sacred cows on “polyamory” vs. “open relationship,” a lot of people do. However, both of those are typically used to refer to relationships in which all partners are informed. The situation you were describing, where each of your four girlfriends had no idea that the others might even exist is a different thing altogether and fits into what Elyse excluded from her initial question as “closed [relationships] with one or more cheating partners.”

  24. @SpacePope So if I’ve been in the same relationship structure all this time with the same few people, I’m still just “fucking around” and I don’t have any emotional stability or commitment?

    Really? Huh.

  25. Here is the definition from Wiktionary
    Polyamory (from Greek πολυ [poly, meaning many or several] and Latin amor [literally “love”]) is the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. The term polyamory is sometimes abbreviated to poly, and is sometimes described as consensual, ethical, or responsible non-monogamy. The word is sometimes used more broadly to refer to relationships that are not sexually exclusive, though there is disagreement on how broadly it applies.
    According to this definition, any of us that knows and loves more than one person is a polyamorist. And there are no restrictions in this definition, so heterosexual, homosexual and even familial love among others are included, making almost everyone on this planet a polyamorist.

  26. Spacepope: the relationship you first described IS excluded by the very definition you just said didn’t exclude it: it was not consensual in that the parties involved were not aware they were in such a relationship, and clearly would not have consented if they were aware.

  27. @tkingdoll

    That would be about right. And I have to chime in on the honesty part of this discussion. I know everything (not necessarily positions and such) but there is no lying about his sex life and after 9+ years, it seems to work well for us.

  28. Have to say, for a skeptic web site, there are an awful lot of logical fallacies going on here regarding relationships. And a healthy dose of judgment. I dare say that’s one of the reasons those of us who do not conform to conventional relationship paradigms tend to be very quiet about it. And there are a lot more of us out there than you’d realize. We can throw around anecdotal evidence and statistics all we want, but that doesn’t make any particular position more valid.

    In my experience, there does “seem” to be a common trait amongst those that label themselves polyamorous in leaning towards more fanciful hobbies and/or belief systems. Those that tend to be more mainstream in their life yet do not practice monogamy tend to use the term “open relationship”. The rules differ between partners, as do the variety of people who experiment or live in alternative lifestyles. At one end, especially those calling themselves polyamorists, are those open to romantic and physical relationships with more than one person. Somewhere in the middle are open relationships, where multiple friendships and sex partners are allowed but nothing romantic – but even in that there are numerous variances. Lastly, on the other end are those that allow recreational sex with others, usually in some sort of organized setting – swingers, sex clubs, etc. No relationship except for sex. And there’s everything in between.

    The point is that people need to be open and honest with themselves and their potential partners. You decide and agree what’s best for you and your relationships. You’ve only got this one life to live so don’t waste it living by other people’s rules.

    Remember, just because you don’t get it doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

  29. I’ve always felt that it’s healthiest for people to figure out what’s best for them. Problem is, it’s easy to try and do things that look healthy, but aren’t. I’m currently in a long-distance relationship, and before my boyfriend moved, we decided to be non-monogamous, just for the time being.

    It sounded great, sure, but I had to try the whole casual sex thing before I came to the realization that it was horrible, and just made me sick.

    so to each his/her own I guess. Just be honest with yourself and your partner. That is all.

  30. wow… when I posted this, I didn’t think any major source of contention would be semantics.

    By “polyamory” I mean an open relationship that has both partners being as honest as possible. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory that having a dishonest and/or cheating spouse is a bad thing for any relationship.

    Conventional wisdom is that nothing works but monogamy. I have a feeling that’s not quite true, but I’m not convinced that party-love will work in the long run.

    Can polyamory work? I’m sure it can… I’m not sure if that’s typical.

    Of course, I have nothing to back this up other than my gut.

    I don’t blame anyone for trying. Sometimes, I think pimps don’t give monogamists credit… it’s hard out there for us, too!

    @ramblingmom:

    Yes, I am about thirty (give or take a year and a half or so), but given my 16-month-old who is going through his terrible-twos already, you can safely assume I’m not looking to breed.

  31. It’s all about being honest with your partner(s) at all times. It’s all about communication and honesty , and there’s a bit more of that in a poly relationship in order to keep all parties informed of the status quo.

    Example: if you don’t communicate to your partners about a potential new partner and just off and start a relationship/discuss a potential relationship/cyber/whatever with them without your existing partners’ consent/knowledge, then it’s cheating regardless of the relationship being mono, poly, or whatever the definition is.

  32. I’m 45 years old, and I do not understand sex at all.

    Sex, as near as I can tell, is like superhero comics. An outsider looks at a superhero comic, and assumes it’s all about the fantastic powers and the cool costumes and the action, but all that’s just window-dressing. Superhero comics are about insanely complicated soap-opera story arcs with thousands of characters and crossovers and multiple timelines. I hate superhero comics.

    Sex, I’ve concluded, isn’t really about desire and intimacy and pleasure. It’s about keeping track of a million different story threads; it’s about obligations and gratitude, about power and esteem, it’s about hundreds of personal negotiations of such complexity that it would make a mortgage derivative trader’s head spin. It’s all the melodrama of a primate troupe on the savannah, except there’s 7 billion of us in one troupe and our foraging territory is everywhere.

    And the absolutely crazy thing is that people wouldn’t have it any other way.

    I would make a lousy baboon.

  33. first, let me say, great question elyse! it’s one i’ve been meaning to ask, but you’ve beaten me to it :p

    i tend to think that skeptics would be more likely to try non-monogamous arrangements for the simple reason that we tend to ask questions about things that most people just take from society as read. as you say, i haven’t seen any numbers on this but would find it fascinating to see some (hmmm, another senior project idea for moi?).

    people should do what works for them, and ultimately they need to be honest with themselves (and their partners). i think divorce rates would plummet if society would stop sending the message that a monogamous relationship is the only legitimate avenue for sexual expression.

    of course this is not to say that i think monogamy is impossible or that it is not something to strive for. just that it doesn’t work for everyone.

  34. Who knows which is better? I think though that the culture/family into which you were raised probably plays a big part in what you think of as “healthy”.

    I think most of the problems arise from one (or more) partners breaking the “rules” for that particular mating system. I think if people were honest about what they want from day one, the system you choose shouldn’t cause any problems.

    The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that what consenting adults do in their own home, is none of my concern. If it doesn’t take money out of my pocket-book, break my leg or piss in my river, I don’t care what people do.

    Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with another man shagging my boyf/girlf. When you get to the point of living together or outloud stating your both being “exclusive” then you’re committed to a particular (in my case mono) lifestyle.

