Polyamorous Predicaments

I recently got an email from a fellow blogger (sleepykitten – check out her stuff here!) who is not currently poly, but had a lot of questions about poly. She asked some great questions (enough to fill up three months worth of blog posts – so I’ll definitely be going back to that well a few times.) For now, I wanted to address one passage that she sent me:

Previously I thought being poly would mean your heart will feel less pain.  If one person left you, you’ve got your other partners to count on.
But then I realise being poly can mean you’re open to being used.  One person may think they are poly but they are in fact just promiscuous and in the end they are just playing with your heart.

Wow, what a great conversation starter!  I think that this very insightful woman  brings up a great topic of concern to everybody – polyamorous and monogamous alike.  I love this type of email, because it really prompts me to look deeper into my own belief system, as well as the way that I live my life, to see if I’m truly doing the “right thing”  - because ultimately, I think that polyamory is largely about doing the right thing. If we’re constantly focused on that, I think we will have a much smoother path.

So, let’s break down what sleepykitten (shortened to SK from here on out) has suggested here.

SK’s Observation #1: Polyamory will decrease pain, due to “backup” partners. When any relationship ends, it’s a kind of death. Even bad relationships probably had one or two good things going for them, so on some level, the end of a relationship is going to bring pain. Having a strong network of support is what helps you overcome that pain. This is the same whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous. Emotionally healthy people have a strong network of relationships that will help them through those hard times. Those family members and friends that will help them figure out the grieving process, hold them when they need to cry, or just listen to them vent frustrations. That network is so important, and I think building these systems is so vital to our emotional health.The only difference between poly and mono I can see here is that poly-folk potentially have other partners who they can find some physical comfort with. I know that when I’m feeling down, physical intimacy (from cuddling to sex and all points in between) can offer a nice temporary relief from the pain. I’m not suggesting, mind you, that you bury your grief in sex, but that perhaps you use it as one tool to help you get through those tough times. So, that’s one extra piece where poly is nice, but it’s a very small piece.

SK’s Observation #2: Poly opens you up to being used. Again, I see very little distinction between monogamous and poly people here. Almost all of my monogamous friends have been “used” at some point by somebody who didn’t have their best interests at heart. Sometimes for sex, sometimes for affection – even sometimes on a monetary level. Using another person in these ways is unethical, and should be avoided no matter what. I would hope that within polyamory, which is supposed to be centered around the notion of ethics, we would actually have less of this happening. But yes, it still happens. I’ve seen it, and will continue to see it. SK is right, some people might think they’re poly, when really they’re not. But then, some people might think they’re monogamous, when they’re not. I know I thought I was monogamous for nearly my entire adult life. I’m sure that KA thinks that I “used her,” that I deceived her into thinking I was somebody that I wasn’t. But the sad fact is, we don’t always know who we are – it takes time to figure that out. In my case, it took nearly 40 years.

I also want to touch briefly on SK’s use of the term promiscuity in her email. Personally, I have no problem with promiscuity. I am extremely sex positive, and often embrace my own inner slut (read The Ethical Slut if you haven’t already!). I think that expressing promiscuity in a responsible and ethical way is perfectly acceptable. But those that do it unethically, as SK suggests above, are indeed using sexual partners in an unethical way. And those that are doing it under the guise of poly are the people that give poly a “bad name.”

Unfortunately, I have seen this effect up close. While I was visiting California recently, I had a conversation with a devoutly monogamous woman. She spent some time trying to convince me how wrong polyamory was. After about 45 minutes of listening to her go on about the error of my ways, I finally got to the bottom of why she was so against polyamory. She had gone out on three lovely dates with a man she had met online. This guy was awesome, apparently, and she was smitten. On the third date, this guy revealed to her that he was married, but that his wife was OK with him dating, because they were polyamorous. I tried to explain to this woman, who was very progressive and super intelligent, that this man was not, in fact, polyamorous. I explained that polyamorous people, when dating, don’t lie to their relational partners. The fact that he started an entire relationship with her on false pretenses pointed to the fact that he was, in fact, not an ethical non-monogamist. Perhaps his wife did know of his activities. But even if she did, the fact that he lied to this woman, leading her to believe he was single -well that’s the epitome of unethical and dishonest behavior! This one man single-handedly destroyed the notion of poly for this woman.  Upon leaving the conversation, she still insisted that I was wrong, and that all poly people are dishonest.

I will be, at some point, discussing this topic further – Cunning Minx, the awesomest poly podcaster out there (check her out) recently did an entire post/podcast about poly-infighting. You see, there are a lot of poly people out there trying to tell others that they’re doing poly “wrong.”  The thing with poly is that there are a lot of variations on what we do. But I also think there are some wrong ways of going about it. Lying to our relationsal partners is wrong  - no matter what kind of relationship, mono, poly or otherwise!  Honesty must come before all else! Spread the word my friends! Be honest – with yourself, with your partners, with everybody! Do so, and the world will be such a better place!

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11 Responses to Polyamorous Predicaments

  1. Um *raises hand* I’m a polyamorous non slut here (though, still sex positive)

    Any relationship you are in is equal in terms of possible heart break and manipulations. However, polyamory is the basis that love is infinite.

    • Great point – as my blog states, it’s not about the sex! While I am quite the slut, many poly people aren’t. Poly is more about emotional and romantic connections. Those who really just want more sex (without the emotional part) are better of trying the Swinging thing. There is, of course, some crossover.

