Stef's Poly Post Archive

Models and Transitions

Reasons for being polyamorous

[Is polyamory possible?]

Polyamory is difficult because there is no wide paved road to follow as there seems to be if you choose a monogamous relationship; you have to communicate to figure out what you and your partner want, more so than many monogamous couples feel they need to communicate (I think they're fooling themselves if they think communication in a monogamous relationship is easier in the end, but that's me).

But if the communication is achieved, unpleasant consequences do not generally come to pass.

Some of us do not feel that we *are* poly in some deep, fundamental sense, but we choose to live a poly lifestyle simply because we are happy in poly relationships and so they are worth it.

[What leads people to be polyamorous?]

I'm polyamorous because I like exploring various kinds of relationships and connecting with people in lots of different ways.

It so happens that multiple relationships fulfill various wants I couldn't have fulfilled by one relationship, and provide new experiences. That's nice, but that is not *why* I'm poly. I can fulfill my wants without being poly and have new experiences without being poly.

My primary focus is on connecting with people, not on satisfying various needs of mine (other than the need to connect with people). Polyamory gives me more ways of connecting to people and that's why it's right for me.

[Why do people want to be polyamorous?]

People need/want polyamory for a variety of different reasons. Some people want it because they have a longterm sexual friendship and don't see why they should give it up. Some people just fall into it. Some people need a lot of sex. Some people like sex outside a committed relationship because it's easy emotionally. Some people want to maintain a sense of independence and control over what they do with their bodies. Some people find someone who clicks really well with them sexually and they don't want to give it up. Some people don't grok the difference between friend and lover, don't know where the line is. Etc. etc. etc.

[Can anyone really "turn off the ability to love" -- i.e., feel monogamous?]

In terms of romantic love, some people do have that little valve.

"Programming" comes in where society tries to tell you this is the ONLY way to be. Some people are actually monogamous and prefer monogamous partners, even after they have seen through the programming and know that is not the only way to be.

What if your partner wants to try poly for the wrong reasons?

People should be very careful about judging each other's motives. "I want to" should be sufficient if what's wanted does not cause a problem.

If she said "I want some variety" would that be an acceptable motive? (Maybe she's not saying that 'cos she's afraid of hurting your feelings.)

If she used to be an excellent singer, and she entered a contest to see where she stood these days, would that be an acceptable motive? If so, how is that different from wanting relationships in part for that purpose?

Is your discomfort over her motive hiding discomfort over what she wants to do? If so, that should be out in the open.

Is it just that you don't understand why she'd feel that way?

My partner and I went around about motives for a while. He likes cuddling and doesn't have to be friends with the person to enjoy it. I prefer cuddling when there is some other form of connection as well. So at first I kinda scorned this motive. On the other hand, he didn't understand why I was willing to have sex with pretty much anybody I was willing to cuddle with. So we decided for the sake of self preservation that we shouldn't judge each other's motives. :-)

I think it is an interesting and worthwhile exercise to explore each other's motives, though. Helps you understand your partner.

Is monogamy oppressive?

Monogamy is an oppressive institution ONLY insofar as it is presented as the ONLY option.

Any choice that is freely made is not oppressive -- even a choice to allow someone else to have or share control over parts of your life.

Furthermore, as far as "refraining from doing something I want to do," -- I do that all the time. It's called life in a finite body. If I spend time doing this, I can't do that at the same time. If I choose to focus on learning to do something very well, which involves a lot of time, I will not be able to use that time for other things, even if I want to.

That is true in poly relationships as well. The number of relationships I can have is limited because in order for a relationship to be satisfying to me, I must put a lot of energy into it, and eventually that energy runs out.

Monogamy can be seen as implying ownership, and insofar as monogamy is presented as the only option, the 'control over another's body' aspect is oppressive. But if it were not the only option, that aspect would not be oppressive.

Many people want to feel that their partnership is "special" in some way other than simply the amount of time spent. That may mean that the partners agree to do certain things only with each other. It may be silly, but it is important to a lot of people and therefore legitimate if they can find someone else who wants to agree to that sort of relationship.

I think it's unfortunate that sex is presented as the default choice for a "special thing to do together." I expect some people would be happier if their partners went ahead and had sex with someone else, but made sure only to give *them* fuchsia plants, for example.

Qualities of poly people

[Are poly people more empathic?]

I consider myself empathic. However, I am sometimes wrong about what I'm reading, so I tend to say "you seem [emotion]" rather than "I can tell you feel [emotion]" so as not to discount people's experience. I find that makes people more receptive to my observation.

I don't have to be 100% aware of my feelings to be empathic, but I get into some emotional states where I cannot read others accurately because my emotions (actually, it's more often my insecurities and paranoias) are clamoring for attention.

Many of the poly folks I know are not particularly empathic. I think a high degree of emotional sensitivity can actually prevent one from acting on poly tendencies, for two reasons: (1) one feels others' pain so much that if one's partner is uncomfortable with polyamory, one is likely to agree to be monogamous to spare the partner pain; (2) a highly emotionally sensitive person can express and feel love in situations that don't look traditionally romantic/sexual, and so may have less need/urge to be officially poly.

(Of course, there are plenty of examples of empathic and sensitive people who are poly. This is just an alternate viewpoint.)