    I’m a totally hypocrite though because back at uni we were all bed hoping with one another in my social circle, boy-girl, boy-boy, girl-boy-girl, boy-girl-boy-girl, boy-boy-girl etc etc

  35. @greenishblu:

    I think there might be a discrepancy with what Polyamory is here. I am using it in the Wikipedia sense of the word: “the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” My statement on the matter, though it might not have been articulated very well, was intended to point out that Polyamory has jealousy already latent within it due to the rivalry instinct in everyone.

    You might point out that there is a similar problem with open relationships and I disagree for two reasons. First the culture America has right now does not put a lot of emphasis on the sanctity of sex. Sure the church tries but it doesn’t get very far. Second the main difference between Polyamory and an open relationship is the length at which you see the third party and the intimacy you have with them. Having sex with a third party on an infrequent basis and loving two people at once is obviously different. I think the latter has much more profound problems inherent in it’s construct where as the former is just a more socially relaxed version of the long term devoted monogamy our society seems to want to value.

    If you include loving a friend who you also happen to be physical with I would disagree that that was Polyamory. I honestly love a lot of my closest friends male and female and it is a different type of love that I feel when in a relationship. Much like the love that I feel for my family is slightly different then my firends. The fact that you are also physical with said friend, begs the question: when you enter into a longterm relationship (maybe you already have) would you continue to be so? What about if she entered into a relationship, would you continue?

    I should probably wait till your response but my guess is no. It goes back to the whole you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can have close friends, and you can have extra sexual partners but they cannot be the same person lest you dip into Polyamory. Which I’ve already stated my views on. If it is yes however then I would caution you to be careful because unless you find someone extraordinarily tolerant or perhaps even excited by the prospect, which I think due to evolutionary instinct would be highly rare, then you are in for trouble in the future.

    I should have probably pointed out that while these are my opinions I’ve arrived at them through no real personal experience. I would be willing to try a Polyamorous relationship but I suspect that I would not be up to the task. Perhaps it is this personal hesitation that leads me to believe we all have some desire for something unique to the relationship so as to make it special, though I freely admit it probably isn’t so in everybody.

  36. Monogamy is a lot of work.

    I am guessing polyamory is quite a bit more. ;)

    I am still a little confused by the definitions, though. I had always understood an “open marriage” or “open relationship” to mean that both partners were allowed to have other sexual relationships without the other partner freaking out. However, I’d always understood that there was frequently a tacit (or stated) agreement that the other relationships were just for fun, and that they would not interfere with the primary relationship in an emotional or commitment sense.

    I had understood that polyamory was something quite different — having more than one physical and emotional relationship at the same time. In this case, the participants would understand that commitment and emotional involvement was not only tolerated, but encouraged, with other partners.

    I might also be totally off-base. ;) LOL, dang it … where’s Rystefn when you need him?!

  37. Me personally, monogamy is enough work that I wouldn’t want to try polyamory. And from my past relationships, I feel like I’d just be signing up for ways to get my heart broken by more than one person at the same time. No thanks … :P

  38. Bee: Though there seems to be a little disagreement on here (including “everyone is polyamorous because you love your mom don’t you?”), you’ve got it basically right in terms of how people typically use the terms polyamory and open relationship. There’s a lot of grey area, to be sure.

  39. I’m going to toss in my hat for “a few,” both because I think the anthropology points towards that being a pretty universally viable solution, and it’s what has made me the happiest.

    I think in spectrums and curves. On one end of the spectrum we have till death do us part monogamy and the other an endless string of one night stands. At one end, you have structures that support kids, financial solvency, and the trust developed by long-term investment in each other-but they fail more than half the time, are fragile (witness the years of trust, sharing, and love often fractured by a single instance of physical contact,) and, lets face it, can get boring (and thus spiteful) in a hurry. At the other, variety, sex, a durable scheme-but the constant threat of running dry, getting traded up on, and no structure to help support your kids, and no one to come to the hospital at 3AM.

    I think there’s probably a sweet spot (or plateau, or pattern, or whatever) where you still aren’t in the land of uninvested, disinterested partners, but aren’t the the land of rapidly declining interest, and familiarity breeding contempt (not that it must, mind you-I certainly know plenty of the happily strictly monogamous-but the stats don’t run in that favor.) I think anthropology points to a similar notion-every culture has a concept of family and structures to manage sexual access, but most of these aren’t one man, one woman for life.

    I like trios. There, you still know and depend upon each other as much as a committed couple, since it’s not zero-sum yet-time with one is not time stolen from another-it’s time stolen from YouTube, while at the same time relieving the “claustrophobia,” experiencing more perspectives-it works. It’s still a number where having children, pooling financial resources, and the like all still can occur-but with twice as many options when you need help or comfort.

    I tend to throw up a bit in my mouth when I read any of the polyamory literature, but the central notion- that in a world filled with lots of complex people, locking yourself exclusively to the first person that meets some basic standards doesn’t make sense-seems true in my neck of the woods.

  40. @Eliot89:
    Please direct me to where my use of the term “polyamory” is at odds with the definition you just gave. I fully accept that and it is the sense in which I use the term. Not all non-monogamous relationships (nor, indeed, all that I have or are involved in) are polyamorous.

    My use of the term “close friend” was specifically to convey the depth of such relationships. My point was in response to your assertion that there is a “problem with” polyamory.

    Come on, let’s put all these semantic arguments away and talk about how the terms are usually used:

    Polyamory = more-or-less, having multiple long-term relationships typically including both sexual and emotional components.

    Open-relationship = having a primary relationship and the option of pursuing additional sexual relationships without significant emotional involvement.

    Fucking around = having sex with somoene outside of a committed realtionship without the other partner’s consent.

    One could, at any time, be involved in any combination of the three of these…

    Can we all agree on this and move on from the semantics?

  41. @greenishblu:

    Sure, but that doesn’t address the point I was making: that Polyamory has within it some inherent issues that open relationships have a much less, and in my opinion ignorable, similarity to. My point was that due to instincts that evolved in every Human, most Polyamorous relationships are at best shaky. That’s not to say that there are exceptions nor that there are people who would in fact prefer Polyamory but that most people look for at least emotional long term monogamy.

  42. I’m completely fascinated by polyamory and open relationships because they are so completely alien to me. I swear it would be more natural for me to live on Jupiter than to have more than one partner.

