Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

December 29, 2009

When does poly get too popular? "Hollywood's Latest Love: the Open Relationship"

ABC News online

Oh God, are we trendy yet? “Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lindsay Lohan, ‘It's Complicated’ Highlight Open Relationships,” declared ABC News this morning, in the heading to an article in its Entertainment section. Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

Hollywood's Latest Love: the Open Relationship

By Shiela Marikar | Dec. 29, 2009

Hollywood and marriage have never quite gone together like a horse and carriage. But, lately, it seems like La-La Land's obsessed with the open relationship.

Angelina Jolie, the dark angel of the movie industry, recently told Germany's Das Neue magazine that monogamy, frankly, isn't all that important to her.

"I doubt that fidelity is absolutely essential for a relationship," she said. "It's worse to leave your partner and talk badly about him afterwards."

The 34-year-old mother of six added that she and domestic partner Brad Pitt never deny each other their freedom, even if that means being apart.... "We make sure that we never restrict each other."

It's the hot thing: relationships with few rules or restrictions, dating conventions be damned. The free-wheeling outlook need not be tied to one lover. After dabbling in a girl-on-girl relationship with DJ Samantha Ronson in 2008, Lindsay Lohan has moved back to men, reportedly hooking up with Gucci model Adam Senn and introducing him to her family before Christmas.

Lindsay Lohan had a sapphic relationship with Samantha Ronson; now she's reportedly with Adam Senn.

...Bee Gee singer Robin Gibb, 60... has an open relationship with his wife, Dwina Gibb, a bisexual former druid priestess.

..."It's Complicated," the new romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, features a baby boomer marriage turned divorce, turned hook-up, turned love triangle. Baldwin's character, Jake, realizes 10 years too late that he longs to get back together with his wife, Jane (Streep), whom he left for a svelte 20-something. Despite his new wife's hard body, Jake finds sex with his over-50, former wife enthralling.

"My character, I'm not even sure he knows what he wants," Baldwin said in a recent appearance on ABC News Now's "Popcorn with Peter Travers." "He wants out of it, he wants back into it."

For an industry that rarely knows what it wants, the open relationship seems ideal. Let's see if the trend continues into 2010.

Read the whole article (Dec. 29, 2009).

Elsewhere, the celebrity/entertainment site PopEater declares that 2009 Proves To Be the Year Of the Threesome, from Britney Spears' song "Three", to the much-advertised (but ultimately tame) threesome on the teen drama "Gossip Girls", to the fashion-design house Dolce & Gabbana — which, "because threesomes were already everywhere,"

filmed a commercial featuring a steamy ménage a trois in an effort to revitalize their brand and seem hip to the kiddies. The ad starts with a young couple getting passionate in a Parisian apartment. When a third man happens upon them, he joins in. As the girl's mother catches the menage in action she lets out a scream and covers her mouth with her hand, flashing the D&G watch on her wrist.

Read the whole article (Dec. 21, 2009).

People who take their life cues from celebs and TV ads are just the kind I hope won't try what passes for "poly" in these contexts — because they'll be liable to do it horribly and give it a bad name. And then blame us... for putting ideas into their heads. I hope I'm just being paranoid.

Another sign that we're becoming trendy, with unintended consequences, just crossed my Google News Alerts from the other end of the intellectual spectrum. At York University in Toronto, a PhD candidate in moral philosophy and relational ethics reviews Jenny Block's autobiography Open: Love, Sex and life in an Open Marriage. Marnina Norys writes,

Once I was part of a discussion with a pair of female friends bemoaning the increasing number of polyamorous women these days who were "ruining it" for women looking to settle down with one man. It would come as no surprise to Jenny Block, the writer of Open, that my friendship with said friends dissolved shortly after I admitted to them that I myself questioned the value of monogamy in my own relationships....

Arguably... the acceptance of polyamory in certain social circles is creating an environment that is increasingly inhospitable for those bent on cultivating a monogamous relationship. This is because there is greater social pressure to accept polyamory. The impact of the acceptance sought by Block, then, affects more than merely the interests of two consenting adults in a relationship, and a thorough critical analysis of polyamory would include an examination of the broader social issues at play if and when such relationships become more mainstream.

Read the whole review (in Metapsychology Online Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 53; Dec. 29, 2009).

As I have said before, but now with more urgency:

The people who push for years to get a bandwagon rolling are usually unprepared for what to do when the bandwagon finally starts to move. No longer is it all about a few devoted people grunting and straining from behind to make the bandwagon’s wheels move half an inch. When the effort begins to succeed, the bandwagon starts rolling on its own, faster and faster.

