Monday, January 17, 2011

Poly Morality.

"If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was."

I believe that. It's hard sometimes to reconcile with the toddler part of my brain, the part that can't distinguish "want" from "should have," but it's right, and I think ultimately it's inescapable. Having someone's love because they're not allowed to do anything else is as untenable as it is pointless.

I also believe love is about what you do, not what you don't do. If someone gives me kindness and affection and companionship and spectacular sex, what right does that give me to tell him what to do in the rest of his life? "You love me? Oh, that's wonderful. Don't take up fencing."

And I find in my own heart, what I feel for one doesn't diminish what I feel for another. Playing with one person never made me less horny for another, and being close to one never made me farther from another. To have multiple lovers seems as natural to me as having multiple friends--no one of them means exactly the same thing to you, but it would be ridiculous to say that means only one of them is "real."

It wouldn't be fair to say I think only polyamory is moral--certainly lots of people make a considered choice to only be with each other romantically and sexually, and hell, I've seen weirder things.

But I'm starting to think it's the only thing that's moral for me. It's not even about dating multiple people. It's about accepting that your partners are not your property, extensions of yourself, employees, or anything you can control or even fully understand. They're just people you happen to love.

I also believe that chosen families make for the best warmfuzzies.


  1. For one thing, I have never really understood monogamy. I mean, I'm steeped enough in our culture to be a jealous bitch when offered anything else, but why? I can love my husband and my friends and that's okay. I am fully expected to love my husband and a passel of kids, and nobody says, "You're having another child? How could you possible love a second child? That's insane/unfair/immoral!"

    I mean, I love your blog, it doesn't make me love the Slacktivist less, no matter how different you both are from each, and from me.

    Really, I think a lot of people (like me) would be polyamorous if it weren't regarded so poorly in our culture. And that says, either way, some things about me that I probably need to consider.

  2. I didn't have a clue that living polyamory was even a thing until I guess the last 10 years and the internet. I'd heard tell of that failed experiment called "open marriages" back in the olden days of the 70's.

    I could say that given perfect freedom, poly would suit me, but at this point perfect freedom I do not have (as in "nothing left to lose"). Actually, my dating and FWB relationships while I was single operated like that, but without the label and the radical honesty. I understand how having very strong feelings for different people is, and how I was different with different people. I used to joke with my friends like, "If I could wrap them up into one person, he'd be the perfect man for me." (Which is kind of a crappy way of thinking about other human beings, oy.)

  3. I really love the idea of polyamory, but I haven't yet figured out how I could manage it with my insecurities. Because of the insecurity, I get jealous and have hurt people I care about. It's hard to want something you may not be able to handle emotionally.

  4. I love your idea on love-- that there isn't a specific category that someone slots into, but rather a focus on just love.

    Okay, it sounds a lot better when you say it, because I'm sounding like some hippie throwback.

    Peace y'all.


  5. Yesss- I find the property subtext of traditional romance to be rather icky. This is one reason my partner and I aren't married (we also think the legal stuff needs updating, and find it offensive that we wouldn't have the option if we'd been the same gender.)

    I think it's kind of crazy that in the popular ideal of a relationship, one partner is expected to be absolutely everything or satisfy every single one of your needs. Nobody is perfect, it's unhealthy and unrealistic to expect this. In practice, even monogamous people still have other emotional connections in friends, family, etc. As PersonalFailure points out, it's not considered immoral to love your spouse and kid or multiple kids.

  6. @ Anon 6:04pm:

    I think it's kind of crazy that in the popular ideal of a relationship, one partner is expected to be absolutely everything or satisfy every single one of your needs.

    I don't think one person is supposed to satisfy every single one of your needs -- hence the friends & family you mention. I think one person can satisfy one's romantic emotional needs (or, at least, the romantic-emotional needs for some/many 'ones'); monogamy may not be for everyone, but that doesn't mean it's not for anyone. I've seen (and been a part of a) happy monogamous relationships. Chacun a son gout and all that...

  7. It's not even about dating multiple people. It's about accepting that your partners are not your property, extensions of yourself, employees, or anything you can control or even fully understand. They're just people you happen to love.

    Hell, I believe in this and my bf and I are monogamous. I explain my attitude at length here:

  8. "...satisfy every single one of your needs."
    Don't forget that the notion of satisfying every wish is rather novel as well. No harm in denying yourself some of your wishes rather than bend your beloved over them.

  9. Just wanting to second perversecowgirl on this one. I completely support polyamory and so on, but being a monogamist, I don't choose that because I want to "control" my partner, or anything like that. It's that I personally cannot love multiple people equally at the same time (I know others can, but my brain does not work that way), so I don't mesh well with someone who is able to. It just creates unnecessary conflicts in our viewpoints and so forth.

    Now does that mean I'm opposed to ever trying my hand at it? Not at all. But right now, I can't see myself as being capable of doing that, and doing it fairly.

    I mean no personal offense Holly, but this blog post seems to be implying a "monogamists feel a need to control their partners" line of logic, and that implication makes me nervous. I'd say that people needing to control their partners is a separate issue, whether you're dating one, two or four people. I've seen controlling behavior in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships, and a lack thereof in both as well.

    (And I apologize if I misread your point.)

  10. @Anon

    I was getting a tinge of that as well, only from a different perspective. I'm single-ish at the moment, but I can easily see myself being in a tightly committed, closed polyamorous relationship where everyone involved in the triad/quad/whatever was dating everyone else. And in that case, to me, yeah we are a family. And a family is distinct from an individual. A parent can't just decide to move across the country, for instance, without thinking of the effect it'll have on his/her children in terms of separating them from other family members, friends, school, etc. In the end, the best decision for everyone might indeed be to move. But the decision shouldn't be made without considering the needs of everyone in the family.