    I got married at a very young age and a lot of people have asked me why or wonder how it all works out, and all I can ever say is that monogamy works for me. It suits me. I like it. I’ve never once felt romantic or sexual feelings toward another person and I wouldn’t be surprised if I never do. I’m completely satisfied with one person, and he meets all of my needs. That said though, I know I have a puny sexual appetite, and I can’t imagine myself every having sex with a person who I didn’t have a deep emotional attachment to. So I guess it all boils down to individual personality and sex drive.

  43. @Eliot89:
    It doesn’t address that point because I don’t take issue with it. All I have ever maintained is that if a particular relationship model works for you and your partner(s), then do it.

    As Artistothenes stated above, each type of relationship comes with its own challenges, and none is perfect for everybody, or for every set of people.

  44. Eliot89: Speaking as a natural poly person in a poly relationship, I have to disagree with almost everything you say.

    You say that “Most polyamorous relationships are at best shaky”. This is wrong in my experience. Polyamorous relationships are usually only entered into by people who find it normal and natural, and so they are settled and comfortable with poly. The problems come when people who *don’t* understand what poly is all about try it anyway. Many, perhaps most, assume that monogamy is the default position, and as such they experience jealousy. Truly poly people do not experience jealousy. I don’t. Not even when I know my partner is fucking someone in the next room. I’ve occasionally felt a little envy – as in “gee, I’d like me some of that too,” but never jealousy, never possessiveness.

    I won’t disagree with your statement that “most people look for … long term monogamy.” I believe poly to be the exception in most cases. But poly relationships exist because poly people want to be in poly relationships – and if anything these are *more* stable than many mongamous relationships, because of the high degree of honest and open communication required.

    This is the key – honest and open communication. Secrets kill relationships dead. There’s no two ways about it. Secrets imply a lack of trust. Lack of trust invites betrayal. A poly relationship has none of that because all partners enter into it with a commitment to honesty.

    So yes, I would agree with the OP in saying that open relationships (actually, poly relationships) are healthier than “closed” ones with one or more cheating partners. Very much so.

    Finally,

    Love is not a zero-sum game.

  45. well the point is “healthier” which includes mental and physical health. Having lived through the AIDS devestation in NY city (when it was first known as BIDS) I have to say that monogamy looked pretty darn good. yeah yeah “safe sex”. But how do you put a condom on your feelings?

  46. Arthwollipot was on to something when he said that “problems come when people who *don’t* understand what poly is all about try it anyway,” though I have a slightly different take.

    I don’t think “polyamory” is one monolithic thing thing that people need to “get” to be a part of, like its a club. I think there’s a HUGE grey area between an open relationship and a polyamorous one. A secondary “polyamorous” partner may have grown out of (or may grow into) a more casual “open-relationship” partner. There’s no rule that says “Okay, we’re polyamorous now, so no getting action on the side,” unless of course those are the terms everyone has set.

    I’d say I’m currently in a semi-serious but open relatively open relationship. This relationship may grow deeper and become long-term. I hope that it does. It may stay casual, might become monogamous, might become poly. It might shift to or from any of those in the future. It might end, and it might even end because of issues relating to relationships with other people. It might prosper and grow deeper and last the rest of our lives. Who knows?

    The point is, that every relationship has issues. Your partner might bet your car on the roulette wheel. Your house might get destroyed in an earthquake. You might miscarry. No one would argue that you should stay out of monogamy to avoid these issues, right?

    Yes, non-monogamous relationships come with a special set of issues, but as long as you go in to them knowing the risks and benefits and committing to free and open communication, then you’re all the better for it. But that goes for ANY relationship.

    Remember, all of these categories are just that: words we made up to help us compartmentalize and make sense of things. Doesn’t mean they’re not USEFUL. They surely are. But they are still artificial.

  47. @arthwollipot:

    “The problems come when people who *don’t* understand what poly is all about try it anyway.”

    I would argue that those are the majority of Polyamorous relationships hence my previous statement.

    “Many, perhaps most, assume that monogamy is the default position, and as such they experience jealousy.”

    I would argue the corollary: Many, probably most, people feel jealousy thus they assume monogamous relationships.

    “Truly poly people do not experience jealousy.”

    Then you are well suited for a Polyamorous relationship but I don’t think the majority of people feel that way. Indeed, not even the majority of people who try Polyamorous relationships.

    “Not even when I know my partner is fucking someone in the next room. ”

    I don’t want to get back into semantics but just fucking someone else does not qualify as Polyamorous. Like I said though I take you at your word.

    “if anything these are *more* stable than many mongamous relationships, because of the high degree of honest and open communication required.”

    I think all relationships require a high degree of honest and open communication to succeed. If you don’t make that effort whether in a Polyamorous or Monogamous relationship it is doomed to fail. I would also argue that if that communication broke down in a Polyamorous relationship it would be quicker to fail. Maybe you are aware of that fact and it motivates you to be more upfront and honest. That would be a good thing, but it could be equally accomplished in a Monogamous relationship though the external motivation for honesty is gone.

    “A poly relationship has none of that because all partners enter into it with a commitment to honesty.”

    You mean a successful poly relationship. Just like a successful mono relationship has at least very little of that. I’m having trouble with the idea that a poly relationship somehow requires more of a commitment to honesty than a mono relationship does. I think anyone who enters into any serious relationship without a commitment to honesty is unworthy of a trusting and loving partner. (be it one or multiple)

  48. The good news is maybe Skepchick will sponsor a study and some of you will get to “amory” lots and lots of people. The bad news is that it would have to be a double-blind randomized trial and about a third of you would be in the celibate control group. Volunteers? Oh, it would need to be a longitudinal study so you’d have to commit for 20 to 30 years … any takers?

  49. Eliot89: “I don’t want to get back into semantics but just fucking someone else does not qualify as Polyamorous.”

    Sorry – I wasn’t clear. I should have been more specific by saying “fucking her other long-term emotionally committed partner in the next room.” He’s one of my best friends, by the way, in case you’re wondering.

    “I’m having trouble with the idea that a poly relationship somehow requires more of a commitment to honesty than a mono relationship does.”

    I agree that honest and open communication is an essential part of any relationship, poly or otherwise. However, remember that when you add people to a relationship, the number of connections increases exponentially. A four-person relationship doesn’t just have one more thing to track than a three-person relationship, it has three. And a five-person relationship has seven. These are all opportunities for the relationship to fail. Therefore it requires more care and attention to maintain.

  50. @ Elyse

    My daughters are at school and the baby is asleep. It is a momentary reprieve before the madness enfolds me again, but they are really cute (if you don’t believe me just click on my name and it should take you to the family website … click it … CLICK IT … okay, I’m crazy again). :)

  51. I’ve done both,

    I fact, I’m about 40/60 with open and closed relationships.

