05 April, 2015

Two Parrots (desiring crackers) With One Stone

Or, two poly topics in one blog post. New month, new allotment, and stuff has been bubbling up.



Just last night I posted this on Facebook: a basic primer on polyamory from one of the most famous "out" poly personages in the world: Laurell K. Hamilton, the best-selling author. She lives in a poly quad, incidentally, and her novels are positively rife with polyamory.  My friend asked,

Okay, here I am exposing my ignorance: why marry? Why enter into a legal covenant with one singular person? If you love and are committed to more than one person, why is the institution of marriage necessary for poly folks in this day and age?

It occurs to me that I have been remiss in not addressing this question much earlier, especially since it was the very first question fired at me when I first came out to the first person I came out to. Fired with the force of a SIG-Sauer P226, it was.

I'll give you the generic answers to this before I get as personal as I'm willing to get.

It's true, many polyamorous people do not get married. Many others have group marriages, handfastings, covenantal ceremonies and the like--why do they do that? The same reason any two monogamous people get married, to demonstrate to the world their unity of purpose and commitment.

But many, perhaps even a majority, of polyamorous relationships incorporate a traditional two-person marriage, or common-law relationship (which in Canada has nearly the same legal ramifications). How does that happen?

Often it happens because one or both of the people in the marriage don't identify as poly at the outset.  Polyamory is negotiated, over time, and added to the marriage when (ideally) both spouses are ready for it.  (Add it in before and...well...the marriage will probably implode. Poly people have a saying: you can't fix a relationship by adding more people.)
I've talked before about some of the reasons why people might go down that road: mismatched sex drives or sexual styles, or just loving natures that don't seek to place restrictions on love. A common scenario: Somebody might find themselves falling in love with another person and rather than cheat, see if that third person can be accepted by the existing partner.

Why established poly people get married--you'd have to ask them, because any marriage is a deeply personal thing between partners and whatever deities they may or may not happen to believe in. Of course, in some countries there are very prosaic reasons to get married, such as health insurance and the like. Sometimes in poly-world, though, it's an assertion to the world of one relationship's primacy, and that all others must be subservient to it.

Any sort of polyamory is challenging. As Laurell Hamilton noted,  any solid relationship is, but as you might imagine,  poly tends to compound things. The 'hierarchical polyamory' detailed above may work for many folks, but it has some ethical red flags. It is a little bit disingenuous to say you are willing to engage in multiple committed relationships simultaneously and then put big wooden fences around those "secondary" relationships to make sure they don't encroach on the primary. How does that third person feel, only getting so much--and "so much" is being dictated from outside your relationship? Worse, primary partners often have "veto" power over budding secondary relationships, and arguably the biggest heartbreaks in poly involve a veto.

At the same time, practicing "non-hierarchical poly" means that the scary encroachment is almost bound to happen at some point, love being what it is. Let love in through a window, and watch it open up every door in the place. It takes a certain mindset to accept that, to recognize that relationships can wax and wane over time, and it's not a common mindset.

I would marry Eva all over again without blinking, even (perhaps especially) knowing what was waiting for us fifteen years down the pike. She is and remains my rock, my rock who never for a second became an anchor. I believe I am the same for her. We've taught each other so much over our time together: my debt to her is incalculable. We have one of the great marriages. I know it, she knows it, and several of our friends have remarked upon it themselves over the years. One dear friend--who happens to be in another great marriage--told me just last night that it's a matter of knowing the relationship is there. No matter how bad the rough patch, the question of "is it worth it to keep on with this marriage?" is always an emphatic YES.

Most importantly, and without getting too personal, our relationship is its own thing. Any other relationships that may exist are also their own things, very much independent of our thing, and have to be taken into account, just as those relationships have to take ours into account. It's a juggling act, to be sure, and it can sometimes result in some hurt toes as the jugglers careen around with their eyes in the air. But as with so much else, open, honest communication is key. Also key is the willingness to set ego aside, which can be easier said than done.

The thing that monogamous people don't readily get is the compersion that comes naturally to some polys and others have to work like a dog at. For those of you who haven't been along for the full cruise, "compersion" is joy at your partner's joys, wherever they may have come from. The Buddhist synonym is mudita, joy unadulterated by self-interest. In short, metamours -- other cherished people --  enrich a life, and an enriched life enriches other lives. That's what a poly community is, at heart: an enrichment tool, a tool by which love can be made not just to grow, but to spread.


As far back as I have been aware, I have recognized that I am polyamorous. My loving one person doesn't auto-magically subtract my love from someone else, and people's shrill insistence that it does, it has to, it MUST, I eventually tuned out just as I tuned out most of the other bullshit society insisted on spewing in my face.

If somebody had explained the term "polyamory" to me when I was nine, I know for a fact I would have seized on it. But there are things that happen around poly people that I just don't understand. This shouldn't be a surprise: I am a human being (I think), and other humans have this distinct tendency to act in ways I don't understand. I'm male, and by God I don't get other males at all.

But one of the things I have repeatedly run into--at a remove so far, although sooner or later it'll probably actually happen close to home--is somebody, a "monogamous" somebody, willing to a be a party to cheating, but completely unwilling to be in a polyamorous relationship. Putting it in my own world: somebody who would be willing to date me, so long as Eva didn't know about her. If I was to inform this hypothetical person that Eva would find out about her immediately, she'd run away screaming.


Polyamory is a subset of ethical non-monogamy. There are other kinds of ethical non-monogamy--swinging comes to mind. There is some overlap between the swinging and poly communities, but not a great deal of it, because most swingers are terrified of emotions. Whereas polyamory is founded on emotions, to the point where there need not be sex in a poly relationship at all:  just emotional intimacy that goes beyond the bounds of what monogamous couples are generally okay with.

Regardless, though, the key point is that it's ethical: honest, open and transparent. It's not an "excuse to cheat" or "cheating with consent" (now there's a ridiculous contradiction in terns). But it seems as if some people would rather cheat than engage in an open, honest, transparent relationship. This boggles my mind. If you're going to be non-monogamous, wouldn't you want to be ethical about it?

I've both cheated and been cheated on, in my distant past, long before Eva. Both sides of that equation are slimy as hell, and I resolved after having grown up a bit that I would never allow myself to be a party to a dishonest relationship ever again. Obviously there are other people who don't feel the same way. I have seen some poly militants who claim they have no problem being the other man or woman to a person with an oblivious spouse, perverting my assertion above that each relationship is its own thing, independent of other relationships. While that is true...such people are still cheating, as far as I'm concerned, and I have nothing but contempt for that kind of selfish, hurtful behaviour.


BONUS: I just discovered this song tonight (lyrics provided on link) and I'm groovin' to it. I'm seeing more and more poly music out there...this is the most explicitly poly song I've run across yet, and one of the happiest.

"I'm a bird who sings in the springtime
She's a girl who smiles like the sunrise
Though I love the days when she's all mine
I don't try to bottle her sunshine..."

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