    I'm VERY much a creature of habit by nature. Moves across the country, career changes, these aren't things I take lightly. They're not adventures for me. They're traumatic. Hell, I don't even like going out for dinner without 24 hours notice. This is just how I am. There's nothing wrong with other people feeling otherwise, but if I'm with a partner who doesn't consult me about major life changes, it will stress me out something AWFUL. I don't care about fencing lessons or things like that, but if I'm going to commit to someone(s), I consider our lives as becoming intertwined. Our finances, a house, pets, whatever: we're going to get joined together somehow and things my partner(s) do/does with his/her/their life/lives (oh god, English) affect me. So I get a say. And vice versa.

    And I don't expect my partners to stay with me forever if they're unhappy but if things get serious, I do expect some kind of commitment beyond the level of two ships passing in the night. They're not locked in a cage, but I could never feel truly comfortable with someone who believed the bonds between us could and should be instantly dissolvable.


  11. Adult humans tend to form dyads intimate partners, and use physical intimacy to express that connection and strengthen that bond. It has its roots in child rearing, but yes, there are lots of arrangements out there and there is no "one true way".

    Having said that, I think there is a qualitiative difference between "I expect my partner to be monagamous" and "You will not take up fencing". As an intimate partner, there's a whole lot of inter-mingling finances, dreams, plans, etc. I like the concept of "for better or for worse, in sickness or in health." I was dumped when I was lying in a MICU bed, by someone whom I thought had my back, and that felt worse than what put me in ICU.

    Right Andy, I don't wish to keep anyone against their will, but I can require due care and consideration.

  12. Sometimes I feel like you're blogging right out of my brain.

  13. @williamthecoroner

    I also like the "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health", but I don't think that a liking for that necessarily contradicts the monogamy/fencing thing.

    I can expect committment and care from my partners without considering who they have sex with as any more important than who they fence with. And if they're capable of loving and taking care of multiple people at once, I don't see why they shouldn't.

    I should also add that having two girlfriends (who aren't also dating each other) has actually made me more capable of supporting both of them - because if K is in trouble, I can support her really wholeheartedly, and know F has my back if I burn myself out and need someone to lean on myself, and vice versa.

  14. In theory, polyamory looks really, really nice.

    in reality, for me, i have certain specific issues. [short answer - i was never "first" for ANYONE in ANY WAY until i ended up with current b/f.] also, even when i was in an "open" relationship, just even thinking about doing something with someone else made me physically ill.
    but - i used to not care if my partner had other partners - so long as he was SAFE with it. this has backfired in the most peculiar ways [like the time a b/f asked me to tell a girl that i didn't CARE if they sex, and by the time it came around to b/f's MOM, she somehow got the impression that i'd threaten to kill the girl if she even LOOKED at my b/f...?]

    i knew i was actually IN LOVE with current b/f, when the thought of HIM sleeping with someone else made my physically ill.

    but - other than certain, SPECIFIC things [i.e. "girlfriend" things, that you only do with your significant other]... his best friend is a girl, most of his friends are girls [and most of mine are guys] we do things together, but we do LOTS of things not-together.

    what it boils down to is what the people involved can handle. i just cannot handle being poly MYSELF. i don't care what other people do, so long as they are all consenting adults. i WANT people to be happy [i just want to be happy, too]
    there are people who are JUST MONOGOMOUS. i'm, apparantly, one of them. doesn't mean i didn't sleep around a lot when i WASN'T in a relationship - just means that, in a relationship, i don't.
    but different people have different needs. for me, however much i like sex [oh DO I!] it's not a *need* [as i've learned over the past year of literally not being physically ABLE] what *IS* a need is trust - trust that, given equally horrible circumstance, i win [that sounds horrible, doesn't it? but if both I and a random friend are dying at the same rate in a hospital, i expect my b/f to see me FIRST. i win. i can't take anything less than that, not anymore]

    and it works *for us*
    if something doesn't work, fix it [or, i guess, leave it]

    i *AM* laughing at how you used the "if you love something, let it go... comes back, it's yours, doesn't, it never was" as a way to explain why poly can be good and work - because just last week, i had someone VERY SOLOMNLY explain to me "why poly can't work" by quoting that, and then saying "in a poly relationship, there's NEVER that point of "letting go" so how can you ever know if you really love them, or they love you, when you never ever test it, you just hide all your problems behind OTHER people"
    i don't BUY it, but it sure made for some pleasant ironic amusement for me :D

  15. Even in vanilla, m/f one-man one-woman marriage with ceremonies and rings and everything, it still doesn't really work if either side really believes he or she can't leave no matter what.

    I reached a point in my marriage where I could no longer maintain my old stance of "I'm unhappy, but I will never leave no matter what, and you should reward that loyalty by helping me find happiness." I had to sit her down and say, "I never want to leave, and I do love you, but I'm going to divorce you in a year if we don't make big changes."

    If I'd kept trying to be that loyal guy who would never leave for any reason, I really believe I was a year or two away from reaching a breaking point that would have split us up--*without* giving her a chance to change, because she thought (not without justification, really) that if I was saying I would stay forever, I must not be *that* unhappy.

  16. Holly, I just discovered your blog and I'm reading posts at random, so sorry this is over a year late. This is spot.on. how I feel and have felt all my life, but because no-one understands it around me I've been in serious monogamous relationships for the last 6 years and never satisfied. It feels so good to get some validation! Thank you so much x