I don't find that non-receptiveness is correllated with preferring familiar relationship patterns. Some non-receptive people like chaos because it keeps them from getting bored. :-) In contrast, my receptiveness goes along with preferring stable situations with lots of limits and expectations, because if situations and emotions change rapidly, I feel overwhelmed.

The ability to think of "close friend" and "loved one" as similar kept me from needing to be officially poly for a long time -- I could comfortably express my feelings for friends in ways acceptable to the monogamous culture. When I became officially poly because my partner and I negotiated it, it was nice not to have to limit my expressions, but not vitally important to me -- by contrast, my partner has more limited ways of feeling close to people (he needs to touch them) so he needed something that looked officially poly.

Models for poly relationships

[What is primary/secondary poly?]

For me, primary/secondary refers to two things:

1. Whether I am planning a future with someone. I plan a future with my primary partner(s); secondary partners don't get as much of a say in my plans.

2. How much time I spend with someone. If I consider someone a primary partner, I expect us to spend the lion's share of our time together (with occasional exceptions).

Primary/secondary doesn't for me refer to intensity of feelings; that is too changeable.

I am aware that my model limits the development of the relationships that I label "secondary." I consider that a fact of life: some relationships don't get a chance to develop as fully as they might, because of prior commitments, distance, or other practical issues. I think no matter whether we commit to hierarchies or not, we create them, and relationships are always developed within constraints. I make my hierarchies upfront and hold to them, rather than changing them as I go along because I like to know where I stand.

I would feel insecure if a partner I deeply cared about refused to tell me where I stood in zir life (maybe I should say "zir future") by saying zie wanted to focus on "what is happening at the moment." I tend to make plans around my primary partners. If someone won't make plans or commitments around me because zie wants to stay open to other options, that is the same to me as if they say "I am primary with someone else and can't be with you." I would label that relationship secondary.

I know I'm using somewhat loaded language here, but I'm really not trying to flame. I don't like nonhierarchical for myself, but I know it works well for some people.

[What's the difference between a friendship and a romantic relationship?]

I don't have a sexual partner or three, then I am quickly going to want to steer a cuddly friendship toward sex. Touching can be arousing for me, especially if I'm not getting enough sex.

I define "romantic" as a relationship that focuses on itself. I have romantic relationships with friends with whom I maintain separateness and with whom I don't spend a great deal of time.

[Is polyamory a behavior or a sexual orientation?]

There is no official answer to the question whether poly is an orientation for a particular person -- if you really want to know, you'll have to try it and see, or try something else and see if you can be happy with something else.

[Are monogamous relationships "false"?]

I don't know of any relationships that are grounded in a specific prohibition. I know of relationships that include a specific prohibition against sex with other people, but most of them are based in a lot of other things, and the prohibition against sex with other people is just one part of the relationship, not its base. Nor does the prohibition automatically become the base of the relationship simply because it is a specific prohibition.

Some people automatically chafe against a prohibition. But others do not. If something is prohibited to me, unless I want it anyway, the prohibition is not a big deal to me as long as I think there is a good reason for it.

[Does poly mean your lover will never leave you?]

It doesn't automatically follow from poly for me that my lover won't leave me for someone else, any more than "We have a committed relationship" follows from having sex with someone." It can be negotiated that way, sure, but...

To me, poly means "I may have relationships other than this one." Any other agreements are a la carte.

[Is it appropriate to publicly label your relationships?]

If one is interested in specifics, one should ask. I think public labels for relationships and public description of certain ground rules often help direct one's inquiries in the right direction. Most people will agree on the general area a label covers; few will agree on specifics. But it helps to focus the discussion.

If I'm interested in someone, I want for my own information and peace of mind to find out if there are other important people in their life and how that might affect my relationship with them, at least in the initial stages. It helps me decide how to proceed. I proceed somewhat differently with someone who has a primary partner than with someone who doesn't. Usually that works well for me.

[What if you and your partners have different models of polyamory?]

You and the others seem to have different preferences for what *kind* of polyamory you want. Some people want the "big happy family" kind, and some people want the "separate friends" kind. Both kinds are "good poly" but they can sometimes conflict.

My partner and I like it when we get along with each other's lovers, but we don't want a big poly family. I guess it's within the realm of possibility, but so far we haven't met anyone we want to marry, nor are we looking in particular. We both like having some separate friends. It's refreshing to get away for a time, even just an evening.

Unfortunately, I don't see a lot you can do to change your situation, given the current bunch of people you're working with, because you can't make people be friends with each other if they aren't so inclined.

You might try accepting the separate-friends paradigm most of the time and occasionally inviting your lovers to get together for dinner or a picnic. That can be helpful also as time to work out any issues that need discussing.

If the current situation feels very uncomfortable to you, you might begin by discussing it with your wife, telling her what you need and what you can tolerate, and then have her discuss it with her lover. If you want your wife and girlfriend to get along better, you can do a similar thing. A telephone game like that can be awkward and lengthy but it can preserve people's sense of privacy better than direct confrontation, and may result in a more comfortable situation in the long run.

[Is the desire for a primary relationship a cultural construct?]

People have been taught to think they need "a lifelong romantic/sexual partnership" and they may not need that as much as they think.

However, I've discovered that I very much want, simply, a *partner*. Not necessarily a lifelong partner, tho' that would be nice, not necessarily a sexual/romantic partner, in the standard sense of the word romance (although there has to be something kind of like romance there - mirroring each other, encouraging each other, thinking we're "neat").

