Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fairly unfair.

Rowdy and I are not officially a mono/poly couple, but we're pretty close these days.  I've only had sex with other people a handful of times this year (so, uh, super monogamous) and no real dates, whereas he's seeing several other people on a regular basis.  More than once he's gone to a sex party while I've stayed home; many, many times he's been on a date with someone else while I've hung out with friends or watched DVDs.

This is awkward, because I used to disapprove of mono/poly relationships.  They struck me as unfair and kind of icky, especially when they were between a polyamorous man and a monogamous woman--"boys will be boys, stand by your man" has all kinds of really nasty sexist implications.  I always worry there's a coercive element, that the man is too jealous to let the woman spread her wings and have her own fun, or that the woman wants monogamy but is too powerless to negotiate for it.  ...And now it's my life.

But here's the choice I was faced with:

A) Run out and date people just to be dating them, so I could go "ha! I'm polyamorous too! our relationship is symmetrical!"  Crappy for me, double crappy for the people I'd be using just to keep my Poly Enlightenment Cred.

or

B) Embrace the asymmetry as something that, despite looking the same as some really shitty unfair situations, works for me.  I don't want other partners right now, I'm happy for my partner that he does, and that's good enough.

So screw fair.  I'll settle for happy.



Our favorite stupid joke to make before sex is "Dude!  I just had an idea how we can both get laid!"  And then we fistbump and go "score, bro!"

That's what being partners really means to me.  It's about beating the system, the ugly sexist system that tries to pit us against each other, and working together to build our own system.  Sometimes it's a messy and patched-together system, the way homebuilt things tend to be, and it takes constant tinkering, but it's custom-fit to us and our weird contradictory ways.  And when it works, god damn do I feel like I'm getting away with something.

82 comments:

  1. I see your arrangement as fair. Fair isn't everyone having the exact same things, it's everyone having the same opportunities and choices.

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    1. This. You aren't in a situation where you couldn't go to sex parties or see other people or whatever; it's that you're choosing not to, and choosing not to absent overt or cover coercion by Rowdy. Not unfair at all.

      And I have to say that the few couples I've known that are offically mono/poly have been that way because the mono partner genuinely didn't want to be poly; way more healthy than "poly" couples where they're officially poly, but you know, darn it, someone one person's partners always get vetoed because there's just something wrong with them, honey. Or where one partner pouts and sulks and needs so much extra attention that it's just not worth it. Or male/female couples with a One Penis Policy.

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    2. I don't like the implications that my partner and I deciding that we only have a specific sex act with one another as something bad (we're poly but have a no intercourse with anyone else rule for both of us). We decided what works for us as a way to help keep us from getting STD's, and I'm really getting tired of the hierarchy that says that a couple who have intercourse with other people are somehow better, more mature and well adjusted as a couple. Fuck that shit. We need to not be promoting that in our community.

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    3. Ah, but that's not what One Penis Policy means ("poly but have a no intercourse with anyone else rule for both of us"). OPP specifically means that the man is allowed intercourse with other women, the woman is allowed intercourse with other women, but the woman is not allowed intercourse with other men. The key word, as with mono/poly, is "allowed," as opposed to the woman just not being interested in intercourse with other men.

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    4. Yeah, and some ideas that may be (not always, but sometimes are) underlying the One Penis Policy are:

      -Sex between women isn't real sex.
      -Sex between women exists for the amusement/arousal of men.
      -Sex between women can't involve a penis, and sex with a man always does.
      -Men can do what they like, but women need rules.

      Hence the icky feelings surrounding it.

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    5. You know what cliff? Fair in your case also means happy. I was in a mono/poly relationship with me being the mono part of it. I have tried doing a poly relationship and I can't do it(which is my own problem/can of worms/whatever you want to call it but simply put too many jealousy issues from my partner breaking my trust) but my mono/poly was a "you're only allowed to date me but I can date/fuck whomever I want to" It was a very abusive and manipulative relationship lasting longer than it should have. And honestly the fact that I was barely ever allowed out with my male friends(including the gay men who were strictly into other men)by myself without him getting jealous/pissed or have them over with him there without him getting jealous/pissed should have been my first clue. However, it is in the past, I'm mostly over it and have learned a huge lesson from it.

      What you and Rowdy appear to have is a very healthy relationship that works for the both of you. And I'm very happy to see that. I love seeing relationships that defy the hetero-normative monogamous relationship barriers that society has constructed.

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  2. It seems to me that as long as both partners have the "right" to date and have sex with other people, the relationship is still pretty symmetrical and very fair?
    But then again I've never been in a non-monogamous relationship, so my views might be completely off.

    Anyway, abandoning anything that doesn't hurt anybody for happiness seems a very... fair deal.

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    1. I suppose it is fair in terms of "rules," but in terms of how it plays out--he's out with other people, I'm home getting in arguments on Reddit--it's certainly not symmetrical in practice.

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    2. The one book I've read on polyamory ("Opening Up") seemed to stress that asymmetry occurs more often than poly people might like to let on, for many of the reasons you describe, and that it's totally fine so long as all parties are respectful of each other and it's not being foisted onto someone somehow.

      So, whoooo, staying home and arguing with people on Reddit!

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    3. Now I'm picturing a BDSM scene where the person being flogged is counting off: "One! I was wrong on the Internet!" T

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  3. Hi Cliff!

    You know, I think this has some parallels to BDSM too, in particular when it comes to power-exchange relationships.