    I would tend to agree with those of you who think the stress isn’t worth an open relationship. But I have fond memories of them.

    I’m currently in a closed relationship and I’m happy.

    Cheating isn’t an issue, because I won’t do that, (I know that sounds funny, but even open relationships have rules) but I could always be single again, if I wanted to. I’m not interested.

    However, I’m sure that I felt the same way, in the open relationships, so I’m not quite ready to hold one above the other.

    It’s just nice, and less stressful for me, to think that she picked me and I picked her (and not as the first F of the orgy). I’m kind of sappy that way but that’s just me.

    But, I’m reminded of “Sex in the City” here, if the only plug that’s not firing for you, in a relationship, is that you need something different once in a while; I’ve seen many happy couples stay together and have open relationships (that otherwise probably wouldn’t have) so you should go for it.

    Cheating is not an option, in my opinion. Make the rules, live by them or get out.

    But that’s just me as well,

    rod

  52. I got to this one a little late in the day, and I don’t have time to read through the entire comment thread.

    I suspect open relationships and poly life are a touch more common in our community because we’re more willing to examine traditions and societal norms critically and recognize when we’re kidding ourselves. Granted, many societal norms develop over time based upon what works best, but it seems so many are based in nothing but this silly concept of “tradition” (not to mention religion). So those of us who are trained to question that tend to apply it to anything we have a reason to question.

    In my case my wife and I went down this road a few years back. Strangely enough, though, it started with some ideas of hers (and she’s not particularly skeptical and is, in fact, Christian) and expanded past that as we discussed it. We both recognized that our love and relationship were so strong we could survive nearly anything, including infidelity. Discussing the subject further slowly led to the realization that if it couldn’t hurt our relationship, why the emphasis on preventing it? It moved on from there until we made a few basic rules and had fun from there.

    It’s been going for about four years now with no major problems. We went through a rocky period of time with one of us (I won’t be specific) going a little overboard and hurting the other one. The reality one we passed it, though, was that the open relationship was in no way the cause of the problem, but was merely adversely affected by some outside issues that existed in all facets of our relationship, and when it was over, the open relationship and everything else normalized.

    It’s fun on multiple levels, the obvious one aside. It’s opened up our minds and interests and opened ourselves up to outside influences and ideas that we never would have come across with the standard model. It also cuts off the standard jealousies most relationships have. I can check out another girl and even make comments (honestly, my wife points them out more than I do) and I don’t get in trouble. We can be honest about fantasies, interests, tell each other about fun things we did, and all it does is make things more fun.

    Now there’s definitely a reverse side, and it’s the one those who think it can never work don’t seem to get the cause of: You have to have a strong relationship to pull this off. You have to be committed, with every expectation that you plan to stay together “forever,” through thick and thin, and be willing to make compromises to guarantee that. All the things that make a normal strong relationship need to be there, and there needs to be no question of this. If you’ve got all of that in place, the open marriage is a piece of cake.

    The reality is that most people who try to be open don’t have this, though, which is why it fails. They often even try it to FIX a weak relationship, or start under false pretenses when all they’re really trying to do is get permission to have an affair they were already planning.

    Clearly this isn’t for everyone, especially not with the standards society has in place. Maybe with a little less heavy concentration on what is and isn’t normal, and more acceptance of the fact that anyone can be what they want as they’re comfortable with it, we’d see more of it. And maybe we’d see less jealousy-based violence and other common issues.

    We’d also have a lot less sit-com plots. Boo-hoo.

  53. Best TOPIC EVER for World AIDS Day, Elyse. Monogamy — poly? I lived in a polygamous world for a few years. It worked for everyone involved, despite jealousy, hatred, and bad sex. No one pretended those feelings don’t exist. But after a few years of marriage everyone moves past it. However, Muslim West Africa is not a place I will ever choose to get married. But if you are looking for partners to help pay the bills, run the errands, raise the kids, and have your back polygamy is TOTALLY for you. I have my doubts that anyone raised in the Western world could ever wrap their head around it long enough to accept the second wife.

  54. One of the things I really dislike about modern society is the casual treatment of sex that is now common: I know that a lot of it is just people overcoming mystic nonsense, and that working contraceptives really make it more feasible to do so, but it just makes no sense to me that anyone would want to take the most intimate physical act between two people and do it with a stranger, just because it feels nice.

    On the other hand, that’s my own personal thing, and probably is heavily tied to my Catholic upbringing. To even consider forcing my opinion on others is going too far.

    So, although I can’t condemn open relationships, I absolutely don’t understand the mindframe that leads a person into them. Polyamorous ones make somewhat more sense to me, but I’m similarly uncomprehending of the need for more than one person.

    But, really, to copy everyone else, honesty is the real key to any lasting relationship, if only because it’s really easy to get your lies mixed up.

  55. @ramblingmom: “I think the most important thing is that you and your partner be IN AGREEMENT with whatever you choose.

    Because jealousy and deceit are not healthy.”

    My thoughts exactly. In my (very limited) exposure to open/polyamorous relationships (i.e. a TV special about it follwing three “open” couples), each one was an unmitigated disaster. And I don’t think for one minute that it was due to some fundamental flaw in the concept, but that each partner had radically different ideas of what the relationship was supposed to be.

    One of the points for monogamy (IMHO) is that the rules are pretty clear up front, without much negotiation or qualification: you and me, and that it is it. Should both parties further agree that every third Thursday is Crisco-Twister-With-The-Nieghbours-Night, and they both agree what that means, then I see no problems. They key thing is communication and mutual agreement. Everything else is just.. condiments.

  56. My personal experience with polyamory boils down to each girlfriend at the time thinking, “I’m going to break up with you, but I want to try other partners first.”

    It may work for some people, but it’s not for everyone.

  57. You know, poly is just so nebulous. What are we really talking about? Tetramory? Quadamory? Do we have any dodecamorists out there? Anyone out there good hearted enough to be capable of icosamory?

    Me? I’m a monogamist. I could never handle having more than one person telling me to pick up my socks.

  58. Totally bummed I missed out on this yesterday!!!

    I have several poly friends. One in particular is a married couple, J & A, who have been married now for almost 8 years. J has a boyfriend, B, who has been living with them for a few years now (J is bisexual, B is gay). A has had girlfriends and in fact they had a live-in girlfriend for a while but she was kind of crazy so that did not work out.

    They are the happiest married couple I know. It’s kind of sickening actually lol. And J & B are adorable. It works for them.

