It's nice to see polyamory getting more and more media exposure. There have been substantial, fair, and evenhanded articles in many mainstream newspapers and magazines.
It's not so nice to see this kind of exposure. The pile of wrongness in here is literally breathtaking.
Jack and Lucy (not their real names) are a nine-years-married couple with three kids, one of them two years old. According to Jack, the marriage is sexless; he "barely remembered what she looked like with her clothes off anymore". This is, of course, entirely normal for any couple with a two-year-old child. But Jack is taking it hard.
Lucy springs polyamory on him: "Jack...I think I'm polyamorous. I want to sleep with other people. But I want you to as well." She's been researching polyamory for six months.
Six months, and she somehow missed one of the axioms of polyamory: you can't fix a relationship by adding more people to it. She also really fucked up introducing the topic. Announcing it like that, out of the blue? Yeah, I'd be stressed out, too.
HOW THIS PART SHOULD HAVE GONE: well, first she/they should have worked on their relationship, made sure it was strong. Because polyamory CAN strengthen a good relationship, but it WILL destroy a weak one. Then, if opening the relationship was something she still wanted to do, she should have sounded him out on his feelings about open relationships. They should have spent, minimum, six months researching this together. And talking, endless talking. Examining jealousy triggers. Establishing boundaries and rules. And caring for each other as they went.
Because my dander is up: Polyamory is NOT a "more enlightened, modern way to conduct relationships". Not modern because it predates monogamy; not more enlightened because PEOPLE are enlightened, relationship styles aren't. There are MANY fully "enlightened" people who practice monogamy, and there are MANY unenlightened people trying polyamory (among them, I can state with certainty, Jack and Lucy).
Polyamory may be called "ethical non-monogamy" by some, and it is a form of that. There are other forms, among them open relationships, swinging, and extramarital BDSM play. I will maintain with my dying breath that polyamory is NOT about sleeping with whomever you like...it's about building relationships first and foremost.
So Lucy has at least reassured Jack that he's still "primary" in her life, by which she means that their relationship comes first and other relationships come second. Now, there are people who manage to make this arrangement work. I pity the poor secondaries who have their planned date night shunted aside because the primary partner got a hangnail, though. Or the poor secondaries who fall head over heels for Jack or Lucy only to be told, in effect, "sorry, no room at the inn".
Jack asks Lucy the next morning if there was somebody waiting in the wings to trigger this whole polyamory experiment. She denies it, and says she's actually more interested in being with women. You can hear Jack's sigh of relief: "the truth is, another woman seems a lot less threatening than another man."
Sigh. I hear this over and over and it drives me absolutely crazy. WHY is another woman less threatening? I'll tell you why. Because people who think like this believe same-sex relationships aren't "real" relationships. Every time I hear this sentiment voiced, I silently (and sometimes very vocally!) tell the person voicing it that I sincerely hope she leaves him for a woman.
"You know, polyamory doesn't mean our lives have to change", says Lucy, and while she meant well to say that, OF COURSE their lives will change. Adding relationships makes that inevitable. Jack expresses the heartfelt feeling that NOTHING should change, that they should remain monogamous, and is shut down with "I want more".
Yes, polyamory is about more relationships. But it is most emphatically NOT about a single relationship not being "enough". This is a hard concept for people to grasp -- she wants to be with others, of course that means I'm not enough! -- but it is, nevertheless, true. The way to approach this is to replace the word "partner" with the word "friend". How many of us, upon making a friend, think "well, this is nice, but it's not enough...I need more friends?" Friendship is about valuing each friend for who they are. Polyamory is the same. The only difference lies in the way the love may be demonstrated.
Then comes the ultimatum from Lucy: polyamory or divorce. Anybody forcing that choice on me will find me running for the latter option as fast as my feet will carry me, and if I had forced that choice on Eva I would certainly expect to be unceremoniously dumped. But Jack doesn't want to lose Lucy and he'd rather have half of her than none of her (as he sees it), so he accedes to her demand that he join her on this strange journey, so different from the one he signed up for.
Surprise, surprise: Turns out Lucy did have a man in mind, and her way of telling her husband about this is astonishing: she wants to go on a date with him, and if she wants to have sex, that should be fine with Jack because "we're polyamorous now".
HOW THIS SHOULD HAVE GONE: Yes, have the primary/secondary discussion, define your terms, but do all this LONG before the theory of polyamory becomes the imminent practice of polyamory. NEVER spring poly on an unsuspecting partner with a third already lined up. And for the love of all that's sacred, don't tell your husband he has to try poly or lose you.
Having hit him with this, now come the rules. There is one commonplace and natural rule here, and one (again, well-meaning) head-scratcher.
Safer sex is the sin qua non of polyamory, Fluid bonding should only occur after extensive trust has been built, and said trust is usually reinforced by a full STI panel coming back clean for both partners -- depending on your level of paranoia/prudence, that can be amended to ALL partners. So "always use condoms" is good as far as it goes.
"No more than one date with others every two months". This is of course done to cement the primacy of the marriage, but I ask you...yes, you: Put aside "I could never do polyamory" and just consider this as two singles dating. Say you go on a date with someone and really hit it off. But he tells you he can't see you again for two months. What's your reaction? Not a happy one, I'd wager.
This is the pattern I'm seeing with Jack and Lucy: Lucy is veering wildly between reassuring Jack and mercilessly sabotaging their marriage. She's managing somehow to minimize BOTH her husband and any additional partners she does manage to snag...all ahead of time. Nice trick, that, and by "nice" I mean "despicable". Don't set a rule limiting your time with others THAT drastically.
