I had an interesting conversation with a straight female friend of mine yesterday. She happens to have a bunch of polyamorous friends, though she and her (amazingly wonderful) boyfriend happen to be monogamous.
Anyway, this friend recently attended a polyamorous commitment ceremony. Here's the situation, as I understand it: The ceremony centered around (A) a man and (B) a woman (already married to each other), plus (C) a second woman who has a relationship with both of them. The point of the ceremony was for the woman to affirm her commitment to this married couple, and vice versa. Their parents were there (as if coming out to your folks as LGBT isn't hard enough, right?). A, B, and C live together. Two of them also have at least one relationship outside of the trio (to D and E, who are unconnected). The husband and wife (A and B) used to have a relationship with another husband-and-wife couple (F and G), but A broke up with G. B and F are still together.
Before we go any further, a working definition: Polyamory is when you have a relationship (usually emotional and physical, but certainly emotional) with more than one person simultaneously. Often, polyamorous people have a primary partner with whom they have their "main" relationship, and one or two other people with whom they also have enduring emotional and sexual relationships. Polyamory is sometimes referred to as "responsible non-monogamy," because a central tenet is that there aren't any secrets--everyone knows whom everyone else is dating.
This is different from an open relationship because (typically) in open relationships, both people in the relationship agree that they can sleep with other people, but are emotionally monogamous. Often, these couples have an agreement that they can't have "repeat" partners (in order to avoid becoming emotionally connected to anyone besides their partner), and/or an agreement that if they do start to have feelings for another person, that they will no longer sleep with that person, and/or an agreement that they will not sleep with mutual acquaintances.
As you might imagine, there are practically unlimited configurations. I know one gay male couple who has a list of 5-10 people with whom they are each allowed to sleep. They have to get sexual partners pre-approved by one another, their lists can't overlap, and they aren't allowed to have sexual escapades with any of these people in their own house, or spend the night with them. They can get emotionally attached to these other people, as long as these attachments don't rival or interfere with their attachments to each other. (I don't know if they consider their relationship "open" or "poly.")
Some polyamorous folks live together in groups of three or more, and may even raise children together. Others keep calendars; they might spend Tuesdays and Wednesdays with their second lover and the other with their primary partner.
These arrangements make my head spin. I don't think they're wrong in an objective sense, but I don't think they'd work for me. The main reasons:
Successful practitioners of polyamory manage to overcome these challenges, so I know it can be done. But I think I'm wired for monogamy, the same way I'm wired to be a butchy lesbian.
This got me to thinking: if I'm "wired" for monogamy, then probably some people are wired for polyamory. Does this mean that polyamory is a sexual orientation? Or is it a sexual preference? I've heard both from polyamorous people, and maybe different things are true for different people.
If polyamory is a sexual orientation, this has major implications. For one, I believe that a person's sexual orientation should be protected by law. Does this mean that poly marriages should be legal? And if so, what does this mean for things like tax breaks and health insurance? (For more on the legal implications of polyamory, check out this article I just found.)
As I've written about before, I'm not entirely sure that the government should be in the business of endorsing marriage relationships at all, aside from allowing people to form contracts about issues like child-rearing, inheritance, etc. Getting the government out of the business of regulating these relationships would be a step towards poly equality, I suppose.
In theory, I totally support poly equality. In practice, I have a gut reaction against it. I flinch at the idea of polyamorous households adopting kids. And I can't articulate a concrete reason why, except that it goes against my idea of what relationships "should" be. Which, when you think about it, makes me no better than gay marriage opponents who want their moral inclinations to prevent people like me from getting married.
Would I vote for governmental recognition of polyamorous marriage? I'd like to say, of course! And in the voting booth, I believe my answer would be yes. But it would be an uncomfortable yes. And this discomfort makes me feel guilty and hypocritical.
What do you think about this, dear readers? Have any of you monogamous types felt the kinds of things I'm describing?
And I know I have some poly readers, too: I claim no real knowledge about polyamory, so feel free to jump in, correct me, enlighten me, etc!