A best friend. Someone I can share a lot of my life with. A muse.

The primary thing that I get out of this sort of partnership is motivation. When I'm by myself, I'm not much of a self starter. I meet my basic needs and explore a bit, but not much. When I have a partner, I find it easier to encourage and inspire myself, easier to explore farther.

I can do without this and even be reasonably happy, but I seem to be much more contented (if you can get the difference between "contented" and "happy" there) if I have it.

[Is cheating OK?]

I personally don't like the idea, because I've been there -- I was dissatisfied in a relationship and unable/unwilling to communicate my dissatisfaction, so living a double life in a sense -- not having an affair exactly, but not sharing myself. I found it extremely uncomfortable, cramped, and stuffy. And when I am around people who are choosing this option, I find it difficult to avoid jumping up and down and yelling "Don't! There are better ways!" But it doesn't mean that I think they are perverted outcasts. I just think they're making a mistake. :-)

[What do you do if your partner doesn't feel zie is important enough in your life?]

When I am dissatisfied with less than being primary, I can trace it to feeling that I am putting a "primary level" of effort into the relationship, and I want to get that back. I'm not dissatisfied being "secondary" in a relationship where I don't put in a lot of effort.

For your partner, which is it? Would she want to be number one in any relationship she was in, or is it that she wants to be number one in *your* relationship because so much effort has gone into it?

I like hierarchies because I like to know where I stand and what I can expect. I find it difficult to trust people, and if I do open up to someone in that way, then I want them to be there for me a lot of the time. If the person said "Well, I see a bunch o people, and I can't promise to be there for you if another of my bunch seems more interesting to me at the moment," then I wouldn't be inclined to expect much, and any deep level of involvement would trigger feelings of instability (because at a deep level, I would want and expect something more, something that I could not have from that person). In essence, in my internal landscape, I would have to place that person in the "secondary" realm because they do not seem reliable enough to be "primary."

I don't think there's anything wrong with secondary relationships. I like them a lot; in a way they are easier for me. But I can't get my mind around the idea of being devoted in a more-than-secondary sort of way to someone who might prefer to be with someone else at any time. And so if I decide to share living space, to share plans, to share most of my life with a lover (or lovers) I am going to want us to be committed to being available to each other, putting each other first most of the time.

I think that people who prefer the primary/secondary model, and people who prefer the no-hierarchies model, have a difficult time working out serious relationships with one another.

Can you be poly if you hate Heinlein?

Thinking that all poly people had pledged allegiance to Heinlein kept me from calling myself poly for a while.

As for open-minded, neither I nor Heinlein is open-minded -- we are both very opinionated. ("Open-minded" doesn't mean "likes what I like" or "likes certain alternative lifestyles.")

I read SIASL as a teenager. Now, I guess that a lot of people who read Heinlein as a teenager went "Ah ha!" and discovered a name for their poly tendencies. Well, despite the fact that I was an avid SF reader as a teenager, and very strongly liked a lot of what I read -- I simply had no reaction to SIASL at all except "shrug". I had poly tendencies, but SIASL's version didn't speak to me.

I also dislike the way certain Lazarus Long quotes about polyamory are indiscriminately bandied about in the poly community. I especially hate "Jealousy is invariably a product of neurotic insecurity." I think that's a very dangerous quote for poly people to promote as a motto, insofar as it implies jealousy is always the fault of the jealous person, jealous people are inferior, and jealous people can't be poly.

Defining orientation

I think of "bi" "het" and "homo" as applying to all forms of relationships -- acquaintanceship, casual friendship, close friendship, flirtation, cuddly casual friendship, cuddly close friendship, sexual relationship, romantic relationship, primary relationship, partnership, life-long partnership.

Most people have acquaintanceships with members of both sexes, so they are "bi" with respect to that sort of relationship. Some people prefer friends of their own sex, so they are "homo" {="same"} with respect to friendships. And so forth.

At this point I consider myself "bi" with respect to all kinds of relationships except primary relationships and partnerships; so far I have proved "het" in those areas.

I think these preferences can change over time. I know one woman who is exploring bisexuality for the first time at the age of 38, and another who is exploring it mostly for the first time (modulo a teen experience) at the age of 44.

How does swinging differ from poly?

Swingers frequently run in married pairs, I understand. I think swinging can be characterized as "just like marriage, except sometimes you have friendly sex with others." The deep-set assumption of the pair-bond and of "you can only love one person at a time" is not challenged.

On the other hand, the simplest characterization of poly is "openly loving more than one person at a time." There is nothing about a pair-bond in there, and the assumption "you can only love one person at a time" is out the window. Most people who have grown up with those assumptions find poly difficult to grasp. I did. (Heck, sometimes I still do.)

[Do long term relationships always go stale? Does it help to bring another party into the relationship?]

Poly is one way to enhance some relationships. It's not the only way.

If adding another person were the only way to crisp up a stale relationship, all relationships would have to multiply endlessly or go stale. Let's say you have a duo. To enhance it you must add a third. Then that would go stale and you'd have to add a fourth. Where does it end? What about enhancing relationships by doing different things together, pursuing new goals, not just seeking out fresh blood every few years? Friendships and other relationships that aren't based on sex/romance can also enhance a relationship.

