Recent Poly Books, 2:
What Does Polyamory Look Like?
● What Does Polyamory Look Like? Polydiverse Patterns of Loving and Living in Modern Polyamorous Relationships, by Mim Chapman (iUniverse, August 2010).
● Love Unlimited: The Joys and Challenges of Open Relationships, by Leonie Linssen and Stephan Wik (Findhorn Press, August 2010).
● Swinging in America: Love, Sex and Marriage in the 21st Century, by Curtis R. Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Sinski (Praeger, November 2009).
● Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships, by Kathy Labriola (Greenery Press, October 2010).
● The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory: A Hands-on Guide to Open Sexual Relationships, by Françoise Simpère (Skyhorse Publishing, February 2011).
I hope to get to all of them in the coming weeks.
Let's start with What Does Polyamory Look Like?
Mim Chapman is one of the liveliest presenters I've met at poly conferences. She's a former Alaskan fishing-boat captain, marine salvager, civil rights activist, schoolteacher, middle-school principal, creator and star of the "Vagina-Penis Dialogues," board member of Loving More and of Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness, lifelong observer of the poly world, and all-around character. If you saw the six-foot-tall vulva costume walking around Burning Man, that was her inside it.
"I really wrote this book to expand our vocabulary," she told the crowd at a book-signing dinner at the Poly Living conference in Seattle in October 2010. "I've discovered there can be as much difference between two visions of poly two ways of doing it as there is between poly and mono. And if I didn't have a vocabulary to explain my vision of polyamory, there were probably other people in the same boat."
To fill this need, the book describes "five of the more common relationship formats that I've observed in the poly world," gives them cute names and initials, and devotes a chapter to each. They are:
P: Plural Poly Pairs. This is the most common form. It's the one in which a couple, usually a husband and wife, remains primary. One type of Plural Poly Pair is the open marriage, in which two life-bonded people also have secondary pairings. But the category, as Mim defines it, includes anyone who prefers to stick with dyads (regardless of how many of them), with each being its own entity and not having much to do with the others. "Think of the things that change for you when 'I' becomes 'me and thee,' " Chapman explained to the audience. "Yes, you lose some freedom. But you have that wealth of having another mind, another body, another outlook on the world." "P" people experience a variety of separate partners bringing their different outlooks and experiences of life.
O: Old Fashioned Grok. Chapman calls this the "We Poly" model: a circle of people all in it together, a communal group like Stranger in a Strange Land waterbrothers. In such a group, Chapman said, "when things interact they build on each other exponentially." (For both joy and misery, I might add.) This is her own poly dream situation, and mine too. People live together as family, or nearly so, often sharing resources, child rearing, each other, and pretty much all of life. New members are brought in by consensus. Members of the group often have little time or inclination to pursue outside relationships.
L: The Loving Triad. Think of a Grok circle of just three. Sexually it's likely to be a vee rather than an equilateral triangle; even in the bisexual-rich poly world, the odds (at least on paper) are only 15 to 20 percent that two random same-sex people in a triad will both be bi . But regardless, in this model the two ends of the vee share a kinship bond as chosen family. Like a larger "O" Grok circle, they may live together and share finances and child-rearing. The Loving Triad may enlarge into an "O" or split out into a "P," but Chapman claims that it's generally the most stable poly form.
Y: Yikes — Lots of Poly. Most people call this "network poly." It seems to be the fastest-growing kind, and it's the variety that seems to me to be the most stable overall. In this model a partner is likely have other partners who have others who have others, in a large relationship web or "polycule." Much of the network may all socialize together, so that even people with several degrees of separation know each other as part of the community. With so many relationships in the network, some are likely to be forming and ending at any given time, but a large enough network can absorb such readjustments without breaking — especially because network poly necessarily puts a high premium on good behavior and getting along well with exes. Gossip spreads, and someone who violates those norms tends to find him- or herself left out in the cold. Sometimes, close examination will show that there's a core person or group making the network cohere.
S: Sensuous Poly Snakes. This is a less interlocked version of a network. Think of an N, a W, or longer zigzags. Person A is linked to B who's linked to C who's linked to D, and so on. Beyond two or three degrees of separation, people may have little or no knowledge of each other.
For each of these five models, Chapman gives detailed accounts of what she has seen over the years: the benefits of the model, its characteristic difficulties, the agreement issues that it tends to involve (such as STI protections and protocols), the most effective ways of introducing new members, the model's particular etiquette, and the ways it most commonly morphs into another form.
I found this systematic comparison rather clarifying. It will certainly help newbies understand what to realistically expect and, more importantly, help them decide what they're actually looking for. When someone just says "You're poly? I'm poly too!", this doesn't come close to telling the things you need to know about their actual goals, hopes, and expectations.
The book's next chapter, "Choices: Dreams, Fantasies, Life Goals," addresses this problem head-on. Poly life comes in so many forms that each relationship is a do-it-yourself construction. Are you a free-agent poly single? Look for positions as a secondary to "P" couples or part of a "Y" network, suggests Chapman. Are you a family-formation poly, with dreams of a shared home, lives, and kids? Look for fellow "O" and "L" polys. Are you okay with a partner taking a new lover without consulting you, or not? Do you adore puppy-pile sleeping arrangements, or do you find more-than-twosomes distracting? Ask.
Chapman ends with practical strategies for collaborative decision making, and some fun celebrations and rituals — including the fluid-bonding ceremony she and her two triad partners performed together in 2002. "Props: 1 condom, unrolled; 3 candles; a lighter or matches; scissors; a bottle of wine or water; a nice pottery cup; background music; video camera; cell phone." Read the book to learn how it went.
You can read the first several pages online at Amazon.
An excerpt from a little farther in:
Polyamory is sometimes described as many ways of loving, not just many loves.
...In the first chapter, I shared my personal history and how I discovered the word polyamory. Unfortunately, once I discovered the word, I had a precise picture of poly in my mind. It was what I’d been fantasizing about and working toward for my entire adult life.... My dream was of five or maybe seven loving people living in a big round house where each person had a small private space linked to the inner common living room, kitchen, library and music room.... Together, we’d learn and love and brainstorm great plans....
Then I actually met some poly people, and fell in love with a couple who also knew exactly what poly looked like, and it wasn’t my hippie commune!
At a poly conference in California, I met a charming polyamorous man who fell in love with me.... He also knew exactly what poly looked like... him and two hot bi babes who would live with him on his sailboat and be sister galley slaves. There would be no debate or conflict, because they would love and obey their wonderful Master, and together they’d sail the world in euphoric bliss.
In doing relationship coaching with a wide variety of couples across the country, I’m starting to hypothesize that the difference between the dreams and goals of two people with different visions of polyamory can be just as far apart as the difference between two people whose dreams are of monogamy and of polyamory. Not only are the goals diverse, but the partnership agreements, the commitments, and the social etiquette related to things such as how a new person is brought into relationship all vary with the type of poly relationship.
...As I got to know more people and to see the types of relationships they had formed, some patterns started to emerge. I realized that if we became aware of the rich diversity within poly and had a vocabulary to describe the types of poly relationship models that we wanted, we would more readily be able to communicate our dreams to potential new partners, and to ourselves.
Here's another review of the book, by a type "L" guy in an MFM triad who consider themselves married. He runs the blog Polyandry Press.