    I can hardly stand dating ONE person … I don’t think I’d do so well at a long-term multi-relationship. I’ve had some f.w.b and open-but-casual relationships before, but never anything serious. I’m not a jealous person at all, but I am really, really weird about my space. Meaning I need a lot of it.

  59. @Spacepope: “I think monamory is a lot healthier for everyone, it is more stable and more emotionally satisfying.”

    Really? Because the friends I mentioned above are healthy and emotionally stable. Poly is different to different people, but they have a 3-some relationship that works very well. And they are VERY attached.

    I find it rather bothersome that people automatically assume that poly relationships aren’t as close, or as healthy, or as stable.

    How many completely perfect “normal” relationships do you know of? Because I can’t think of any.

  60. @Spacepope: “as far as I have been able to tell it’s all about multiple sex partners and not about commitment or emotional ties or stability”

    And that just goes to show how little you know about poly relationships. Unless you’re confusing open relationships with poly relationships. And really, it does, in the end, depend on the people involved. Some poly relationships are open, some aren’t. Some open relationships are poly.

  61. I wonder if images people have of poly relationships stem from people they know deciding to open their relationships thinking that sex is the one problem they’re dealing with.

    When in fact their sex problems are a symptom of deeper relationship problems that then get shrouded by more sex and other-people sex. The original problems never get fixed and now there’s more relationship layers to deal with, complicating everything a whole lot.

    I don’t know though, I’m with Mark Mulkerin and Improbable Bee – monogamy is really hard. Not hard in the sense that it’s difficult to be with only one person, but that it’s hard enough to compromise and balance the give and take with just one other partner. My friends have often told me that my husband and I are “perfect for each other”… there are days when I doubt that… there are days when I don’t think “perfect” is a good enough word for it… I do know that more people in our relationship would make it more complicated. Maybe that’s just us.

    Besides, we’ve already got to adults, two large dogs and a Moose in our bed every night… there’s hardly room for all of us, much less any of our friends!

  62. Also, I just want to say that the idea that being with one person will inevitably result in boredom and bitterness.

    That’s only true if you LET it get boring then blame your partner.

    If boredom is your issue, you don’t need more partners, you need to either get or be a better one.

  63. I always considered polyamory to be being in love with more than one person at a time, not necessarily having sex with multiple partners. I guess I also tend to think that love and sex can be separate. Sometimes I confuse the feelings of friendship and love. I tend to consider friends that I don’t feel that strongly about to be acquaintances, although I keep all this to myself mostly because it just confuses the hell out of my friends and usually pisses them off if they find out they fit into my acquaintance category or scares them away if they fall into the friendship/love category. None of this, for me, has anything to do with sex.

    I haven’t found monogamy to be difficult or boring, and I’ve been with the same partner for over 20 years. Actually, the older I get the more I appreciate it. I’m just not in the mood to find new friends, never mind new lovers or sexual partners. It’s such a relief to have a stable relationship and not have to hassle with all the games.

  64. @Elyse: Yeah, I think for a lot of people, they hear “poly” and think of their married friends Bob and Sarah who were having issues and decided to bring another woman into the bedroom, and then a month later they divorced. That’s not a poly relationship.

  65. I think there are a lot of (not all!) monogamously-minded people who automatically assume that their way is, de facto, “more stable and more emotionally satisfying” for everybody (eg, Spacepope).

    Conversely, I think there are a lot of poly or open-relationship people who thing the same way: that mono peeps are missing out on a wondrous excursion into love or some shit like that. (Though I’m sure this view is a minority, and hasn’t been expressed in this thread.)

    The fact of the matter is that it just comes down to the individuals involved. If you can’t fathom the idea of having two (or more) close lovers and companions, then guess what? Polyamory ain’t for you! A monogamous relationship WOULD be “more stable and more emotionally satisfying” for you. But don’t assume that’s true for everyone.

  66. @greenishblu: This.

    And I tend to see a lot of people assume that everyone should be in a relationship, and everyone would be happier in a relationship, and you can’t be happy being single long-term. It seems to me, even from comments here, that people assume that EVERYONE is out looking for a relationship. Monogamous people tend to do this more, but even poly people do it. If I say, “I am not in a relationship, and I do not want to be in a relationship, and I am MUCH HAPPIER when I am single” people don’t believe me. They think I’m just trying to make myself feel better about being single, or something.

    They assume that I can’t be emotionally stable without being in a relationship. They assume I can’t have meaningful intimacy and, yes, love, without being in a relationship. Monogamous people do this most — Spacepope touched on it — but even the more open-minded poly people do it. It’s assumed that someone can’t be happy, stable, and fulfilled WITHOUT being in a relationship.

    Bull cocky.

    At 27, I’m damn content to not be in a relationship, and I’m tired of feeling bad about that – it’s almost like the only reason I date is because I’m expected to. I really, really, really enjoy my personal space and freedom. I like sleeping in my bed alone. I like waking up alone. I like being alone, dammit.

    I am not lonely, but people seem to assume I am, just because I am single and prerfer it that way. They think I’m WEIRD.

  67. @Caterina:

    We both view sex as something separate from love so we can have sex with other people without jealousy getting in the way.

    As I said above, I live and let live. But in response to the quote above, I have personally indulged in sex-without-feeling (i.e., sex separated from love), and I don’t miss it. I prefer the sex to be a form of communication (i.e., intimacy and love) rather than mere recreation. It really is more hot to have sex with someone with whom you are intellectually, emotionally, and physically connected with.

    @arthwollipot:

    This is the key – honest and open communication. Secrets kill relationships dead. There’s no two ways about it. Secrets imply a lack of trust. Lack of trust invites betrayal. A poly relationship has none of that because all partners enter into it with a commitment to honesty.

    That sounds really rosy, as do the soundbites (“Love is not a zero-sum gain”?) But to my knowledge, polyamorous individuals stratify their relationships – “primary” v. “secondary” – and when you do that, jealousy and deception are inevitable. And why work out a problem with one lover when you can just check out and hang with the other lovers? In my humble opinion, there is just too much human nature involved to make it work. But like I said above, as a part-time skeptic, I would really like to get beyond the anecdotes and see some data (i.e., studies as to how long polyamorous primary v. secondary relationships last, why they break up, etc.)

    For myself, I would rather have one person who I can really rely upon, primarily because she is not splitting her time and energy between other people. As was noted above by others, it is hard enough/rewarding enough maintaining a monogamous relationship with another human being and all of their emotional complexities. I would rather really get to know another person more deeply than many persons superficially.