    A lot of the discomfort that people express to me when I tell them about my relationships seems to be embedded in a largely unexamined idea that they have -- that the most perfect love is the most symmetrical, and where there are imbalances there MUST be something wrong. The person with the whip hand is an abuser who might be working their way up to real CSI-level atrocities. The bottom is a doormat who needs an immediate intervention by Oprah.

    Ain't necessarily so, of course. And in the same way, you two may not be equal when it comes to toting up partners, but so what? Nobody needs to call the pop-psychology intervention wagon here -- because you're both JUST FINE. You're happy, and that's great.

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    1. I still get anxious, as a sexually dominant male, about the kind of sex I have with my girlfriend, even though we're both deliriously happy with it every time. So much so that I definitely get that feeling of getting away with something.

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    2. I have that same feeling on a lazy Monday morning when my girlfriend is serving up breakfast in one of my favorite of her guises: The Naked Slavegirl. Not only am I recreationally oppressing somebody, I'm sleeping in AND having pancakes.

      Getting away with it is probably in my Top 5 Favorite Feelings Ever.

      Part of the "getting away with it" feeling has to be about the gaze of society, though, right? There's something we should be doing, but we're not, and we are in a blissful little pocket where They don't know about it -- They're not there to enforce, or judge, or disapprove.

      I do experience that vicarious disapproval at times, generally from other married women with children. When I reveal that I have a husband and children AND a girlfriend, I have on many occasions encountered the reaction, "I don't know HOW you have the time," with its sly implication that I've escaped the what they see is the obligation to engage in the endless labor of being a wife and mother, and that my children are probably setting fire to great public buildings.

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  4. That's what being partners really means to me. It's about beating the system, the ugly sexist system that tries to pit us against each other, and working together to build our own system.

    That's how PhysioWife and I feel, and it really is fun to make your own cooleasse conspiracy!

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  5. I know it can look weird, but it sounds as though you and Rowdy are doing things that work for you. Works better, for you and any hypothetical other partners, than getting involved with people just to make the numbers match up, whether you were interested or not.

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  6. I really don't think the asymmetry is a problem if it's working for you. It sounds like maybe it isn't working for you 100% when you mention staying home when he is out with other people. Possibly I'm projecting but that has a tinge of resentment, as though staying home and arguing on Reddit is not as good or enjoyable as what he is doing, and that you would prefer to be out with him than at home.

    That is actually the reason that I suck at poly relationships, because I like being with people that I love, and it sucks for me to NOT be with them when they are out on dates with other people. Obviously partners go out with friends, enjoy hobbies, etc without me, but a romantic date COULD be with me and yet is not, and therefore I feel bummed about it. So yeah, monogamy for me. But even monogamy is asymmetrical in some aspect. There's usually one partner who wants more sex, for example (even when that varies over time), and this opens up the relationship to criticism when that information is public (a la "Why aren't you giving [partner] what s/he needs?"). I think that the details of your relationship with Rowdy are nobody's business but yours, assuming your arrangement is consensual and negotiable. Theoretically this asymmetry you are experiencing could be the other way at some point in the future, or could be something that is natural and not a problem even if it persists. That is really up to you (both).

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    1. "But even monogamy is asymmetrical in some aspect. There's usually one partner who wants more sex, for example..."

      SO MUCH THIS.

      When we were monogamous, my boyfriend was having the exact amount of sex he wanted, and I was not. Asymmetry! Now we're mono/poly and both getting our needs met (at least more so!)

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  7. I'm very glad you're happy with your current situation. I'm glad that it's been possible for you to start moving past this prejudice. It sounds like an obstacle that will be useful to overcome. I do think themes of fairness and symmetry are worth a LOT of reflection in polyamorous relationships.

    I... I don't quite know how to offer, because I'm a little stunned to read this post. I've enjoyed following you and reading you, and have heretofore missed that you felt this way about women that have made the choice I have. I'm a monoromantic woman, and my beloved is a male person who's poly. I'm a feminist, with graduate level work in the subject, and I am not suffering. I can't stand Tammy Wynette or her relationship advice. To speak frankly, I'm delighted with my life. We have an egalitarian relationship that feeds us both very much. I have an abundance of agency, and I'm not being coerced into anything. If you'd like to gain some accurate information as to what some mono/poly relationships look like - especially with a commitment to dismantling kyriarchy in the mix - I'm available. My partner and my metamour might be too.

    If not, well, I'm still glad you're happy.

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    1. I'm in about the same situation as you right now, so believe me, I'm not looking down on you.

      I just think it's important that you made that decision--that you aren't just putting up with his polyamory or being pressured into monogamy--but if you did, then good for you.

      (I also think it's problematic how many of these arrangements are poly male, mono female, but I can't put that on any one person. It's an overall problematic, not a "your relationship is the problem," because crap, mine is too.)

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    2. So for some variety of perspective/situation, I'm a male in your situation - technically my girlfriend and I are non-monogamous, but basically, she usually is the one playing with others, with a few rare exceptions.

      She is super super supportive of me playing with others, too, but I do sometimes feel weird that I end up being on my computer or hanging out with friends while she has a hot date.

      But ultimately, I really do get what I need from her. It's fun to play with others, but it doesn't feel necessary to me. And since I am getting what I need, I often find myself feeling a lack of motivation to put effort into seeking out play with others just to be "equal" or to have something sexy to do while she does.

      Then, other times, I feel a little envious, like, "I want to also be out doing something sexy fun with someone hot". But when it comes down to it, as soon as I see her again, my interest in playing with someone else is gone.