I'm not saying that there is something wrong with poly, of course; nor am I saying that someone who risks changing zir relationship from mono to poly is being stupid. For some people and some relationships, that is a good kind of change to try. But I'm disagreeing with the opinion that a relationship *must* either be poly or become stale. I know plenty of long-term relationships that are neither stale nor poly.

Human beings do best with a combination of change and stability, not continual change, IMO.

[Should you try to define people as friends or lovers?]

I went through something like this with a long-distance lover last year. I felt the need to redefine the relationship as "friends" because unless I did so, I would continue to put more energy into it than it had room to contain, and I would continue to feel frustrated that the relationship wasn't as I expected.

The primary thing I wasn't getting was regular contact. In order for me to consider someone a lover/secondary partner, I need to be able to rely on seeing zir regularly, whether "regularly" means once every couple of weeks or once a year. I asked that of my lover and he couldn't do it.

So I said I had to consider the relationship "friends," and that meant I wouldn't be frustrated with the lack of regular in-person contact. (I was still willing to continue to have sex with him if and when we did get together.)

I think you're trying to use the word "lover" to describe two different kinds of relationships that include sex. Your relationship with J was apparently fairly intense emotionally for you. Your relationship with D and A is more casual. The only similarity in the relationships is that they all included sex.

You might get around the difficulty by naming them differently. For example, maybe D and A are "bed-friends" but J and you were "lovers" and are now "platonic friends."

Perhaps you put up boundaries with J and decided to stop being lovers with him because the relationship "lovers-with-J" involved a certain investment of time/energy on your part, and you weren't getting that back.

Redefining my relationship with my lover helped me to get some of my energy back, and helped me to stop investing that kind of energy in the relationship with no hope for its being returned.

Some people need to stop having sex for that to happen. Others don't. With others, it depends on the dynamics of the particular relationship.

Even poly people mourn the loss or change of relationships. A relationship fulfills a certain desire, and if it changes, even if you still care about the person, that can hurt a lot.

Poly is openly having multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships. If you have sexual and caring relationships with A and D, even if it's not the same quality of caring that you had for J when he was a lover, it's still poly, IMO.

I think that having sex with friends is OK if everyone is enjoying the experience. I don't think it has a lot to do with whether you call your feelings for your friends "love."

I also think that if your caring for a person makes you want to put a lot of energy into the relationship, the sex can get intertwined with that caring, and if you have to pull back from the person, you can feel that sex would be a bad idea, 'cos it would pull you back into putting more energy toward that relationship than it can handle.

Or to put it more succinctly: sometimes sex is easier in a more casual relationship.

I think you know in your heart whether you really want your Ideal Poly Relationship with A and D. I think that many people can have a variety of relationships, depending on the people involved, and be satisfied with them all. Other people are only happy with one kind, or a few kinds, of relationship. I suspect you're the former kind of person, but I don't have enough information to say.

[Can labeling a relationship differently change how you feel about it?

For me, sticking the *appropriate* label on a relationship does help me change how I feel about the relationship.

We all have expectations of our relationships. The expectations largely have to do with our label for the relationship. If we can find a label that matches what the relationship is best at, then our expectations can match the relationship better.

For example, I had a lover, a secondary partner. To me, this meant that we saw each other with some regularity, kept in contact with some regularity, had sex together, had romantic feelings about each other, and were not planning to significantly intertwine our lives.

Well, our relationship began spilling out of this container. We were intertwining our lives too much, and we were not seeing each other regularly (it is rather complicated how it could have been both at the same time, but just suspend disbelief for a moment :-).

Because of this spillage and confusion, our primary feeling about the relationship for a while was frustration.

Once I saw what needed to be done and said that we should redefine the relationship as "friends-who-see-each-other-when-convenient-and-have-sex," our frustration went away. This is a case of a label's changing how I felt about a relationship.

(Not how I felt about a person. Note the difference. I still have the same feelings for my former lover that I had then, although they are less strong, because we don't have day-to-day contact.)

Eventually, IMO, the label has to match the actions, not just the words. When it does, then the frustration that comes from trying to drag a relationship into a space that meets your expectations for that kind of relationship can begin to calm down.


[Kinds of commitments]

In the form of poly I practice, I am committed to my primary partner very deeply, in that I put a lot of energy into making sure this relationship is working for us, and making sure it will last. We are committed to planning a future together.

I am committed to my other partners in ways similar to my commitments to close friends -- I make time to see them on a regular or semi-regular basis when we are living in reasonable proximity; when we are not, I try to stay in contact via email or phone.

My secondary partnerships and friendships flow easily. I'm not willing to put a lot of energy into maintaining the flow of those friendships; if they become persistently rocky and uncomfortable, I tend to withdraw. Sometimes there is schedule juggling, to be sure, but even that I try to keep to a minimum by setting up regular dates with people I want to see regularly (once every two weeks, once a month).

[Defining commitments]

I have a definition of commitment I use for friendships -- the willingness to be in regular contact with a person. That might not take "substantial energy" but it takes a regular infusion of energy.

My definition of a primary partnership is a relationship in which I consider another's needs alongside my own.

Some people are capable of having only one such commitment (or none), but they are still poly. They may for example have a primary partner and treat their other lovers as friends with whom they have the friendship-version of commitment -- seeing each other regularly. Or they may treat all their lovers as friends.