  68. @Elyse: My nominee for COTW (even though it doesn’t really meet the guidelines) … And I would add that if you get easily bored in monogamous relationships (as many male friends I know do), you are probably going to get just as bored in polyamorous or open relationships.

  69. @TheSkepticalMale: Some poly relationships are stratified, some are not. I just don’t see how it’s *not* possible to be happy with a stratified relationship if you choose to do so and openly communicate with your partners.

    Perhaps secondary partners are shorter relationships, but that’s like saying that dating relationships are shorter than marriages. They may be secondary for the very reason that both partners are not seeking a commitment at the level of primary partnership. What’s so wrong about that? This isn’t to say that secondary partnerships are lacking in commitment, though all I have to offer is anecdotes of long term, happy, healthy, secondary partnerships.

    And, “I would rather really get to know another person more deeply than many persons superficially.” is really kind of insulting, to insinuate that poly relationships are necessarily superficial.

    And for the record, I’m very happily monogamous and don’t foresee that changing.

  70. @TheSkepticalMale:

    “It really is more hot to have sex with someone with whom you are intellectually, emotionally, and physically connected with.”

    That may be true for you. It’s generally true for me too, but it’s not true for everyone. No one blanket statement is going to apply to everyone. There is so much variability when it comes to human sexuality and intimacy.

    I’d agree that it would interesting to see some data on this… But even then, even if the results show, for instance, that married and monogamous people are twice as happy on average than people with other relationship models, it STILL wouldn’t mean that those other relationship types are inherently “unhealthy.” It’s really all about the individuals.

  71. @arthwollipot: Well, I for one, would not like to actually have two heads. Or two full-time jobs, doctor bills, etc. There are plenty of circumstances where it is simply better not to have multiples.

    Nonetheless, that isn’t to say it doesn’t work for you, or others. But don’t even suggest that it doesn’t make things more complicated. And frankly, complicated emotional issues are one thing I have had enough of, thank you very much.

  72. @TheSkepticalMale: “It really is more hot to have sex with someone with whom you are intellectually, emotionally, and physically connected with.”

    But what is that intellectual, emotional, and physical connection? Love is different for everyone. I have had amazing, mind-blowing, connected (physically and emotionally) sex with friends that didn’t have to do with romantic love. writerdd touched on it — love is not always romantic, or the same for everyone.

    “But to my knowledge, polyamorous individuals stratify their relationships – “primary” v. “secondary” ”

    Not all poly relationships do this, though. EVERY poly relationship is pretty different.

    I’ll touch on the poly relationship I mentioned before, and to hell with letters, since they are 100% open to questions.

    Justin and Angie married about 8 years ago. I am not 100% sure if they were poly before. I think Justin was, but Angie wasn’t, at least not practicing. I know that Justin has been an out bisexual for at least a decade, and Angie for nearly that long. They have been happily married for 8 years, and poly for almost all of that (at least for the 6 years I’ve known them), and I guess you’d probably also consider their relationship fairly open.

    Currently, Justin has a boyfriend, Jon. The three of them bought a house together earlier this year, actually. Jon is gay (mostly). Jon and Angie don’t have a relationship, not really, though I’m told there have been times when they’ve been together, but it’s pretty rare (and probably involves alcohol lol).

    While Angie and Justin are married, Jon is not Justin’s “secondary” relationship. They are just in a happy, natural, loving relationship.

    Angela DID have a girlfriend that lived with them for a while, but she was a bit … uh, nuts. And tended to get jealous (of Justin, the husband) I guess. But I don’t think that had anything to do with the poly relationship, but rather that she was just an unstable person in general. And before Jon, Justin had another boyfriend that did not work out. Those relationships not working out had nothing to do with the fact that they were poly, but because of the individual people involved.

    Angie, Justin, and Jon don’t split their time or rely on one person when another is pissing them off. They spend time with each other and rely on each other as a whole. Angie and Justin are madly in love, Angie and Jon have a close friendship, and Jon and Justin very much love each other. I know it’s weird for some people to grasp, but it has nothing to do with “primary” or “secondary”.

    Not to get too personal, and I don’t really feel the need to get into details unless you need me to, but I have been with them in the past (5 years ago) and in recent months. There has been no jealousy of any kind, or any kind of weirdness. I actually spent Thanksgiving with them (and then passed out drunk on their couch lol). Heck, I’ve had my boyfriends over there. I guess I’ve been the occasional “open” in their “open relationship”.

    I trust and adore and love them. They trust and adore and love me. We have had an intimate connection, sometimes sexual, sometimes not, but ultimately, we have a very close friendship. It works, because like I’ve said, I’m not really big on relationships, and I feel like I don’t have to … worry about weirdness and jealousy with them, like you do even in monogamous relationships.

  73. As I read these comments I see that many of us are making assumptions, I don’t feel that we should find fault with that, I think this is because most of us have no experience with polyamory, either personally or from pracitcng friends. It is difficult to understand a concept that you are unfamiliar with, and has no clear defintion, (marilove ” Poly is different to different people”).
    I was surprised to see so many people that are practicing polyamorists and have had long lasting relationships. It has been my experience that anyone using the word polyamory or something similar is usually using as cover for having multiple sex partners, or is code for ‘I’m breaking up with you, but I still want you to take me to ____ next week’
    To quote marilove again “I am not lonely, but people seem to assume I am, just because I am single and prerfer it that way. They think I’m WEIRD.” Yes, I like being alone most of the time as well, but that has not stopped me from being intimate and loving with others, this is part of friendship, we seem to assume that the word ‘relationship’ implies that it is romantic/sexual.
    The one thing we all seem to agree on is that those involved should be open and honest about what is expected of all those involved.
    And as an aside I would like to nominate marilove for COTW for her comment #90 at 12:01 pm

  74. I think people make too much of the “ploygamy/polyamory vs. monogamy” thing. As long as it’s all consenting adults, who cares?

    Having been in poly relationships before, and being happy in a monogamous relationship now, I can say that there are advantages to both. Having known many poly couples, I can also say a couple other things:

    1. a working poly relationship is difficult: paying sufficient attention to one partner is hard work, to more than one is harder. Not to mention the jealousy and other challenges. (yes, there will be jealousy. If you think there won’t, you have no chance of making a poly relationship work.)

    2. a poly relationship only works if everyone agrees — not just consents. If someone felt pressured to be OK with it, things are unlikely to end well.

    3. a lot of “poly” relationships exist because one or more partner doesn’t have the courage for the “serial” part of serial monogamy. I’ve seen way too many miserable couples try to fix their unfixable issues by opening the relationship instead of just moving on.