4/26/2012 04:19:43 am
I don't think the law should get involved with consenting adults personal life. That being said I think this kind of relationship (if you can call it that) is a cop out. In my opinion its a symptom of commitment phobic people trying to make their fears and adequacies
4/26/2012 04:23:58 am
**inadequacies seem legit. Not that it is any of my buisness but for me it takes a stronger person to be with one person. Why bother being committed to anyone? If you can't give someone your full attention than you'll never have a fulfilling relationship with anyone.
4/26/2012 04:32:01 am
Wow Lindsay ... I disagree with you completely... that's very judgemental... and frankly, I think you'll find many poly folks who will take exception to the idea that they are not committed.. quite the opposite.. it take quite a strong commitment to make it work...
4/26/2012 04:58:22 am
@ Lyndsay and Gotta: I tend to agree with Gotta on this one. Unless you believe that love is a finite commodity.
4/26/2012 04:20:15 am
I am in a poly relationship and I always thought of it as a type of open relationship like Wicca is a form of Paganism rather than open relationships and poly relationships being two distinct entities separate from each. If you want to learn more about polyamory I recommend the book The Ethical Slut.
4/26/2012 04:28:35 am
I left my name off as I have no clue who might read this. I'm monogamous now, in practice -- in theory we are poly but in three years we haven't acted on it. My partner and I came from a rather unpleasant, for us, poly background. Hold on to your head -- I'll set it spinning again -- I was with A. A had another poly partner B. I had another partner C, she has one D. D and A were good friends, A and C were good friends. I also had a play partner (leather) E -- and much to everyone's horror, he was a man. Fast forward through many breakups and lots of time. I am now partnered (and engaged to D). A is with C, sort of (we're not sure what it is, but its a something). I have no clue what B is doing. I was with A&C at the same time -- knew D as a friend, though everyone tried to keep us apart. Wonder why? :)
4/26/2012 04:44:31 am
I personally don't see anything wrong with a poly relationship. Who are we to judge the personal lives of anyone else? I've never been in a poly relationship, but since it's hard enough to make one relationship work, the people in a poly relationship probably have to work at least twice as hard to keep it together.
4/26/2012 04:59:20 am
Yeah, I agree. But what do you think about the legal implications of this? Should the govt recognize poly relationships?
4/26/2012 04:58:45 am
My partner and I love each other but do not have sex. If it was legal to marry, she is the one I would want to marry but sex is still a big deal to me and not to her. I keep thinking that maybe an open relationship, or even a poly one if we could find a third we agreed upon, might be an answer. I believe I am inherently monogamous too, but have always had an open mind about other kinds of relationships and now am wondering if it would be a way to give me what I need without losing the woman I love. The big question is would she go for it. This is not how I ever saw this ending up but it's what I'm grasping at now. Honestly, I don't think she would go for it, which is why I haven't brought it up yet. I'm not even really sure I could act on it.
4/26/2012 06:12:43 am
While I have tried the polyamory thing, I found it to be emotionally exhausting because I kept wanting to make sure my time was spent equally and that emotional closeness was equal, etc. I do feel that I am monogamous, but I do not think that is right for everyone. I feel like marriage, which is a contact, should be allowed to be between more than two people. Why not? They can all be committed to eachother and benefits can be decided amongst them. Health insurance can be for one person while another person takes care of the care insurance etc. I don't see the harm in it or in raising children that way. The children would have plenty of love and attention and grow up with an understanding of how relationships come in all shapes and sizes. I'm sure the parents would explain how their relationship works and how monogamy etc works. I honestly never gave it a moment's thought about the marriage issue, but thought, if that's what they want, then fine. Who am I to tell them how to love, live and marry. In the end we're all just people and I think how they choose to live is fine for them if it works for them. They obviously know some people aren't that way and some people are. I say good for them for figuring out a way to make that situation work.
4/26/2012 06:16:01 am
***car insurance and health insurance
4/26/2012 06:23:25 am
I think governments ,if they must be involved in the ratification of any union , should indeed be obliged to recognize ANY union of consenting adults, regardless of the particular details.
4/26/2012 07:03:22 am
Good post! I've been doing non-monogamy or polyamory or whatever you want to call it in various forms for more than 10 years. Here are a few of my thoughts:
4/26/2012 07:20:44 am
Hi! I am monogamous, but I think it is quite possible to have multiple stable relationships and to raise children with more than two parents.
Very well put Cherry.