I seem to be wired for partnership, which is to say that I put a lot of energy into one relationship at a time, while maintaining other relationships at a lower level. So I have one primary partnership (see above definitions) and my other relationships I consider friendships that include sex and romance. This also means that I want the person I am partnering with to put a lot of energy into zir relationship with me, and maintain other relationships at a lower level.

[Permanent vs. temporary commitment]

It takes a lot of trust to believe that a partner won't suddenly change zir mind. (I managed to stumble and drop this trust for a few hours over the weekend. It was very embarrassing.) But it is possible to develop this trust and hold it most of the time (even for a basically untrusting person like me :).

It is also possible to make a commitment about the circumstances under which one will leave, without making a "permanent commitment." The former is the only kind of commitment I will accept, because I think a permanent commitment, at least one that makes any promises about feelings, is quite simply a lie. One cannot predict the future with enough certainty to say that one will willingly stay in a relationship forever. So to commit to it is lying or not knowing oneself very well. And I would not want someone to stay with me unwillingly simply because they'd promised to. It would be like living with a ghost.

I ask for a commitment to work on solving problems and not to leave unless this attempt has been made. I think mutual decisions to leave are best, but I wouldn't go so far as to insist that no unilateral decisions are possible. I want the right to make a unilateral decision if I must -- if my partner were to begin abusing me frequently, for example. I can certainly predict that the likelihood of making such a decision is extremely low, and I can accept his statement of the same, and that lets me carry on trusting that it won't happen (most of the time).

[Behavioral aspects of commitment]

I am not able to commit to being patient with neglect. I want regular contact with my lovers. I also maintain regular contact with my existing lovers when I develop a new relationship.

He kept insisting that he was committed to me, and I didn't really believe it or want a promise of commitment. When I "called in" the commitment and asked him to agree to see me on a regular schedule instead of haphazardly, he was not willing. Intellectually, I was not surprised and did not consider it a betrayal. Emotionally I kind of did.

[Commitment vs. promiscuity]

You can only do one or the other (sluttishness or commitment) with a particular person. But if you're polyamorous, you can have committed relationships, and also spend time being a slut with people you're not in committed relationships with.

My definition of "slut" is "someone who seeks physical contact with as many people as possible." It doesn't include "not caring for the others' feelings."

[My partner isn't sure zie can have secondary relationships.]

People have different relationship styles. It doesn't surprise me that someone with no experience or natural inclination toward polyamory might find it difficult to conceive of how secondary relationships would feel. Also, some people just don't like secondary relationships; they want everyone to be equally important, or they can't do multitasking, so to speak (they need to focus on one person).

It sounds like a hidden message might be that if he finds another lover, he might end up leaving you in the process. It is unclear to me whether that is a threat or an honest belief, or how true it would actually turn out to be -- he probably doesn't know himself.

The best way to support him would be, again, trying to understand how he feels and accept that -- people's relationship styles differ, and I think it would be unrealistic of you to demand that he follow yours exactly.

Another way to support him and strengthen the relationship would be to sit down and write out lists of what you both want and what you both feel you can tolerate, and then look for overlaps. That might show a form of relationship that would be acceptable to both of you. Or it might show that there simply isn't one. Or it might show that you're close to one, and with some work and trust you might achieve it.

If he doesn't know how he's going to meet people, the best way to support him might be to put him in touch with people on this list and in alt.polyamory -- many of us have experience with meeting and maintaining secondary partners and we could provide evidence and suggestions.

He feels that he has to move out in order to have an open relationship. I sometimes felt the same way when my partner and I were negotiating polyamory. Some of my concerns:

As it happened, we did end up living together, but with a number of "rules" about how we interacted with other people in each other's presence, and in the house.

Again, I think the issue of separate vs. single residence would be best worked out during a session where you sit down and write down what you each want and what you can tolerate.

[Should you just accept that relationships change and end, rather than trying to keep them alive?]

Sure people ought to expect change. But people can influence the direction in which a change can go. You imply that any change in a relationship leads to the death of the relationship, so if someone starts ignoring you, you're better off leaving than trying to fix it. A lack of trust that profound is IMO a prescription for depression. I have a better self-image knowing that I can influence my relationships to last, influence them not to change in ways that will break them apart.

Even if one is certain of one's ability to support oneself financially and emotionally, one may still want one's relationship to continue, and one may still feel unhappy if it temporarily goes awry. For such situations, it's nice to know that you can influence your relationship by talking to your partner and negotiating options that work for both of you. It's nice to know that you don't have to simply walk out and look for someone new.

Relationships between monogamous and poly partners

[Can a monogamous person convince a poly person to turn monogamous?]

Monogamous people handle a poly person's other relationships in lots of different ways. Some people accept the other relationship. Some people insist that it end. Some people negotiate compromises.

Whether you can influence her to be with just you depends in part on how important the other relationship is to her, and on how important it is to her to be polyamorous. Some people just end up in that situation and don't want it as a lifelong lifestyle. Others strongly insist on it.

Talk to her, tell her you'd prefer her to be monogamous with you, ask whether the other relationship is importnt to her, ask whether polyamory is important to her, ask whether there is something you can do to convince her to be monogamous with you. Respect her answers.

[Can a poly person and a monogamous person be in a relationship?]