      So, yeah, I totally understand your position. And see? I am a guy, thus I can help break the gender stereotype! :)

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  8. "Our favorite stupid joke to make before sex is "Dude! I just had an idea how we can both get laid!" And then we fistbump and go "score, bro!" "
    lol awesome

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  9. Cliff, I look at it this way. You have equality in your relationship. You aren't denied anything that you want, nor is Rowdy. Equality of opportunity, after all, doesn't mean equality of outcome. 'Fairness' can be seen as a sort of tyranny, if by trying to be 'fair' you don't get what you need or twist it so that either of you are trapped by it. Rowdy has other relationships, you don't, because that is what you have chosen for yourself. If you're happy and you know it, carry on.

    And the fistbump is awesome, of course.

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    1. I totally agree. There's a similar pattern in my relationship where I do most of the cleaning stuff and my boyfriend fixes things. That's pretty conventional, sure, but he hates cleaning while I'm okay with it, and he gets paid to fix shit while I'm a safety-video don't about to happen. That's who we are and it'd be really dumb for us to set our hands to stuff we're not good at and don't like in order to pay lip service to principles we already support (equality, not being a dick, letting whoever's best at the job get it). I've got to figure that if ever you do want more partners, you'll go out and find them and that's that-- everyone's still happy. This is just where you are right now and it's awesome because everyone's cool.

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  10. I don't see anything wrong with it, Cliff. My boyfriend and I have been in a non-monogamous relationship for nearly four years now and, although it is fully open for both of us, in practice he's generally the one who goes out and fucks other people, while I'm generally satisfied with just him. (My only outside activity has been with a couple who have also been with him, in fact. I tend to think of the two of them as more like good friends that I occasionally have sex with than another boyfriend and girlfriend.) Both of us are getting exactly what we want out of the relationship and we both have the same options available to us, so as far as I'm concerned it's entirely fair. And, as far as I can tell from your post, if you two are fully happy with how things are working, the same is true of your relationship with Rowdy.

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  11. Mono-poly couples (who gets to be the car?) are like male-dom fem-sub couples: it looks icky because roles, but that doesn't mean the people actually involved can't make something non-icky that works for them.

    And to a certain extent the concerns with both situations are similar to the 50% problem, the problematic aspects in aggregate don't apply to any particular instance.

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    1. Well, they *can* apply. So on the one hand, it's important not to say that any individual relationship automatically is problematic, but it's also important for people IN those relationships not to pull a Not My Nigel. We all need to be mindful of whether our relationships are fair, and if the things we tell ourselves about those relationships are true.

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  12. I, too, used to think mono-poly relationships were completely unfair and kind of icky. So of course now I'm in one. My girlfriend has way more energy to devote to other relationships, so she has a boyfriend and an additional on-again off-again fuck buddy. I just don't have the energy or interest to pursue anything else right now, so I'm just with her. And I'm super happy. A year ago I never would've believed things could work this way.

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  13. I have to say...first off i've been reading your blog silently for a while now. I'm always shy to comment. But today I read your post, and I had just been talking about this very thing with a friend. There's this show on the TLC channel following the life of a polygamous family. I was saying that while i recognize that they're all consenting adults. Why does the guy get to marry 4 womyn while they all sit around pining after him. He holds all the control in that he gets to decide when he'll pick up the next wife or girlfriend or whatever. Then reading your post i realized, if they're all happy in this situation, though i politically disagree with it, why fuss over that if they're satisfied? Not to say your relationship is the same, those womyn dont have an option but to only be with that one man whereas you do have other options should you choose to pursue them. Anyway, thanks for the great post!

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  14. My husband is mono, but open. He's not looking for anything more than me, but if someone came up to him and wanted to have sex with him, he would, and can (within our relationship rules).
    I'm poly. I have my husband, my boyfriend and a few occasional play partners (male and female) that I enjoy, with his blessing.
    Everyone who knows about my side asks if he has a girlfriend or other partners. He really doesn't, he's messed around with one other girl since we met.
    But this WORKS for us. It makes us both very happy, and keeps our marriage strong.
    It may not be equal in numbers, but it's equal in happiness for each side.

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  15. charthemagicdragonMay 10, 2012 at 12:39 AM

    Having no personal experience being in poly relationships, or mono relationships, or any other kind of "serious relationship", I am only commenting to say that I LOVE the balloon sculpture.

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    1. Haha, I'm pretty sure you saw it in person. :p

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  16. I just love this. I particularly like the last paragraph.

    "That's what being partners really means to me. It's about beating the system, the ugly sexist system that tries to pit us against each other, and working together to build our own system. Sometimes it's a messy and patched-together system, the way homebuilt things tend to be, and it takes constant tinkering, but it's custom-fit to us and our weird contradictory ways. And when it works, god damn do I feel like I'm getting away with something."

    Just...yes. Exactly. So beautiful.

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  17. I don't see how this is unfair at all. You're happy... and he's happy! It looks like you've made a win-win scenario after all!

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  18. On Sugarbutch somewhere, Mr. Sexsmith wrote "imbalance of power," crossed it off and replace it with "asymmetric balance of power." I think this applies.