And unless the people with the original vision stop just shoving the rear bumper and run up and grab the steering wheel, pretty soon the bandwagon outruns them and leaves them behind. And their elation turns to horror as they watch it careen downhill out of control, in disastrous unintended directions.

Think of what happened to the psychedelic drug movement a generation ago....

So maybe it’s time for us to pay less attention to just pushing the polyamory-awareness movement, and more to steering it.

If we are to save our defining word from serious cheapening in the next few years, and steer this thing in good directions as it gains momentum, we should, in my opinion, be seizing every opportunity to do several things:

1. Keep stressing that successful polyamory requires high standards of communication, integrity, honesty, self-awareness, generosity, and concern for every person affected;

2. Emphasize that poly is not for everyone, and that monogamy is right and best for many, and that no one need apologize for the relationship model they want;

3. Insist on the part of the definition that stresses respect for everyone and the "full knowledge and consent of all involved";

4. Expand that to not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved. The defining aspect of polyamory, I'm convinced — the thing that sets it apart and makes it powerful and radical and transformative — is in seeing one's metamours not as rivals to be resented, or as neutral figures to be tolerated, but as, at minimum, friends and acquaintances – perhaps even family – for whom you genuinely wish good things. (And beyond that, of course, there's no limit to how close you can become.) This is what differentiates poly from merely having affairs. In this way it becomes a generalization of romantic love — into something wider, and more widely applicable, than the dominant paradigm of a couple carefully walling away their particular love from anything to do with the rest of humanity.

And, 5. Warn people that, while poly can open extraordinary new worlds of joy and wonder and may help to humanize the world, its benefits must be earned: through hard relationship-honesty work, ruthless self-examination, sacrifice when necessary, courage to do tough personal growth, and a quick readiness to (as they say in the Marines) "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong."

With the bandwagon now moving, let's not let it run away from us in the next few years to the point that "polyamory" goes mass-market as something careless or trivial, or in any way less than what we know it to be.

This February, the Polyamory Leadership Network is having another all-day "summit" meeting following Loving More's Poly Living Conference, in the same hotel outside Philadelphia. The PLN (74 people worldwide now) formed about a year ago with big ambitions for creating a variety of poly awareness and education projects. But its various committees have been very slow to make much of anything happen. I'll be there. I hope we can organize to get ahead of the pop-culture curve as described above, and steer this accelerating bandwagon.


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Blogger Ben Ostrowsky said...

I saw "It's Complicated" and didn't see anything even remotely resembling poly. I think it's just another romcom with the usual sneaking around, hiding everything from everybody, etc.

If someone else who's seen it would like to remind me of good bits I forgot, please do.

December 30, 2009 8:40 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

> I saw "It's Complicated" and
> didn't see anything even remotely
> resembling poly....sneaking
> around, hiding everything from
> everybody, etc.

Yeah. My point is that a lot of the mainstream world *assumes* this is what "the whole polyamory thing" is about, more or less. Or that this is how it always ends up, but now it's trendy and cool to behave this way if you call it by a hip new name. No no no!

December 30, 2009 12:03 PM  
Blogger Young Metro Poly said...

Thanks for re-iterating the list of what we need to do to steer "the movement". Given how rapidly things change when it comes to celebrity news nowadays, I'm worried that waiting until the summit in February to get the ball rolling may be a little late.

December 30, 2009 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps point (2) should be amended to be something like:

2. Emphasize that poly is not for everyone, and that monogamy is right and best for many, and that no one need apologize for the relationship model they want, and that successful monogamy requires high standards of communication, integrity, honesty, self-awareness, generosity, and concern for every person affected;

Alan (another one)

December 31, 2009 1:34 AM  
Blogger Judith said...

I would add another point to your already excellent list: Mind the Language.

By this I mean that we should take care what words we use in presenting ourselves, and that we should challenge imprecise and dismissive terms used in the media and by individuals to describe us and our relationships. The net result of the use of such terms is to minimise poly people and our relationships: to suggest that our relationsips are less valid or adult than those of monogamous people.

For example, 'fidelity' is commonly equated in English-speaking cultures with 'monogamous sexual exclusivity' which is a ridiculous misuse of the term. My partners and I are completely faithful to one another without monogamous exclusivity.

Another example: a woman in the first report is described as 'dabbling in a girl-on-girl relationship.' This is not a respectful way to write about a person's relationship, whether it lasted long-term or not. Was she described as dabbling in a girl-on-boy relationship when she was previously with a man? I suspect not. She is not a girl, she is a woman, and who, apart from those directly involved, can judge whether she was 'dabbling' or sincere? This sort of terminology directly upholds the monogamous heteronormative bias of Western culture.

