Polyamory: slicin’ and dicin’?


Although I don’t practice it myself, I’m all for monogamy. Forgive me for this, I can’t help myself: some of my best friends are monogamous. Monogamy is, to me, one of those things like being an accountant or a dentist that’s perfectly useful, makes some people I love very happy, and holds about as much appeal for myself as, well, pulling teeth. Tis cool. We’re all different, we all get to decide what kinds of relationships make us feel happy, secure and fulfilled and to pursue that with people who feel similarly.

As someone who lives in a great big world full of mono people and who’s been in my share of mono relationships with very lovely people myself (I always, by the way, behaved myself) I have a fair insight into why people choose monogamy, why it works for them and what it’s like.

I have a feeling that some of my mono friends don’t have quite the same insight into the way I do relationships. I think it’s time to start setting right a misconception or two. In particular, well, one. This one.

Slicin’ and dicin’?

I have a friend- an old, dear friend I love to pieces, which is lucky for him- who keeps on referring to poly people like myself as having fractions of partners. According to him, I have 1/3 of a girlfriend, and the wives of the man who someone once met going to St Ives have 1/7 of a husband. Let’s look into this idea, shall we?

I guess- and I am just guessing here, so correct me if I’m wrong- that if exclusivity is something you value strongly in a relationship it could seem that sharing a partner with someone else means, well, sharing. And that for some reason all of us poly folks are happy to have a fraction of a relationship here and another fraction there.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of sewing together a Frankenstein’s monster of partners seems as unappealing to me as it does to the average mono person. Let’s- if you’ll pardon the phrase- deconstruct this a bit, shall we?

All the people in our lives

One of the things that poly people love to talk about when explaining how we can go around having multiple relationships at once is the fact that having more than one relationship is something that everybody does all the time. Think about the people who are important to you in your life. Sure, there’s something special and distinct about what you have with your partner(s). But isn’t there also something special and distinct about what you have with all of the other people in your close circle? The big example that poly folks like to bring up here is kids. In terms of devotion, committment, time, energy and love, there isn’t really anything that can rival the parent/child relationship. And yet if I were to mention someone having a second child nobody would assume that the love of the parents for their first child would be in any way diminished. Sure, they’re going to be a lot more busy and will have to work to balance their attention between their kids. And sure, there’ll be an adjustment for the older kid. But love and the parent/child relationship itself? It’s not divided.

Our romantic partnerships and relationships are, of course, very different. But it’s a qualitative difference, not a quantitive one. I love the Ladyfriend, my family, and my closest friends in different ways, but I love them all. My love for Ladyfriend isn’t in any way diminished by my having a wonderful circle of friends and family. In fact, I’d say that having a healthy life of my own outside my relationship enhances what we have. I’m a happier and more interesting person because of the people in my life. Aren’t we all?

It’s not just people, though. When I think of the things that take up Ladyfriend’s time and attention, her work comes far higher than any other person. I’m sure that anyone who’s dated someone with an overwhelming devotion to a job, hobby or project can empathise with that. We’ve all met (or been) PhD widows.

What are relationships made of?

The other day, as I was having the fateful fractions conversation with my old friend, Ladyfriend was off on a date with a new person of whom I approve immensely (she’s a sweetiepie!). That next day when I phoned her up to ask how it had went, did I suddenly have less of a girlfriend than I had had the day before?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I absolutely respect monogamy. I see why people choose it. We all have things we’re comfortable with, things that are hard limits, and great big grey areas in between to play around in. One relationship can be overwhelming enough. With two or three, things can get complicated. And yep, we all get to have feelings and boundaries about what we’re okay with our partners getting up to with others. It’s one of the best things about creating cultures of active consent.

I do think that there’s a limit to the amount of commitments one person can make. That limit varies from person to person and at different times in our lives. The person with the demanding job, young kids and evening course is barely going to have time for sleep, never mind dating. But within that limit- which, by the way, the poly people of my acquaintance tend to be extremely aware of- adding new things and people to our lives doesn’t diminish what we already have. My taking up roller derby and spending hours and hours a week training doesn’t subtract from my relationship with Ladyfriend. And similarly, if during those hours she’s spending time with other partners, I haven’t lost anything at all.