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  19. Good for you for realising that A is not a good solution, and I'm glad your relationship is making you happy :)

    I'm on the other side of this - I'm fairly actively poly, with a husband, a long term girlfriend, a FWB who I see pretty regularly, and various other casual dalliances, whereas my husband's only relationship is with me. (He, my girlfriend and I have some really awesome threesomes when our calendars align, but she and he don't have a romantic connection and aren't interested in having sex without me.) I struggled with feeling guilty about this for a long time, and yep, sexist ideas were a big part of that. I think it's somewhat easier for men on the poly side of a mono-poly het relationship than it is for women, because in a way what poly men are doing is socially approved, or at least normative, whereas poly women are being 'slutty' and also people are far more likely to make negative judgements of our partners (what's the female equivalent to 'cuckold' as an insult?).

    But in the end, he and I are both doing what makes us happy - I like to have my life buzzing with sexual and romantic possibilities, whereas he finds forming relationships time-consuming and stressful and would rather be spending his social time and energy looking for more Warhammer opponents. Obviously if he were unhappy that would be a problem and I would do my best to fix it. But the fact that we like to spend our time and energy on different things isn't inherently 'unfair', even if one of those different things is sex with other people.

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  20. Ha! You have looked down on something with disapproval and repulsion, and now karma is punishing you by making you want it! And being happy about it! In your face!

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    1. This comment made me lol.

      I personally like to imagine that my romantic life was written by a teenage fanfiction writer who hasn't worked her way out of the Mary Sue stages yet. I imagine she would be saying something like this, only in stereotypical teenagerese.

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  21. Am I the only one who's ever had a PROBLEM with this? I was in an "open relationship" (don't even think the word "polyamorous" was invented back in the nineties). My boyfriend lived in a small town where he studied at an art school, I lived in Stockholm (Sweden's biggest city) and went to university there. I had SO much more opportunity to get laid than he did. So eventually I ended up having tons of causal sex; he, not so much. And then I got another boyfriend, while he just had me. And it sort of created some weird power imbalance in the relationship. Like he needed me a lot, but I didn't need him as much as he needed me. Obviously this can be the case in mono relationships as well, but it sort of becomes more OBVIOUS in poly relationships. I didn't realize that he felt bad about the situation, and it took him ages to work up the courage to talk about this. I guess he felt extra stupid because the whole "open relationship" thing was his idea in the first place.
    Eventually we broke up and I entered a mono relationship with boyfriend number two instead.
    I have supposed that what we experienced must be a pretty common problem in poly relationships... But reading these comments it seems like I had a pretty unique experience, and the normal state of things is that although one person fucks around a lot and the other one doesn't, this is really no problem.

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    1. Hell, I think lots of people have problems with it. It's just scary to talk about them in lots of spaces, for fear that your story will become someone's "evidence" that poly or open relationships don't/can't work.

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  22. i've wondered about this a bit too, in my last open relationship i was the partner who had more opportunities for sex outside the relationship, but i was more cautious about taking those opportunities.

    part of it was because as a woman i felt like i had more things to worry about in terms of physical safety than my male partner did, so i was more cautious & rejected a lot of offers because of safety stuff that men (usually) have to worry about less.

    i was also more cautious about emotional safety & probably didn't pursue a few opportunities that were within "the rules" we had agreed to specifically because i didn't want him to feel like he was sitting at home when i was out enjoying myself.

    in the end i was limiting the amount of time i was spending with other people to approximately the same level as he was.

    i wonder if concerns about physical & emotional safety might account for some of the pattern of women in different types of open relationships spending more time alone?

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    1. It's interesting...I commented above about being a guy and the one who plays outside less often, and the funny thing is, almost everyone my girlfriend plays with is someone I introduced her to. And she doesn't really invest a lot in seeking out even those people - if there's an opportunity to play she'll take it (checking that I'm cool with that first, of course, which I can't think of many times I've said I wasn't), but otherwise, she'll generally just be with me.

      So, if I am ever frustrated that she gets more action, I can remember that it's my own fault for introducing her to hot guys :P

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  23. Though I see your point, and I say Godspeed with what makes you happy, I must chuckle at the notion of being able to go to sex parties and sleep with other people even if you're not dating them being referred to as "monogamous."

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    1. I know, right? I mean, from my perspective (married almost 20 years, been together 25, no other partners in that time), the "handful of times this year" sounded pretty wild and crazy :-)

      Not that that affects Cliff's reality one whit, of course, nor should it. It just amuses me.

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    2. *snrk* Ditto. But I'm ace spectrum. The idea of even being ATTRACTED to someone besides my husband a handful of times a year sounds wild and crazy.

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  24. I really hate the cultural view of relationships as a battlefield with partners pitched against each other. Obviously the cultural view is often internalised, and thus a relationship really becomes that. This is the view that makes monogamous people ask "but what if one of you has more sex than the other?". To me it simply feels irrelevant, because I am not in battle, or in competition with my partner.

    I have a relationship with two Really Unfair Things. One of them is that my partner has asked me to refrain from having sex with persons of specific gender and I have not asked my partner any such thing. The other one is that my partner is mono (both sexually and romantically) and I have another partner and have occasional sexual encounters.

    If I tell an average person the first fact, my partner is evil and I'm the poor sucker, since they are allowed to do anything and I am not (conveniently ignoring the fact that I have agency and it is not in the power of my partner to allow or disallow something, I simply choose to respect their wishes). If I tell somebody the second fact, I am evil and my partner's the poor sucker, since I want to act on my interests in other people and they do not.

    When really, both of us are getting what we want, and both of us are happy with it. It has shit to do with fair, and much to do with wanting the other person to be as happy as oneself; with being on the same side.