We should certainly not let the media get away with such insidious undermining of the public perception of our relationships, which, at their best, can be more honest and honourable than the majority of mono relationships in our culture.

December 31, 2009 11:38 AM  
Anonymous LetsEatCake! said...

This is such a great post! I'm going to cross post with commentary. Thank you for giving form to my own thoughts!

December 31, 2009 5:17 PM  
Anonymous LetsEatCake said...

I don't know how to pingback!


December 31, 2009 6:57 PM  
OpenID Tomek Kulesza said...

Very interesting. I think that the double wishfear of both polyamory being embraced and being hijacked by mainstream is quite common (i certainly share it too!). Funny thing, here in Poland, lately the polyamory is getting into news in the form of anglosaxon media coverage, and so we here don't have any influence on it. So please do your part in making sure that poly in anglosaxon world stays what it is when it goes into the media , folks ;) (oh yes, now you can all feel the burden of responsibility, lol)

January 02, 2010 10:14 AM  
Blogger PolyButDifferent said...

I'm a little uncomfortable with considering

"not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved."

as a defining aspect of polyamory. A good friend of mine didn't get along with her secondary's wife. Things eventually deteriorated to the point where they were not on speaking terms. Does this mean she ceased to be poly, or to be a "good poly person"? I don't think so. It's easier for all concerned if everyone is good friends with their partners' partners, their partners' partners' partners, and so on, and striving for that is a good idea. But realistically, not everyone in the world gets along with everyone else, and sometimes the people you don't get along with are goig to include your partners' partners. There's a difference between "one shouldn't consider one's partners' partners to be rivals" (which I agree with), and "If you don't get along with your partners' partners, you're not doing polyamory properly, or at all (which is what you seem to me to be saying when you consider this to be a "defining aspect of polyamory").

January 06, 2010 1:57 AM  
OpenID Tomek Kulesza said...

I think Alan meant real, sincere consent and not coerced one, which i could easily see happening in a relationship with power disparity, like, stereotypically, wife "accepting" mistresses on the side in case of affluent man, or something like that.

But it gets tricky, what's coerced and what's putting up with situation you're not really happy about, but you are torn, not wanting your relationship with paramour let go?

And if there was 'ill-wishes' on behalf of metamours, i would definitely call it "polyamorous relationships with problems". Yes, still poly.

Anyway, defining polyamory sharply is exceedingly difficult, IMO.

January 09, 2010 10:40 AM  
Blogger Rev. Jim Jones said...

Poly is hard, but I'm not sure I'd say it is THAT hard.

One of the things implied in this post seems to be that someone has to be either a saint or very close to it in order to be poly.

A small minority can do it, you have to wish your SO's partners well, etc.

I think that if you are looking at the paragons of poly, the ones that are drowning in compersion and can spend 12 hours processing without a problem, then yes, it is hard.

But if it is just your SO dating another guy and everyone is ok with it, it isn't that big of a deal and it isn't that difficult.

February 08, 2010 9:25 AM  
Blogger Deborah said...

I do have to say, while I wasn't around for the 70's revolution, I have friends who were and I understand your position.

However, to be honest, I don't like that we should have to be poster children for poly. I don't feel like it did anything good for the gay movement and I don't know that it will do the poly movement any good either. I don't feel like I should have to be obligated to be available for Q&A - what I do isn't what everyone does. I don't feel like my relationship model is always perfect. When I started out in poly, I was the only one in my circle who was and I felt like I had to be perfect all the time so people wouldn't blame our problems on poly. And frankly, it sucked and it didn't help my relationships.

Now I just have my relationships. For me it's not a political thing, it's my life and while yes the personal is political, I prefer being able to flatly say, oh guess what, half of mono marriages end in divorce and apparently that system keeps on keeping on. And just . . .live my life.

February 08, 2010 10:48 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

Rev. Jim Jones,

> Poly is hard, but I'm not
> sure I'd say it is THAT hard.

Well, I'd rather newbies think it's going to be awfully, terribly hard and then be pleasantly surprised if it goes easier, than for people to rush into it hastily and have it wreck their lives/ relationships/ marriages. And then blame people like me.

Maybe it's because I'm a veteran of the free-love and open-marriage movements of the 1960s and 1970s. I've seen too many people get starry-eyed about poly in theory and charge into it when it isn't right for them, and have train wrecks, and then turn conservative because of it. I don't want that on my karma.

February 08, 2010 11:14 AM  

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