Case: someone wants the relationship to be monogamous, and zir partner doesn't, and they negotiate and discuss in order to figure out exactly what it is about a monogamous relationship that's desirable to the first person, and exactly what it is about a sexually open relationship that's desirable to the second person.

In this case, it might seem initially that sexual exclusivity is a sine qua non, but after discussion and negotiation it turns out not to be.

Very common among people who grew up with the idea that monogamy was the only possibility.

[Can a relationship between a poly person and a non-poly person last?]

Depends -- does the non-poly person want a *mutually* monogamous relationship? Or does zie simply not want to be poly zirself but not mind if zir partner is poly?

It also depends on the partners' definitions of monogamy and polyamory. For example, if the poly person wants primarily to flirt and cuddle with others, and the monogamous person thinks that flirting/cuddling falls within the realm of monogamy so long as it doesn't lead to sex, then there is overlap and the two can contentedly be in a relationship.

There are two keys to resolving such a conflict, IMO: (1) Finding potential areas of overlap despite possible differences in *language* for those areas. (2) Making sure that each person feels zie is choosing the relationship for zirself, and not just to make zir partner happy.

I think compromise can work if the other partner is making a sacrifice that seemed to be of relatively equal proportion. ("If I can be poly, I'll convert to your religion.") If one partner were seen to be making bigger sacrifices, I think it would be an unbalanced relationship.

However, there is no standard of appropriate compromise that exists outside a relationship. Each person has to decide what can be compromised and what can't, and how far.

[Can a relationship last between a person who wants a mutually monogamous relationship and a person who wants a polyamorous relationship?]

Qualities needed:

These are the qualities that allowed my partner and me to work successfully from a position similar to the one described.

However, I add in one more thing:

That's because, in the given scenario, there is no answer other than to put the two partners in a place neither is comfortable in (half monogamy/half polyamory -- the highest-stress place for both), or have one partner give in a whole lot more than the other. Neither situation bodes well long-term.

In my case, I was poly but wanted to give it up because I was having a problem with polyamory within our relationship. My partner wanted to keep it. I decided that I needed to be poly *for me*, and that it was therefore worth it for me to work with him on a poly relationship. I could not have decided that the relationship should be poly just to make him happy -- it was causing me too much distress. I don't think relationships in which one person experiences significant ongoing distress to make the other person happy are good.

If you contemplate choosing a relationship style to make your partner happy, are you willing to give up even very important beliefs/values/ desires in order to make your partner happy? If so, then you can just give up polyamory (or monogamy) and there's no problem.

However, many people are not willing to go that far....they are willing to put energy into make their partners happy up to a point, but there are some beliefs/values that they are not willing to sacrifice. For example, I think most people would have a problem committing murder of an innocent person at the request of a partner.

[Can monogamous and polyamorous people have successful relationships?]

Using rigid definitions of polyamorous and monogamous, yes, it is difficult. I find that some people's definitions are somewhat more fluid than they might realize. I've seen it work; on alt.polyamory several people discuss relationships in which mono and poly people co-exist contentedly.

If interfaith or interracial relationships succeed more often than mono/poly relationships, were those people who were very strongly attached to their religious beliefs and who wanted their family to be raised within those beliefs and wanted their spouses to convert? Or were they people who had personal religious beliefs but did not feel strongly about family's sharing those beliefs?

Monogamy is an extremely deep and often unquestioned belief system. (You only have to look at TV or listen to the radio with poly in mind to notice this!) However, I think a comparison with interfaith marriages leaves out a lot of middle ground.

Time pressures and scheduling

[Deciding how to spend time with a partner you don't see often]

I might say, having been presented with the list, "These things sound fun, but I'm afraid there might not be much time for us to relax together, and I'd really like that, because I don't get much time to see you. Does that sound reasonable to you, and is there any way we can rearrange things to work that into the schedule?"

Is this just a guest or is it a sweetie? You are disappointed because you didn't get some of the interaction you wanted -- to me that suggests perhaps you should not defer in this case, insofar as it affects your connection with your sweetie if you're disappointed.

I know what you're saying because I automatically think I shouldn't be a bother, and I find myself deferring in situations where I should negotiate. But in the long run, I've found, I'm much less of a bother if I can get some of what I want. :-)

The best way I've found to schedule no-expectations time is to schedule fewer engagements, and/or end engagements a while before it's time to go on to the next engagement, by saying "Well, we need some time to relax." Or say "No" to certain things with "We'd like to but we planned to spend that piece of time together."

The key is seeing that empty time as real. It's kind of a zen thing in a way. "The useful part of a pot is the empty space it contains."

[Spending time with a partner you don't see often, pt 2]

If I only have a few days with a sweetie, I keep them to myself as much as I can, limiting outside engagements and busy-time. If necessary, I hole up with them in a hotel room. If there are things to do/people to see, I make sure there is plenty of quiet just-us time in between outings or seeings.

Once I was planning to visit a sweetie and zie (without consulting me) planned a party for the time I was going to be there. I considered this a sign that zie didn't want me around, so much so that I said I would do something else that weekend if zie wanted to have a party. Seeing your description of your time with your sweetie, I understand a bit better now what was going on in zir mind (although I still wouldn't put up with it. :-)

Actually, come to think of it, I do this all the time, with all my friends/lovers, and my partner. Not just with an LD sweetie. I love one-on-one time with people.