    [Additional comment: I left our genders out of the text on purpose. As a mental excercise, please fill in different genders as I and my partner, and see if the situation feels more or less unfair, and if the level of victimisation changes with changing genders. Enjoy!]

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    1. I think it is different if your partner is male, you're female, and you're only allowed to have female partners. That's the classic One Penis Policy arrangement, and while I'm not going to call it always wrong or anything, it's... the one most enabled by cultural sexism.

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    2. I agree with Cliff. It seems pretty common for guys to think that lesbian sex is somehow not "real" sex, and if a woman is bisexual this means she's having "real sex" with guys and is sort of experimenting and fooling around a bit with girls.

      Actually, it's hard for me to see any other reason for coming up with a "you can sleep with other women but not with other men" rule. And I think you'd be hard pressed to find an example of a heterosexual couple where the opposite applied, where the woman was allowed other male partners but not female ones. But feel free to prove that I'm wrong and just terribly prejudiced!

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    3. There's a pretty simple to understand explanation. Not necessarily a "fair" or "moral" or "just" one, but, well, there really is one major difference between heterosexual PIV sex and other types of sex: the possibility of pregnancy. "I don't want our relationship to involve the risk of raising somebody else's child" is a pretty powerful emotion. (Of course, if a man is allowed to sleep with women outside the relationship, there's the lovely implication that this is OK because he will vanish from any potential child's life anyway.)

      I'm not saying that this is a wonderful basis for a healthy attitude towards relationships, but pretending that sex which has a possibility of pregnancy isn't saliently different, in terms of relationship planning, from sex which has no such possibility is really erasing the experience of pregnancy from the world.

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    4. Anon - There's a lot of things a man and a woman can do that don't have much risk of pregnancy. (Including, well, everything with birth control and particularly if the woman is planning to abort if she does get pregnant.)

      Also, and now I spose I'm getting a little touchy about things, you wouldn't be raising someone else's child. If you raise a kid and bond with them, they're your child, regardless of chromosomes. "My dad isn't my biological dad" is something they might need to know for doctor's appointments, not when they're deciding who to love.

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    5. I'm actually in this one, and while I agree that it's culturally enabled, the reasons can also be more personal. My partner and I have a theoretically open relationship (we can have sex with other people, we've just never gotten around to doing so). We decided to have an open relationship because, while we're both monogamy-leaning, we've both got things that we want to explore sexually that we can't explore together. To whit, I'm a pansexual woman who's never been with a woman. So it's okay if I have sex with other women, but not with men. My partner has other limitations that aren't gender based, but sort of limit the field to what he wants to explore.

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    6. Avoiding PIV sex is not a foolproof way to avoid pregnancy.

      There certainly can be reasons to limit genders, but there's a reason that poly people even have the shorthand One Penis Policy. If you're happy because you're happy, okay, but if you're happy because "zie is jealous and I'm much happier being in an unfair situation than one where I get emotionally punished", well.

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    7. ***Every*** relationship has compromises, even if they're just little "I can't just read in bed when I have insomnia; I have to go in the other room so as not to wake you up" things. Even with something as standard/sexist/patriarchal as the One Penis Policy, it's only a big deal if it's a big deal to the people involved. (And the only problem I have with the Mormon-fringe polygynous households is the possibility that it's not truly consensual for the women/girls involved, if they don't feel they have other options.)

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    8. In general the One Penis Policy is pretty icky (and generally cissexist in practice). For me, it's an acceptable compromise because 1. I am pretty much nearly a lesbian. I'm rarely interested in men anyway, and the price of admission for me to be happy in a relationship with a man is that I need to have some sort of female romance and sex to be happy in my life. 2. It's part of a safer-sex strategy. It's mostly penises that transmit diseases to receptive partners. I'm not suggesting that receptive partners never transmit diseases to penises, or that diseases are never transmitted during sex between people who don't have penises, just that it happens much less often. Like all safer-sex methods, it's a harm-reduction rather than harm-elimination strategy, and we still take safer-sex measures with our outside female partners.

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    9. flightless, it stops being a 'big deal to the people involved' when the people involved promote it as a fair and reasonable model for poly and that their relationship is fair and equitable. (And by 'it' I want to be clear that I mean the One Penis Policy that exists for sexist/patriarchal reasons.)

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  25. Interestingly, my relationship is the opposite: I'm a woman who has sex outside the relationship with other men (and hypothetically other women) but my partner, who is a man, does not, with anybody, at this time. Why? Several reasons: I seem to get more offers/opportunities for NSA sex; both of us are more likely to hang out with men, and he's not terribly interested in being with dudes; I've had fewer sexual partners than he has and am more interested in broadening my scope; he has a bit of a cuckold thing going and thinks it's hot when I have sex with other people, while I don't get aroused by the thought of him sleeping with someone else; and so forth.
    A few people have clucked and fussed over this. "Doesn't he feel neglected? Shouldn't you try to limit your activities so that he doesn't get left behind? What if things were reversed, wouldn't you feel just awful?" Which always leaves me feeling just a little gobsmacked, because apart from the first one, all the well-meaning "concern" completely misses the point. Things *are fair* and symmetrical - we're both *happy*. I get what I want and he gets what he wants.

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  26. The basic rule is:

    If you don't want to do it, don't do it, and if you do want to do it, do it. The only exceptions I can think of offhand are things that hurt people outside the relationship.

    But holding your relationship up to some preconceived notion of "fairness" is setting yourself up for disappointment. And that goes for any other preconceived notion as well.

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  27. This comes up all over the place--can I allow myself to do what is right for me and my family even if it plays into a deplorable stereotype?