    A good poly relationship can be very rewarding, but I suspect that most people will find monogamy less challenging.

  75. @Spacepope: “It has been my experience that anyone using the word polyamory or something similar is usually using as cover for having multiple sex partners, or is code for ‘I’m breaking up with you, but I still want you to take me to ____ next week’”

    And some people totally do that, but people can be assholes. A true poly relationship is about honesty and trust and love.

  76. I can, in all honesty, say that I have no idea whatsoever. I have no way of knowing.

    Been married to the same woman for almost 30 years. We were both virgins when we married. Neither of us has any frame of reference or evidence (other than anecdotes, and we all know how much to trust anecdotes about love and sex, don’t we?) to offer an opinion.

    @marilove: I’m curious if you have found ways to fend off the inevitable guilt and judgment of society about your choice/ability to be happily single? I found a lot of pressure to “be a normal guy” and get married as soon as I could when I was younger. Do you get a lot of outside pressure to find a partner, to “settle down,” etc.?

    @writerdd: I think that our society (at least in the US) is downright hostile to any alternative to the “common, ordinary” male-female marriage scenario. Even long-term singles got (get?) merciless pressure to “conform” and “find someone,” (as if your perfect partner is lost under the seat of your car or something).

  77. @Spacepope: “Yes, I like being alone most of the time as well, but that has not stopped me from being intimate and loving with others, this is part of friendship, we seem to assume that the word ‘relationship’ implies that it is romantic/sexual.”

    This, too! I am a social person, while also really liking my space. Which means I have a lot of friends, have had plenty of friends with benefits (more than one-night-stands, for sure), and less actual, long-term relationships.

    And I agree — not all relationships are sexual and I think we tend to assume that.

  78. @QuestionAuthority: I’ve gotten pressure, but not as much as others have, probably because of the people I surround myself with — most of my friends are pretty open-minded. I do find that people at work tend to assume that I’m either in a relationship or will be in one some day soon and will have babies and get married, but it doesn’t bother me too much because eh, work people.

    My dad sometimes asks about boyfriends and stuff (and I think he suspects I’ve dated women), but he never really bugs me about it. He’s always been more concerned with my being able to support myself (and constantly pressures me about going back to school). My mom doesn’t really notice that kind of stuff (she’s kind of um, in her own little world).

  79. @Amanda: Sorry to offend, but while acknowledging that there are more elements to deepening the scope of a relationship, I would argue that we still live in a world of limited time and resources – you simply cannot spend as much time/energy with a particular person if you have devoted to spending time/energy with others. All other things being equal, the more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know that person. Considering that we have less and less free time as individuals in Western culture and monogamous couples report that they do not have enough free time time to spend together (e.g., “date night”), how does time play in a polyamorous setting? Or are the successful polyamorous just extraordinarily good at time-management, in addition to being markedly trusting and unresentful?

    On that note, I have read what could best be described as lectures from polyamorous people about how unenlightened I am (as a serial monogamist), implying that I really only pretend to be monogamous (i.e., lying to myself) and that the natural/evolutionary state of human beings is having multiple sexual partners. I am simply taking this opportunity to offer the counter-argument. And what fun would the discussion be if reduced to only saying “live and let live” (my first sentence in my first post)?

    That said, I have no doubt that there are polyamorous relationships that work. But with respect to the usefulness of anecdotes and without meaning to refer to any particular persons at all, I suspect that because the practice is so controversial to begin with (putting them on the defensive), the polyamorous as a group would be less inclined to reveal actual jealousy and dishonesty issues in their relationships to outsiders. Or am I simply underestimating human nature once again?

    So to summarize my position, I am simply very skeptical of the anecdotes offered about how successful the polyamorous relationships really are as a group and how unusually emotionally intelligent the polyamorous profess to be, and I would like to see some data before I believe it. And as I will say for the third time, I really do not care what other people do or hold it against them. That is, with a friend, I would treat my skepticism of the practice of polyamory as I would treat my skepticism of any monogamous relationship – keep my opinions to myself, be supportive, and hope it works out for him/her.

  80. @marilove: You may be better off in that regard than I was when I was younger.

    I felt incredible pressure to get married because of the fundamentalist religious situation that I was mired in. I also had a terrible home life growing up due to an alcoholic parent that died when I was 19. I was very insecure about who I was and where I was going in life by then. :-( Luckily, I married well to my first girlfriend, but I think that we would have been better off if we hadn’t married as young as we did (21).

    This is why I say that I don’t know how any alternatives might have worked out. I have so little experience to draw on.

    This thread also can be tied to the recent media topic of “work wives/husbands,” where married people have a close friend or two of the opposite sex in the workplace, not for sex but for listening, communication and advice on topics not amenable to discussion with one’s partner.

    I have a few of those and have found them intensely rewarding in that I hear viewpoints that no one else would express to me. I do not talk much about them to my wife due to her insecurities. She is very old school about these kind of things and I have no desire to provoke fear for our marriage or anything. It’s not that kind of thing at all.

  81. @TheSkepticalMale: “you simply cannot spend as much time/energy with a particular person if you have devoted to spending time/energy with others. ”

    And everyone is different when it comes to how much time they need with their partner(s) and what kind of time.

    “Or are the successful polyamorous just extraordinarily good at time-management, in addition to being markedly trusting and unresentful?”

    Honestly, it depends on the poly relationship. A friend of mine has a primary partner (husband) and alots time to spend with her other partner(s) — indeed, she even has scheduled days for her other partner(s). And it totally works for her and her partners.

    Justin and Jon and Angie spend their time together as a threesome and live together and don’t seperate or do any kind of “time-management” — they just kind of are … together.

    I, for one, don’t understand how anyone can live with anyone for any reason whatsoever. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for other people, since it cearly works for most. :)

  82. @QuestionAuthority: Yeah, my family wasn’t particularly religious. I’m from a small, hick town myself, and when I visit, there is definitely pressure or at least questions about why I am still single and if I am ever going to “settle down”. There are a few women I grew up with who seem to ask me that whenever I see them.

    But that’s why I moved to the big city. I really do not fit in my home town.

    “where married people have a close friend or two of the opposite sex in the workplace”

    Honestly? I think it’s healthy for people to have friends of the opposite sex and I think it’s really unhealthy that so many people seem to think it’s “bad.” I have male friends, female friends, gay friends, straight friends, trans friends, asexual friends… I mean, I just have friends. I don’t qualify them by their gender. I think it’s kind of a shame that people still do that.