Make quiet time, and guard it. You might feel you're not "really doing" something, but you are. You might feel you're being selfish, but you deserve it. It's real, it's important, and your friends/lovers/ partners will accept your need for this if you know how important it is.

[Finding time to spend with multiple partners]

I'm not sure where you got the idea that quantity time has to mean not working at all. However, if you want to talk about work, for many people, regularly working the 50-80 hours a week that is asked for in many professional urban jobs these days is not conducive to maintaining the best quality of relationship.

I would think that one of the potential advantages of "N>2" households would be that with three or more income-producers, it would be possible for individuals to work fewer hours if they wished.

As for being alone, I love it and need it. That has little to do with "quantity time" for me. For me there is a different quality to a relationship that includes enough together-time that some of it can be spent doing separate things together, rather than interacting intensely.

When I got into such a relationship, I had been single and had lived alone for a long time, so quantity time, doing-separate-things-together, was something I wasn't at all used to. It took me a while to get used to it. But I find now that it greatly strengthens the fabric of our relationship and I don't like doing without it.

Success and poly

[Success and happiness]

To me, happiness is a transitory state. There have been times in my life (such as yesterday) when I felt very unhappy, but I also felt I was making the right decisions and moving toward things that I wanted in the long run, so I considered my life and choices successful.

I also think it's not possible to run a study based on self reports of happiness or success. (See my post on the subject.)

I went through a year of misery before we began to make poly work well for us. If you'd come on me within that year I guess you'd have stamped me "unhappy: not right for poly" and tossed me on the ash heap. I don't approve. I'm damn glad my therapist didn't give me some battery of personality tests and then tell me I should give up the idea because I was clearly too jealous and territorial to make poly work.

"Personality traits" have nothing to do with success at polyamory -- polyamory (which comprises a great many different relationship styles in itself) is for as many different kinds of people as monogamy or any other relationship style is.

[What traits make someone successful at poly?]

Rather than trying to identify personality traits (that help with poly), I think it's better to try to identify strategies that have worked and not worked. (Elise's FAQ "How to F*** Up" does this VERY well.)

My partner is an impatient person, and I'm a high-maintenance person, and we get along just fine.

I'm a jealous person, and my partner is a poly person, and we do just fine. People are not simply collections of characteristics such as "jealous." People can affect their circumstances, can figure out and solve problems.

I think it's important to have some way of identifying good and bad poly strategies, but I'm not thrilled about the idea of stamping "Poly Seal of Approval" on certain people based on their MMPI scores and withholding it from others.

I'm territorial. I asked my partner not to have sex with other people in our bed. Neither of us has a problem with that request. And we're still poly.

[Can you measure success?]

What's marital success? And why would that be used as a measure of success? If it were, both of us would be marked as failures. I'm 33 and have never been married. Obviously that means I am not in any marital success category. Even if I were married, a researcher would discover that my marriage has failed to be properly monogamous. So they would probably conclude a sense of commitment is lacking; that would put me into the marital failure category.

I have the same problem with the "psychological problems" measure of success. How do I know that a researcher wouldn't conclude I have psychological problems because I am unmarried, bisexual, and/or polyamorous?

I don't think there is any way at all to look at someone *else's* life and judge whether they are a success or failure.

Is it unhealthy to allow your partner to restrict whom you get involved with?

Depends on how the people involved want to work things. My partner and I do have some say in whom our partner gets involved with, and we don't consider that an unhealthy or unhappy situation; it works well for us.

Poly and your existing relationship

[Coming out when you're already in love with someone else]

A declaration of love for someone else is not the best way to open negotiations about polyamory. It can feel very threatening. Opening poly negotiations in a monogamous relationship can be tricky and it's best to have the consent of your important partners before going ahead with a polyamorous situation.

Your new relationship may not be a threat to the fact of your relationship with your partner or to your love for your partner, but it's definitely is a threat to your partner's desire that you love her exclusively and your new relationship is a threat to the *kind* of relationship you had. That you try to tell your partner that the new relationship is not a threat suggests a deep lack of understanding of how your partner feels and what's important to her. One way toward healing in this relationship is to try very hard to understand why your new relationship *does* feel like a threat to J.

I think that you should talk to L about the possiblity of ending your relationship, rather than putting the whole burden onto yourself. I know you will feel terrible if you have to leave her or put your relationship with her on hold. But I think you should spare yourself the argument that you have an "obligation" to maintain a relationship with her. She is an adult and entered into this situation freely. You have no obligation to *protect* her from a situation that she was the primary cause of in the first place (by expressing her love to you and suggesting polyamory).

Sounds like you've all experienced your share of heartbreak. So don't think that you can protect the others from hurt. You will show them more respect if you allow them their own hurts.

Your heart tells you that you are willing to take J back and remain monogamous if she wishes it. I think you should follow your heart on this one. However, since J and L are talking, the chances are good that you will be able to maintain at least a friendship with L. It might be hard to maintain a friendship without physical contact or expressions of love, but if you can do that for a time, J may become more comfortable with the situation -- *seeing* that you can be in contact with L without threatening your relationship with J. Then she may be more willing to allow a more demonstrative relationship between you and L.

[Example of a transition from mono to poly]

I was poly before meeting my current partner, in terms of having overlapping nonserious relationships from time to time. But when it turned out that we wanted to be partners, a different script suddenly started playing, and it included monogamy. Problem was, we had been poly up to that point and neither of us wanted to give up our other sweeties. Also, the script responded to any public interest in other sweeties or potential sweeties with a certain degree of uncomfortable possessiveness.