I understand that thinking about your partner being involved with others can make a lot of mono people uncomfortable. Trust me, I get that- I’m no more immune to jealousy than anyone on the planet! But relationships- all relationships- are made of a lot more than the time not spent with others. They’re made of more than what you get up to when your partner’s not there- although honesty about that is one hell of a big deal. I don’t measure my relationships in minutes spent with me versus with other people, or in feelings for me versus for other people. The most important thing, to me, is what me and another person share together. 

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19 thoughts on “Polyamory: slicin’ and dicin’?

  1. From the point of view of someone who has no experience, first, second or even third-hand, with polyamory, I think the biggest reason most monogamous people can’t wrap their heads around it is the jealousy. I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of men in the world who like to joke that they think it’d be great to have two or three women to “pick from”, or for their wife/girlfriend to not mind them having one-night stands with anyone they wanted. But that’s only one side of the coin.

    For every person who says “I don’t understand how you can be romantically involved with more than one person” I would bet many of those people are secretly thinking “I wouldn’t want my partner being romantically involved with more than just me. There’d be that little monster whispering in their ear, telling them that their partner would rather be with someone else and that they enjoy their time with the other partner more.

    This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog. It gives a great insight into a way of life I’m never likely to experience, and as a writer, anything I can do to understand different people’s lifestyles more is a good thing.

    • Y’know something? There’ve been times when I’ve wondered to myself why the hell I put myself through the jealousy thing! Actually, maybe there’s something in that- for the past year I’ve just been involved with Ladyfriend, but she has several partners. While that’s a bunch of people’s worst nightmare, it’s actually been wonderful in ways I’d never have guessed. Time to start working on another post, I think!

      And I’m really happy that my poly-related ramblings are interesting. I know that it’s interesting for me, but I’m never sure if that’s because, well, don’t we all find our own relationships fascinating?

      • That’s another example, both of how every person’s romantic needs and desires are different, and of a side to polyamory that most monogamists wouldn’t think of. It’s easy to go straight to the image of group sex or seeing a different woman every other night, but then you have your situation, where it would seem quite one-sided, but it’s totally working for you and your needs at this point in your life.

        • Hehe, I think I’m way too much of a nerdy, introverted type to go anywhere near those stereotypes! I’m gonna take a wild guess and figure that when people think of polyamory they don’t picture me on the sofa munching on my latest experiments in brownie-making and watching DS9 😉

          Seriously though. These brownies are the kind of amazing you might actually need to be poly just to take more than one bite of them. Because you fall in love EVERY TIME.

  2. I like this, a lot. I’d like to think I’m in one of those circles of yours, and I am a ‘mono person’ (that just sounds dodgy. Can’t we make up a new word?) I find poly hard to get my head around as I’m sure you know, but at the same time I like to think I’m respectful enough to not cause offence to those who practice it. I probably find it harder to understand than I let on, but I do try. Observing yourself and various other friends of yours going about their daily lives, doing their poly thing, is a big help in understanding (goes for anything really doesn’t it). Understanding that it’s hard to understand and taking the time to write such a post as this to try and explain it a bit is pretty awesome. 🙂

    It’s a difficult thing to understand, for many reasons, ranging from ‘moral’ to practical. Paul makes a very good point here:

    “…the biggest reason most monogamous people can’t wrap their heads around it is the jealousy.”

    I agree with that, although as Aoife will know from knowing me personally, I am one of the least jealous people going. My monogamous behaviour doesn’t stem from jealousy, it comes from a belief in the practice itself. It’s more complex than that obviously – I’d need to sit down and write a post on it!

    With situations like this I think back to a pearl of wisdom my dad once gave me when I was sifting through various religious/moral baggage and trying to determine a moral code of sorts:

    “Consenting adults in private. That’s the only important thing to consider. How many of them there are, who cares? Is anyone else affected other than the people involved? Are they all happy? Well it’s no-one else’s goddamn business then.”