  83. @marilove: Of course. Any one monogamous relationship could be more complicated than any one polyamorous relationship.

    However, there is, at least, less to keep track of in a monogamous relationship, because there are less people, and therefore less variables, involved. This points to a tendency toward greater complexity, as you must consider the reactions and feelings of more than one person when making relationship-relevant decisions.

    I should point out that when I say “complicated,” I do not use it interchangeably with “difficult.” It is my (current) understanding that both ideas are equally difficult for practitioners (at least, on average). It seems to me, though, that polyamorous relationships will tend toward greater complexity by their very nature.

  84. @marilove: Many people of my generation think that it’s a direct threat to their marriage if their partner has a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex. I see no reason why I should have to write off half the human race just because I’m married. I never could understand it, as for some reason I am more able to make friends with women than men. No idea why, except my wife says that I am a very good listener. Is that all it takes?

    I just have “friends,” too, for the same reasons you describe. I just try to see who someone is, not what they are. Gender, sexuality, age, color, etc. doesn’t really matter to me. It actually creeps some people out that I can sit and talk to different people so easily. Maybe the idea of a 51-year old white guy that actually listens to others is frightening. I don’t know.

    I was actually the religious one at the time. My family was Catholic only when it suited them. I was in my early 30’s before I got tired of pretending that I believed in a deity or the supernatural.

  85. @QuestionAuthority: Well, I won’t write people off, but I do thin it’s kind of sad and a total shame, and really close-minded. Heck, even people in MY generation still feel that way (if my boyfriend has a female friend, he HAS to be cheating on me!!!!). I just think it’s unfair.

  86. @marilove and all: My kids thought it was kind of cool that I would sit and talk to kids with six piercings and funny-colored hair for an hour about something of mutual concern or interest. Most men my age would pretend that he didn’t see them, much less talk to them.

    Here’s a good question…Who am I supposed to talk to for advice, if I can’t talk to my wife about something that she’s too sensitive about to discuss? No need to pick a topic. Everyone has sensitive topics with their partners. It’s part of life.

    Family is out – They have a bad habit of “telling tales out of school.” Telling my sister for example (who I hardly talk to anymore) would be equivalent to putting a gun to my head.

    Male friends have no advice to offer, because I need a female perspective on how to talk to my wife without triggering emotional scenes, etc. (Yes, she has some baggage. Don’t we all?)

    Maybe the only alternative to having a few close female friends to ask is to pay some stranger with a PhD $150 an hour to listen, assuming that my insurance company will pay for it. (Hah!)

  87. @Mark Mulkerin:

    5 more people to pawn it off on?

    One of them is SURE to believe that I “just changed a poopy diaper 30 minutes ago”!

    And maybe someone else to be the bad guy who won’t let Moose play with X-acto knives, chew on screws, stick fingers in electric sockets or climb on the backs of computer chairs.

    now that you bring it up… it’s tempting…

  88. as long you’re safe and smart about how you go around sexing up society, i dont see a moral problem.

    girl who enjoys different partners – whore
    guy who enjoys different partners – guy
    BS

    dont break hearts if you can help it, dont have accidental kids (you can help it 99.9% of the time…..the packages say so!)
    otherwise have fun.
    you only live once (before reincarnation :P ), so enjoy this one while its here.

    *and cue the sappy saxophone music*

  89. @Elyse

    Yeah, but the way things would work out with me would be – “Gee Mark, we don’t really love that way tonight and you are so good with the kids. Anyway, the eight of us should be back from date night before say dawn. After all, this is the first time Barb has been out since the sextuplets. Oh, and Joe, John, Frank, and Melinda have diaper rash. Don’t wait up for us.”

    The only problem with polyamory – reality.

  90. Okay. I’ve been away for 24 hours, but I’ve caught up and I have a few things to say.

    @TheSkepticalMale:

    “That sounds really rosy, as do the soundbites (”Love is not a zero-sum gain”?) But to my knowledge, polyamorous individuals stratify their relationships – “primary” v. “secondary” – and when you do that, jealousy and deception are inevitable.

    Stratification of relationships is not necessarily a given. Not all poly people do that, or accept that it is the right way to go about things. I do not put labels on my relationships, for the reasons you give. Some do, some don’t.

    And why work out a problem with one lover when you can just check out and hang with the other lovers?

    How about because you love them? Remember, poly is about love, and relationships – not about sex.

    I would rather really get to know another person more deeply than many persons superficially.

    That’s good if it works for you. No-one’s forcing you to be poly.

    @ZachTP:

    Nonetheless, that isn’t to say it doesn’t work for you, or others. But don’t even suggest that it doesn’t make things more complicated. And frankly, complicated emotional issues are one thing I have had enough of, thank you very much.

    I believe I said, upthread:

    However, remember that when you add people to a relationship, the number of connections increases exponentially. A four-person relationship doesn’t just have one more thing to track than a three-person relationship, it has three. And a five-person relationship has seven. These are all opportunities for the relationship to fail. Therefore it requires more care and attention to maintain.

    That was intended to be an indication that more people added to a relationship equals greater complexity. Poly does not make relationships simpler, and I never claimed that it does.

    And back to…

    @TheSkepticalMale:

    On that note, I have read what could best be described as lectures from polyamorous people about how unenlightened I am (as a serial monogamist), implying that I really only pretend to be monogamous (i.e., lying to myself) and that the natural/evolutionary state of human beings is having multiple sexual partners.

    I’m sorry to hear that. I would never say or imply anything of the sort. I have always maintained that the poly lifestyle is not suitable for everyone – that some people are naturally more comfortable with monamory, and that there’s nothing at all wrong with it.

    As they say, diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.

  91. @arthwollipot: “I would rather really get to know another person more deeply than many persons superficially.”

    I think the “superficially” part is what bothered me most about TheSkepticalMale’s post. Don’t want to be with more than one person? COOL! But that doesn’t mean that someone who is poly is “superficial” or that their relationship is “superficial” or that they aren’t as connected or as intimate or able to be as happy. Honestly, that was offensive. But, TheSkepticalMale probably hasn’t had much personal interaction with poly couples, so I can see where he might just not understand.

  92. I find it funny that so many “skeptics” are so quick to generalize from personal experience: “It didn’t work for me, therefore it’s going to be bad for everyone!”

    Meh, boring. to each his own, and even a particular individual (me, for example, ;)) can go through different stages at different times. However, in theory at least I support open relaitonships completely, knowing the human propensity to screw around (both empirically and from theoretical considerations).

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