    I think the usual answer has to be "yes." Women who want to be nurses should be nurses, and we shouldn't give them crap over it. Similarly with men who want to be engineers. If your favorite clothes are gender-stereotypes for you that doesn't mean you shouldn't wear them. Joy trumps ideology.

    I had an argument on-line many years ago about the inappropriateness of asymmetrical power-imbalance sex in a pagan context--the person I was arguing with felt that the relationship between the Gods isn't like that so why should ours be? Here, on consideration, I'm not even in agreement with the ideology, but if I were joy would still trump it. Not having fun sex anymore--and power games are what put the zing in sex for me--is way too high a price to pay for ideology. It would be different if someone were getting hurt, but that's not the case.

    It's reasonable for us to ask ourselves "What message is my behavior sending? Is it a bad one?" but sometimes the right answer is "The most important message for me to send here is 'be true to yourself' or 'follow your bliss.'" We can never be liberated by settling for self-imposed shackles.

    (Can't comment on the specific poly issues. When we got married my partner and I worked out ground rules for how we could ethically have other partners--basically full disclosure and full responsibility for any pregnancies--but in 21 years of marriage neither of us has had occasion to use them. It's a mono/mono poly relationship!)

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    1. "Joy trumps ideology." I love that. I think it applies to so many things - perhaps especially, as you mentioned, to the performance of femininity. There's often still a lot of femme-shaming in some feminist circles, and it's so important to remember that personal happiness should always win over trying to be the perfect political example.

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    2. Femme shaming! And *I* love *that*! I always feel bad for shaving. And wearing tall heels. And liking corsets.

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    3. I gotta admit I have complicated feelings about stuff like high heels and corsets. On the one hand, I can't get mad at a person for liking them, or telling them to stop, or whatever.

      On the other hand, these are really restrictive garments made to turn a woman from a comfortable and capable person into a more sexualized decoration.

      ...And I think they're okay inasmuch as the person who's wearing them realizes that's what they're doing. For God's sake, I get punched as part of my sexual expression, I can't go around demanding everyone's sexual and gender expression be perfectly practical and comfortable. Do what makes you happy, don't listen to my purely theoretical quibbling, for God's sake.

      At the same time, I think it's problematic and not exactly a coincidence that these things are assigned to women and practiced mostly by women, and the clothing that represents masculinity is very comfortable and practical. But it's one of those things where I want to criticize the idea, not the people who do it, and that's tricky.

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    4. My dilemma is even more specific - annoyance at women who wear high heels, pantyhose, and restrictive clothes *to work*, because that helps reinforce the idea that "professional" dress for women = uncomfortable.

      If someone doesn't want to sleep with me because I don't dress in a certain way, it doesn't bother me all that much. But when my ability to earn a living is dependent on wearing painful shoes I can't walk any distance in, I get considerably more pissed off. Why does your fetish get to bleed into my job description?

      Same goes for men and ties, I suppose.

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    5. RE: Erica

      Ties don't cause foot problems. (Hey, I work in orthopedic shoes. I know things about foot ailments you could've lived your whole life without.)

      Though I wouldn't say that that's the fault of women wearing it. It's the climate requiring it! (Thus far, I have been lucky and never had to.)

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    6. Excellent points - but I think the inquiry shouldn't stop at 'what message I am sending'. It should include 'am I being honest with myself about why I am making these choices'? If I'm making a choice that just so happens to coincide with sexist norms of what I'm supposed to choose, do I like those choices because they fit me, or is it just more comfortable because that's what I've been taught is proper and I don't want to buck tradition? If I'm in a One Penis Policy relationship, it is really bringing me joy, or are we making my partner's privilege and insecurity a priority over everything else?

      "The personal is political" never meant that your personal life and choices had to line up 100% with some type of Appropriate Political Norm; it meant that our individual lives tend to reflect the norms of the society we live in, and they're not little walled-off cells unaffected by what's going on anywhere else. There's a reason we don't have a poly stereotype of the One Vulva Policy.

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  28. I'm a bi lady in an open relationship with a straight dude, and it seems we've functionally moved into a mono-poly situation, with me having outside partners more than him. A lot of it is that he's very busy as a grad student (in a male-dominated field), that he's shyer than me, and that your average straight lady is maybe less cool with open relationships than the alterna-queer communities I run with. It still bothers me though, both because of the symmetrical/fairness ideal, and because he seems a bit sad with his lack of success with women.

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  29. Huh. My lesson of the day: some folks have very different ideas of what monogamous and "super monogamous" mean. Cool.

    Honestly, though, that "fairness" dichotomy sounds EXHAUSTING if you actually had to maintain it. Would you also have to have equal numbers of partners? Play partners? FWB? God, you'd have to balance your sexual checkbook every MONTH. Also, for plural folks, how do in-system relationships count?

    And I think the squick about the One Penis Policy comes from the conventional narratives and crap around it. I'm sure some folks manage it perfectly healthfully.

    And hey. Reddit's not gonna fight itself, y'know.

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    1. Honestly, though, that "fairness" dichotomy sounds EXHAUSTING if you actually had to maintain it. Would you also have to have equal numbers of partners? Play partners? FWB? God, you'd have to balance your sexual checkbook every MONTH. Also, for plural folks, how do in-system relationships count?

      Oh, god, I had a partner who thought like this. Always adding up the numbers, he was always short. Just like a kid who wants to be sure he got the same number of chips in his cookie as the other kid. It was exhausting and hurtful and horrible.