  2. Deirdre says:

    One of the wonderful things about having multiple loves is the support is that network of support–my lovers are there are comfort me if a relationship breaks down, and I can do the same for them. A network makes compersion that much more powerful, too–my hubs would call that the “poly multiplier effect.”

  3. Spunky80 says:

    There’s nothing worse than putting so much time and energy into someone who thinks they want poly but really has no idea how to be poly. And ends up walking away as if you were nothing to them

    • I agree, but I feel that this kind of feeling isn’t exclusive to polyamory. For example, a major sticking point for KA is that she wanted kids…and so did I – or so in thought. Then over time I really shifted on this. (For the record, I’m pretty sure I don’t want kids, but never say never!) I definitely didn’t want kids with her. Upon hearing this she was devastated. In her mind, I probably just walked away from her as if she were “nothing” – but in reality, I just discovered part of myself that I didn’t know existed.

      I feel this heartbreak thing isn’t exclusive to poly – I feel that anybody can have their heart broken by somebody discovering themselves (think of the men and women who live “straight” lives only to come out at some point and end up divorcing their spouses).

      As always, love your insights!

      • Spunky80 says:

        Oh no I totally agree with you, that a broken heart is not exclusive to any relationship arrangement. But in my case it was trying to get this person to open up to me and work towards the poly family she said she wanted but ended up just walking away and cutting me out of her life.
        It was the effort that I tried to put into it and yet she expected more and more and more. I cannot deal with takers, you know, the ones who take and take and give nothing back. They drain me and I’m learning to steer clear of them.

  4. Having other partners was a HUGE comfort to me in the end of my marriage and in a boyfriend I loved very much and I breaking up. It is a rare and kinda wonderful thing to be held by someone you’re in love with when your heart is just smashed. There are things that people often go through in the breakup of a marriage that weren’t my experience. I didn’t wonder if I would ever have love again or if I was awful and unwantable. There were a lot of really difficult times during my divorce and it was amazing to have my love kissing me and holding me and loving me after a really touch day, or destracting me with fun dates and such. A lot of that can be done by friends of course, but it really was a great comfort. That, and my metamours (partners others) were so supportive. It’s a HUGE thing to be surrounded by love at a time like that.

    That partner who has been such a support just went through a change with one of his partners too, and it was so intimate to be able to support him and love him and listen to him while he worked through stuff too.

    And as for lovers using us.. well.. yeah. There are some pretty unhealthy relationships out there, mono and poly. I personally am a slut, a term I’ve embraced. I’ve felt used in mono and poly and some of that for me had to do with me not being sure or being clear about what I want and need. I don’t always choose to put up with the same kinds of things I once would have, and I’m slow to invest now. For me that works.. to not really give too much to someone too soon. It helps me avoid committing to bad situations or people that are a bad fit for me. It’s not foolproof, clearly, but it helps. And when I’m wrong, well, I’m surrounded by love and I learn.

    • As the co-host of the podcast Honest, Open, and Vulnerable (hovpodcast.wordpress.com), which examines polyamory, among other issues, it has been my experience that polyamory only works if all involved are totally open and honest with one another from the beginning. Otherwise, you are no better than a cheater. I, too, listened to Cunning Minx’s podcast on not judging others for not doing poly “correctly.” While I agree with what she was saying in spirit, I too take exception to the belief that a relationship based on lies, even those of omission, is not open to criticism. I know that in the poly community that I belong to, there are members who practice the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” model, and that’s fine for them. However, these are not people who I consider my friends and definitely these are not people I would EVER consider dating because I believe that honesty is everything in a polyamorous (or any other kind of) relationship. I would like to believe that my partners and I are the majority rather than the minority in this belief. It has been my experience that poly only works if all involved can be open and honest with all involved. It is also my belief that a healthy relationship is founded on respect, and love both for yourself and your potential partners. That means you can’t keep a lot of secrets and still maintain that respect. Keep in mind this is just my opinion, and this comes from my experience. I have also been somebody’s mistress….twice. So I am FAR from perfect and have NO room to “judge” anyone. I only have one caveat when I am considering dating someone: don’t lie to me. As long as you are honest with me, we’ll work through the rest of whatever issues arise. However, the minute you lie to me, you’ve violated my trust and that is a deal breaker for me. Others may have different boundaries, but that’s one that I have that is non-negotiable for me.

      The other thought I wanted to touch on was the comment about how having more lovers will lessen the pain of a break up. This is a ridiculous concept. I like how you say that a break up is like a death. That’s it exactly. Even a short-lived relationship is still very much valid and real and that pain is very much real. If anything, I think in some ways, the more lovers you have, the more difficult the break ups can be. I personally have limited the number of relationships I can maintain simultaneously to two, because any more than that, and it becomes more difficult for me to do the balancing act necessary to give everyone (myself included) what they need. Quality over quantity. I have friends who love to have many relationships, the more the merrier, and it works great for them. I just know what works (and doesn’t work) for me.

      • I don’t know if you replied to my comment on purpose, but I wanted to address the idea that having more lovers would lessen the pain of a break-up being a ridiculous concept.

        First, I never said having more lovers makes heartbreak hurt less or lessens my pain. I shared MY EXPERIENCE that having partners who loved me and helped me through my breakups was comforting to me. That is not a ridiculous concept. It’s my experience. My breakups still hurt VERY much and of course having one partner never replaces another in any way. I was only saying that I found my partner’s and my metamours’ support comforting.

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