They have Tinder profiles. Now, I'm not going to say nobody ever found a polyamorous partner on Tinder, but Tinder is known for one thing: hookups. If you're polyamorous and you want to be on a dating site, the overwhelming first choice is OkCupid. A portion of the matching questions on OkCupid are specifically about non-monogamy, and there are filters to weed out monogamous people. (Before you get offended...I have successfully introduced two formerly monogamous people to polyamory now. It can be done; I look for people with open minds and open hearts and go s-l-o-w-l-y from there, knowing all the same that it might not take. But it's much, much easier to date within your species, as it were. Or so I'm told.
Jack is desperate to find a date by the time Lucy does, a week Wednesday. That's because he doesn't want to be sitting at home alone, moping, while his wife is out cuddling/kissing/fucking another man. I can sympathize...but did it not occur to Jack that he could call up some friends and visit them? No, it didn't. Because this is a competition to him.
IT'S NOT A COMPETITION. If you're keeping score, you're a loser even if you're winning.
Look. I've seen a lot of talk on poly forums lately about how hard men have it on dating sites. Let's get real. Men on dating sites get 5% attention and 95% ignorance...and I'm probably being generous with that 5%. But women, now. Women get the same 5% of genuine attention, about 75% of creepy, entitled asshat behaviour, and 20% ignorance. And men have the colossal gall to look at women and say, "hey, you're getting 80% attention and I'm only getting 5%!"
It took me more than two years to find one additional partner. She was, needless to say, worth the wait. In that time, I had a profile up on OkCupid for about six months that netted me one friend, and nothing else. I attended a meetup for poly people and found I lacked the confidence to insinuate myself into a group that felt EXTREMELY unwelcoming to new members. What I'm trying to say is, until Kathy, I struck out at every turn.
Eva didn't. Eva spent a fairly long time analyzing the pitchers (read: getting to know people in advance of meeting them). So she hit a solid single on her very first date and a home run on her second. That home run was Mark, and he lives here now.
Did this bother me? Yeah, a bit. At first, I was smarting over the veto of what looked like a very promising relationship. Then, for a while, I was just...not ready, even though I said I was. I STILL wasn't ready when Eva suggested I friend someone on Facebook...someone I fell fast and hard for. It took her longer, but in the end (or maybe this is the end of the beginning?)...it worked out. Splendidly.
If I had thought it was a competition, that I HAD to find a woman right away...well, I didn't, did I? I would have been absolutely crushed, and almost certainly would have resented the hell out of Eva's success, rather than appreciating it.
Jack makes another mistake on Tinder that he at least realizes fairly quickly was a major blunder: he doesn't disclose polyamory up front.
You have to do this. You just have to. If you build chemistry with someone and then tell them, oh, by the way, I'm married....she's extremely unlikely to listen to a single word you have to say after that. Yes, this limits your dating pool significantly. Until polyamory is fully accepted--I'd say give it fifteen years--that's just too bad. I did mention this is ethical nonmonogamy.
Then Jack gets lucky--he finds Nell, who is polyamorous. And free the night of Lucy's date. That night comes, Jack and Nell go out, and predictably, Jack can't get his mind off what Lucy's doing right this instant. Which means his mind is not on Nell, which means -- again, fully predictably -- nothing much happens there.
Lucy, meanwhile, STAYS OUT OVERNIGHT. This appears to have been either a given or at least negotiated beforehand, since Jack isn't alarmed by her absence in the morning, but he hasn't heard from her, either. Until he does, and confirms that yes, she slept with her date.
Somebody explained casual sex to me the other night in a way that made it finally at least sort of understandable to me. It's NOT, as I have long insisted, about using or being used. It's about sex without the "burden" of emotional labour. I immediately flashed on my attitude about hard drugs. People take those because they want to run away from their thoughts. Whereas I'm always chasing mine, so hard drugs have no appeal to me whatsoever.
Now, emotional labour, to me, is the furthest thing from a burden there is. I don't even consider it labour, most of the time. But I know others do, and hence I can see the appeal of sex without "labour" for them.
But sheesh. First date, overnight, no communication until the date's over? I'd have a REAL problem with that. Especially given that I was never sold on the whole idea of polyamory in the first place!
I firmly believe that a first date should never last overnight. Ever. And that's not my squeamishness re: casual sex. That's safety. There are a LOT of assholes out there, and #MeToo notwithstanding, there are...a LOT of assholes out there. Maybe I'm wrong about that, and I hope to be told so if I am. But even if I am, the very LEAST Lucy could have done was excuse herself to go into the bathroom and send a quick text to her husband. "Love you, babe, everything's fine here, hope it is with you as well." Her date, if he's at all understanding...would understand.
Two last notes, from the addendum to the article. Jack is having trouble separating love and sex. Fair enough, it seems to be a common problem, and it's exacerbated, not to hammer this point too harshly, by the poly community itself, which can't seem to decide whether it's about mindless fucking, intense emotional intimacy, something in between, or all of the above.
His ego is bruised when Lucy tells him she had "good sex" with someone else, but partially restored when she says that Jack is "better endowed" than her new lover.
Men and their goddamn dick sizes. Does she laugh at your microdick? Does she ask if it's in? If the answer to both questions is "no", then...shut up and learn how to best please her with the tool you have, among many other things. Here's a tip, free of charge, from Ken: the best sex has very, very little to do with genitals.
"You don't even know if we're sexually compatible--"
"The hell I don't. I see fingers and a tongue from here. Anything else is gravy."
--CALLAHAN'S SECRET, Spider Robinson
If you're considering polyamory, please do a whole bunch of people a big favour. Those people include, but are not limited to, yourself, your existing partner, your prospective new partner(s), me, and anyone else who is polyamorous. The favour is this:
Don't be Lucy.
Don't be Jack.
That is all. Until part two of this, which is even worse.