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    2. And hey. Reddit's not gonna fight itself, y'know.

      Well, actually..... ;)

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  30. My husband has occasionally gone on dates, the furthest that's ever gone is coffee. He just doesn't much care.

    I do feel guilty that I'm out getting nailed and he's not, but that's his choice. I am glad that I don't have the extra guilt of it being the other way around like you are. Cause I'm a champ at feeling guilty for not being The Best [Feminist, Poly Person, etc etc etc].

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  31. Thank you thank you thank you for this, Cliff!

    I'm in an interesting situation myself. I'm very poly-identified, and very loud and open about it (I write a public blog about it!) Yet.... I've only had one partner for well over a year now.

    He's got other partners, a couple serious (one more primary than me,) and a few casual/occasional FWBs. This is partly because I don't do casual sex, like, at all ever, and he does. Also because I got out of a 6-year abusive relationship in early 2011 and needed time and space to recover - new partners was the last thing on my mind for a long while. There's also some tricky stuff around "new people" in my relationship with my partner, the details of which I won't bore you with, but which we're working out.

    My partner is quite a bit older and much more experienced than me. If I wanted to make things "even," I could go out and have a whole load of casual sex with little difficulty, just to get the numbers up on my side. But I don't want to, and the 'fairness' isn't in the numbers, the fairness is in doing what's right for us, and each having the freedom to express our needs, to negotiate and work things out as we go along. :)

    -- Jess
    (http://loveisinfinite.wordpress.com)

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  32. While never being in a formally mono/poly relationship, I've been on both sides of asymmetry (and managed to feel bad about both, because I'm just talented like that).

    First open relationship was one that opened up because my partner at the time already had a particular new partner in mind. I didn't and while I was open to poly in theory, had a lot of trouble attracting other people, felt neglected by the reduction in attention, and was just generally not a happy camper. That relationship didn't last much longer.

    Fast forward a few years, and I'm finding myself with opportunities I'm interested in pursuing while my primary partner isn't and, as far as I'm aware, isn't really seeking any out. It's been difficult to shake the guilt and completely believe that she's not feeling something like what I'd felt in the past. (If anyone else has encountered this dynamic, how'd you deal with it?)

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    1. I haven't had this dynamic personally but I've seen it in some of my friends, and my general advice is: check in, make sure that your primary partner is getting what they want out of the relationship, and keep an eye on whether you're getting caught up in New Relationship Energy or otherwise making your time with your non-primaries "date time" and you time with your primary "work time." If you're taking your primary partner out on dates and scheduling special together time aside from time you're spending on chores and work, you'll avoid putting the pressure on them to be the "responsible partner" while your other partners are the "fun partners."

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    2. It's a very common dynamic. You mostly deal with it by remembering that the shoe could be on the other foot, so behave as you would want your partner to behave if things were reversed. And, as aris-tdg wisely says, put energy into your existing relationship instead of running off to OOH NEW SHINY SHINY THING.

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  33. If having sex with other people only a handful of times this year makes you the mono in a mono/poly, then I must be the most monogamous person ever. But I'm happy with a long term partner who's involved with other people, and I'm happy to know that it's totally okay to be involved with other people if and when things work out that way, and I feel like that's sufficient reason for me to identify as poly. Maybe it's something along the lines of how the person who attends the play party but doesn't play is still doing something kinky.

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  34. Sometimes I worry that I'm "part of the problem". Like, I look at my relationship and I think, omigod, am I making patriarchy happen RIGHT NOW? Am I actively screwing up people's lives with my makeouts? I hope I'm not. My relationship makes me happy and I feel safe and loved and equal. I think that's the important part?

    It does make really hard for me to call out stuff that is obviously messed up, like guys in their 30s deliberately targeting young women/girls because they might be less sure of themselves or less skilled at fending off manipulators than women ten years older would be. Or men saying that, once she reaches 35, a woman is HIDEOUS FOREVER and you'd better find some young creature to sex you up. I don't know how to say that's gross without being a hypocrite. I have a bunch of reasons why I don't feel like my relationship is like that, but I think some of them boil down to "because we're super cool and special", which doesn't really work.

    I'm not trying to say "Hey, I get exactly what it's like to be poly!" because... no. Society's pretty cool with my relationship. Some people even tried to high five my boyfriend when they found out we were dating*. But I can relate to the worry about whether it's okay to just enjoy what you enjoy, even if it resembles something kind of icky.

    *Which is incredibly gross and dehumanizing, by the way. Seriously, people, wtf. Don't do that.

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  35. One could say that other women will look at your relationship and come away reinforced in the idea that a woman should dedicate herself to one man even if the man sleeps around. But since anyone who talks to you about your relationship will find out that you're both allowed to sleep with whoever you want and that you just don't feel like sleeping with other people very often, I don't think you need to worry much about sending this message. Probably everything a person does will give some people a bad idea.

    You do need to make sure you're actually satisfied with the sex and affection you're getting and aren't staying with just one person because you unconsciously believe women shouldn't sleep around. But I'm sure you've already done that. After a certain amount of self-examination, you have to move on, because you can never be fully certain you're not acting from an unconscious motive that's different from the motive you think you have.

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  36. Last summer, my bf and I opened our relationship just a crack. I now have a makeout buddy...as well as one guy I propositioned for makeouts but he changed the subject, one guy I wanted as a makeout buddy but my bf vetoed it, and a handful of other dudes I totally plan to hit on eventually.