    Wise words. As trite as it sounds, once you’re happy and no-one is being hurt by it, no-one should care. How do I know what goes on in your relationships, or who am I or anyone else to say you’re not ‘really happy’. One thing I’m curious about, that just popped into my head: how do you find the reaction of the LGBT community to the concept as opposed to the reaction of straight people? I know personally I stop and think about the fact that there are thousands of people who think that my (monogamous) relationships are ‘not the same’ or it’s just a confused friendship, etc, before I go judging other people’s relationships. You would expect the LGBT community to know better. Mind you, I make the same argument for LG attitudes towards bisexuality, and, er, well…

  3. This is very well put, Aoife. I like it.

    It’s funny – I used to fall more on the monogamous side of relationships when I was a teenager and I think that’s honestly for two equally strong reasons: 1) I was almost-forcibly raised and socialized by rather conservative parents to be monogamous, and 2) I was deeply insecure and OMG Just Wanted To Be Loved, Why Wouldn’t Anyone Love Meeeee? *

    So, as I’ve grown up and moved out under the thumb of my parents, in addition to becoming far more comfortable in my own skin and secure with my lovability (or in some cases, lack thereof – i don’t have to be lovable all the time!), I’ve become more comfortable with the concept that I can both love, and be loved by, lots of people who are in turn loving and being loved by lots of other people. It’s actually a really nice feeling – it’s like a community, a family, and you know that there is this protective and supportive web of awesome people spun around you and the people you care about. It’s kinda great.

    Of course, there are lots of ways to get spun into that web that don’t involve sleeping with multiple folks – that’s just a perk. 🙂

    * I am NOT AT ALL saying that’s why anyone else is monogamous!! Just me! Looking back, I was kind of a serial monogamist during those days; if i had known poly was an option earlier, I probably would have done that sooner. But that doesn’t mean all monogamists are repressed insecure nutbaskets! Just me! :p

    • It’s like a community, a family, and you know that there is this protective and supportive web of awesome people spun around you and the people you care about. It’s kinda great.

      This, this, this! That’s one of the things I want to talk about in future that I was saying to Paul up above (before I got distracted by brownies). I’ve grown to feel so happy in my extended poly family that, well, that’s what I call ’em. Having people you love in common is a wonderful way to bind people together.

  4. It took me a little while to figure out that I could identify as poly because my reason/approach was so out of step with both conventional monogamy and polyamory-through-the-lens-of-hegemonic-monogamy (say that ten times fast!), at least for someone who gets identified most of the time as female. Which is to say, I am the PhD WidowMAKER. I love lots of people, but before every time I tried a monogamous relationship I flipped my shit and became this terrible, cruel, irrational person because I immediately felt pressured (more by internalized gender and sexuality stereotypes than my actual partners) to be somebody’s ONE AND ONLY and I cannot put into words how much I do not want to be anybody’s fucking one-and-only. I want to be one-of-many! One-of-many-who-is-also-fairly-independent-not-to-mention-introverted-and-a-workaholic-who-will-occasionally-drop-off-the-face-of-the-planet-but-still-likes-relationships-and-can’t-do-casual-hook-ups-because-see-also-introverted, to get really specific.

    Having gotten a little more life experience, I now know monogamous people who don’t fall into the culturally-mandated you-are-my-everything trap (and a select few for whom such a thing is actually not a trap at all – god bless them, I could not ever handle that level of involvement with one person), so I know there are other options the single-pair-bonded among us, but even so, I’m the kid who thinks that picking up the phone once a month and exchanging comments regularly on Facebook is a totally acceptable level of contact in an intimate romantic relationship, so I don’t have a lot of options beyond occasionally dropping into someone’s rotation. And that suits me just fine. I’m not poly because I want LOTS of relationships all the time (my average is barely above zero, actually, but grad school is done now, so we’ll see), but because I don’t want to look for partners who would expect/need me to be their everything, at least in the romance department. I’m happiest when I know that the people I love have more than enough people to love them too, including but definitely NOT limited to me.

    A commitment-phobic polyamorist. That’s me. 😀

    • Y’know, your perspective on this reminds me an awful lot of someone I know and love dearly. Who prefers themselves to have just one relationship (at most!) at a time, but is incredibly introverted enough that things are a lot easier for them if their partner had other partners too. So y’know, you’re not the only one out there who actively prefers their partners to have other partners around to take the pressure off 🙂

  5. Your Post is Great and thought provoking and honest in a very necessary Way. It Sucks that polyamory is öfter so over sexualised (tried to have a conversation with someome about this recently After they brought it up and they didn’t stop giggling the Whole Time). This post gives a much clearer picture of the reality of polyamory.

  6. Pingback: Link Love (26/02/2013) | Becky's Kaleidoscope

  7. Pingback: Link Love (26/02/2013) | Becky's Kaleidoscope

  8. Pingback: Poly musings: on her others | Consider the Tea Cosy

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