4/26/2012 11:33:10 am
Maybe I am just too busy or something. But no way could I deal with more than one other person's emotions in an intimate relationship. I do like my alone time too...shoot I don't even know how to balance life with one person. And I don't think I would feel as special as with one....
4/26/2012 01:38:57 pm
Could I have handled polyamory at 20? No. At 40? Probably not. But by now, I'm a lot more comfortable in my own skin, in my own self. And I've seen two long-term (17 & 12 years) traditional marriages end badly. I don't see anything magic about monogamous relationships any more, though truth be told, I don't see anything magic about poly either.
4/26/2012 01:41:10 pm
PS - I just noticed your favicon for the first time. I love it!
4/26/2012 04:46:32 pm
I can really understand what you're saying because I feel the same way. But the more open minded part of me sometimes argues with the traditional side of me (as traditional as a lesbian can be haha). So basically it comes down to this for me, if they can manage it and everyone is happy then great! Kudos! I imagine that takes a lot of hard work and a lot of commitment. Could I ever do it? Hell no. But it's not my life so more power to them.
4/26/2012 04:56:38 pm
Way back when, in the beginning of our relationship, my lovely lady wife and I were poly. Or at least, we tried to be poly. She spent a week in London with a woman and I spent a week tearing my hair out and punching things. I tried to hook up with a couple people, she tried to remove the skin from her arms with her fingernails. It didn't work out well for either of us, I think we're both just way too damn possessive to ever see other people in a polyamorous kind of way. Having said that, we do have an arrangement for taking a third party into bed with both of us, so far it hasn't lead anywhere but we have a hot lesbian couple visiting from Sweden this summer and I suspect I'm going to be spending a large part of that visit in the bedroom. We've talked it through extensively and I don't think it'll be a problem as long as we're both involved and know exactly what's going on. Fingers crossed.
4/27/2012 12:51:45 am
Its great to see so many readers being open minded!
4/27/2012 02:49:43 am
1. Polygamous marriages have been recognized in the past, and still are today in some places. So, recognizing polyamorous relationships wouldn't be a new thing.
5/20/2013 08:51:06 am
I have a friend I am getting ready to officiate a polyamorous commitment ceremony for. She was was raised with her parents being polyamorous, her mom had a husband and a boyfriend, living in house. As I graduated high school, my mother entered a poly relationship. Is it for me? Heck no. It kinda makes my head hurt. But there is something to be said about a well functioning one. Ultimately a well functioning one probably has more communication and trust than the standard monogamous relationship. In regards to government, there should be a separation of church and state. Period. How can personal lives really be regulated and honestly, how sacred are marriage vows in general when you have married couples cheating on each other? It takes away the vow entirely, because the person did not hold to it. When if comes to adoption, I feel like all things should be taken into account. Looking at my household with my roommate, it takes both of us working as a couple and family (for lack of better words) to take care of our three kids. It takes a village.... and there is something to be said for having extra hands involved in parenting, but should be graded on a same relative scale that a regular couple would have, all things would have to be taken into consideration. Things like stability, finances, etc. would have to be considered. Same as anyone else adopting. With me and her, and throwing her boyfriend and wife in, (even though I'm not in the relationship whatsoever) the added help and advice is appreciated and balances out. When one person starts to get frustrated or lose patience, someone else in the same mindset is able to step in.
5/21/2013 12:21:25 pm
Hey there "brought in" -- would you be willing to be in touch by e-mail? This whole topic is more personal for me know than it was a year ago. And in a complicated sort of way, I'm in ministry -- which I guess you are? Anyway, our blogger here, ButchWonders, hereby has my permission to share my e-mail addr with you. Then you can write if you want, or not if you don't. Thanks.
6/20/2013 07:37:08 am
I'm monogamous, but poly-inclusive. I have no problem with healthy poly families being able to marry if that is their desire or just go about their business unmarried if that's what they prefer. Yes, I put a qualifier in. Just like I'm opposed to underage marriage in any other circumstance, that's going to apply here, as well as poly groups that involve abuse or put their marriage above their children (I have an equal problem with heterosexual monogamous marriages that do this, too--neglect is neglect, regardless of orientation, and the kids didn't choose to be there--the parents DID).
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