    I say "eventually" because I've been trying to wait for my partner to catch up to me, and it looks like that won't happen any time soon. He says he likes knowing he has permission for outside makeouts, but just isn't interested in anyone else right now. He's not the "scorekeeping" type by any means (he actually encouraged me to get a second makeout buddy!), but still, I've felt that asking for MOAR FUN PLZ would seem kind of...greedy or unfair or something.

    Thank you, Cliff (and other commenters!), for reminding me that it is possible for both partners to be happy in an "unbalanced" relationship. I'm gonna talk with my boy at some point to reassess our boundaries - and see how many boundaries were actually only in my head all this time. :)

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  37. Cliff, I think I love you. I'm so glad I found you. This is a breath of fresh air and I needed it. Thanks! Your newest follower, The Righteous Harlot xx

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  38. Sorry to be tardy to the party. I found this blog/post through Tumblr and this is realllly interesting food for thought for me. Basically, I'm a queer-identifying woman in a relationship with a straight male whom I love very much. I've always been one to lead toward the more open, slightly-poly relationships, but so far I've only been with people who want to be very monogamous. When I first started dating my bf, we talked about my desire for an open relationship, and it was something he really couldn't get behind. A year later, I brought the conversation up again and after a verrrry lengthy dialogue, he is willing to be a little more open to the idea of me seeing other people (with some rules - no sex, for ex), and we're going to have a little trial run, I think. I'm pretty in love with him so it truly means a lot that he's willing to try this out for me. My question is, is it fair of me to ask him to be a little more open, to ask him to flex his boundaries and step into something he has never even thought about before, nonetheless tried? At face value that sounds like a really silly question to me (though, to be fair, he did ask very valid questions, like "so how will I explain this setup to my mom/friends/family?") , but I do wonder about how much I can push him, and at what point things will just break or fall apart. He says he "doesn't really understand why anyone would want to be involved with more than one person", that it's something he "just doesn't get", but allowing me to see other people is something he's willing to try out. I guess this is a long way of me asking if it's really fair to ask someone who fundamentally doesn't believe in open relationships to try one out? In a way, I feel like, why push it? If he doesn't believe in it, then why force it? Blerg, am I making sense??

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    1. I wouldn't stretch your relationship if you really care about the guy, he's obviously trying and doesn't want to lose you. But you know and he knows that he would be uncomfortable with it, and most like get the short end of the stick as he sounds like the type of guy who wouldn't go chasing skirts.

      In short find a hobby if you're not satisfied with one man, or find one that's more open to it and will probably have the same views as you. It's a tough decision but to be fair, it's a pretty big one if you're wanting to base life decisions on it.

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  39. My question: how do you know if (for lack of better phrase) an alternate arrangement (poly/poly, mono/poly etc) relationship just isn't meant to be? I just had a lengthy talk/check-in with my boyfriend about wanting to see other people. He prefers pretty monogamous arrangements, and I definitely lean more towards the open/poly-relationship (fyi - I am a queer-identified woman, he is a straight male) When we first started dating a year ago we had pretty much the same conversation, and he expressed that he "didn't understand why I would want to see other people", and expressed the kind of like, "aren't I enough" thoughts. It seemed like, and, I think, still kind of is something he is fundamentally against. However, at the end of the long, winding conversation we just had he basically said, "OK, let's just try it then." (ie me seeing other people) I love him a lot, so the fact that he is willing to have an open mind on something he clearly feels very strongly about means SO much to me. But, should I feel bad about trying to bend his ways if it's a point of view he doesn't agree with? Has anyone had to ever convince their partner into an open relationship? Is that moral? What if it's just not meant to be?

    Sigh. Undoing patriarchy feels so naughty.

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  40. *sigh* I'm struggling with being in a similar situation except that it is REALLY not working for me. For me mono/poly is just a HARD STOP NOT GOING THERE NON-NEGOTIABLE thing. I mean, if one of us has another partner and the other just happens to not have another partner right now that's one thing. But I really think that I just NEVER want to have other partners because my brain just doesn't work like that.

    I tried for about 5 years to be poly and concluded shortly before my met the spouse 8 years ago that I'm JUST NOT. Those 5 years were characterized by having a lot of casual sex that didn't make me very happy. I don't regret any of it, it was an important learning experience, but I don't want to go there again. So when we got together initially, me knowing he had had poly relationships in the past, I told him "I'm not poly". Unfortunately the communication on this point lead both of us to thinking the other was somewhat more flexible on the issue than turns out to be the case. He's generally pretty picky about who he gets involved with so it took several YEARS before he found someone he was really interested in pursuing. And his pursuit of that made me realize (and finally be able to coherently articulate) how really REALLY not poly I am & that being so means I'm not OK with him having other relationships either. And it does tie into that gender roles stereotype crap.

    We're currently trying to compromise on something along the lines of "we'll still play with other people but only together" but have yet to test how well this will actually work. And we've started seeing a couples therapist to try to work out the disconnect. It's not fun :(

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  41. Blatantly not reading most of the comments due to lack of time, but as a man who sticks to one woman, the concept of adding anyone else to a relationship I'm engaged in or close to being engaged in isn't something I'd personally want.

    Sure it may be 'fair' and nobody would be a loser, it's difficult to think about because I flat out know there's a lack of reasoning to my preference. But it's a preference I'll stick to, I don't hold double standards and dislike people who do.

    Just my two cents, perspective is a beautiful thing to have. Other than that I have nothing essentially important to add to the conversation so I'll end it with that.

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