I had been poly too, so I didn't think he was "using me." But *I* was willing to give it up to be monogamous, now that we were in a *real* relationship, and I didn't understand why he wasn't.

When I considered being poly because he wanted me to, I felt that was giving away too much of my power and too much of *my* vision of the relationship. When I considered being poly because *I* wanted to, the desire wasn't strong enough to push me through the pain we were going through.

At this point my partner had given me the gift of offering to be monogamous if that's what I wanted, and we had been monogamous temporarily for a couple of months. I had to decide which it was going to be.

So I turned to a method I use for getting intuitive answers to things, and it said, to my surprise and some displeasure, "You must be poly."

That was the best way for me to get through the difficulty -- replace one script with another, more intuitive and better attuned to who I was as a person.

[Making a transition to poly]

In my experience, making the cognitive shift from mono to poly takes a year or two (and some parts of it take more -- there are some parts I don't 'get' yet and don't know if I ever will). And it can't be made in the abstract -- it has to be experiential.

So give yourself a break. It's OK to be confused and scared at first. And for many months to come, actually. The important thing is to keep talking about it with your partner (and ideally with others who understand that you're trying to accept polyamory).

The fear of being replaced: Why is it juvenile? Are adults supposed to be big and strong -- and so emotionally numb that they don't care whether they have a primary partner or not?

I hadn't reached a comfort level when we began implementing our poly agreement. But we were both willing to go with my being somewhat uncomfortable in the hopes that it would change. I was willing to go with it because I believed that polyamory was right for me in the long run, not just because I wnted to make my partner happy.

The key was this: separating actions from feelings. I could not change my feelings. But I could say: "I will allow you to go ahead and do X, if you allow me to be uncomfortable about it."

And my partner was willing, if he could do X, to let me rant about X a bit. It wasn't easy for him, but he hung in there. And slowly that helped my feelings of discomfort to shrink.

What did *not* work was when we believed that if I showed uncomfortable feelings that meant I was manipulating my partner into not doing X. And it did not work to believe that, not only did I have to put up with my partner's doing X, but I had to smile and cheer about it.

[Making a transition from cheating to poly]

There are several issues going on here.

(1) You're being told that you "should" accept something, that you should change your feelings. But feelings can't be scolded into changing. You don't accept the relationship right now and that's that.

Of course, your feelings are not the same as your actions. Despite your feelings, you might still choose to give permission for the relationship to continue, or ask that it end, or decide to stay out of it, or any number of other options. But your feelings are your feelings regardless.

(2) It may take some time to assimilate finding out that your husband had a secret relationship. Your having a lover too is probably not going to make it a lot easier.

(3) Your husband's lover also has feelings about the situation, and it seems things are turning out in a way she does not particularly like. True, she "asked for it" in a way by agreeing to an illicit relationship with the possibility that it might be discovered, but once again, that doesn't change the fact that she has feelings about it.

I would recommend getting it all out on the table with a discussion among the three of you, or a discussion between you and her in private. The goal would be to come to an open agreement among the three of you about what sort of relationship(s) will exist among you -- something that you can all agree is at least marginally acceptable to try, although you may not be really happy with it. It may be of course that there is no overlap, but if there is, it's worth the work to find it.

[Transition from cheating to poly, part 2]

If I were in your position, and I *wanted* to talk to her, or my partner wanted me to, I would check on as many of those assumptions as I could beforehand. I would voice my concerns to my partner ("I'm afraid if I talk to her, it will break up your relationship with her") and then wait for him to give me the go-ahead to talk to her or not.

I can vouch for the healing power of talking one-on-one to a partner's partner whom I've felt uncomfortable with in the past. It hasn't solved all my feelings of discomfort, but it's a lot easier to see where they are coming from, and it is nice to know that they are not (any longer) coming from personal animosity between us.

I've accepted my poly side, but my partner has a big jealousy hang-up.

Why is poly a "side" of you to be accepted, whereas jealousy is a "hangup" of hers?

Until you can understand how poly can also be seen as a "hangup" and jealousy can be seen as a "side" of someone to be accepted, it may be difficult to work this out with your SO.

Furthermore, it will be difficult to make progress with your SO unless she feels that not just you but also she will be getting something out of a poly relationship.

How can I get my partner to see the positive side of polyamory?

Stop trying to "get" her to see things. She needs to discover the positives for herself, or simply decide it's not for her.

Positives of polyamory for me:

I know that I want to start a new relationship. How do I move things forward with my partners?

If it were me, I'd open the discussion with my primary partner first, and try to find out exactly what concerns zie has about the idea. Find out what zie wants, what zie can tolerate; what I want, what I can tolerate, and look for some overlap where everyone gets what they most want and avoids what they most hate.

Once my primary partner and I had worked out an agreement on what behavior was OK to try (subject to the proviso that the agreement can be changed if the behavior turns out to make someone feel really uncomfortable after all), then I would open the dicussion with the secondary partner and tell zir about the parameters that have been agreed upon. If the secondary partner agreed to try things under those parameters, then I would set up a discussion with all three people.

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Last updated: 12/26/96
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Copyright 1996 Stef Maruch