Spot the Mistakes in This Picture
Here's something to lighten up with. Dan Savage, in his column this week in several dozen alternative newspapers, takes two questions on poly issues. Can you spot the problems?
● One question comes from a poly man whose primary partner put a seemingly petty rule on his outside relationships. This is a stereotypically common thing, but Savage offers a take on it that I've never seen before. Is he on to something, or just being too cute by half? My call follows.
I am a bi man in my late 20s in a poly relationship. My primary partner’s name is Erin. One of the rules she mandated is that I cannot date anyone else named Aaron or Erin. She thinks it would be confusing and awkward. Since those are fairly common names, I have had to reject other Aarons/Erins several times over the last couple of years. ... Overall, it seems like a superficial reason to have to reject someone. Is there any sort of compromise here? We haven’t been able to think of any work-arounds.
—Not Allowed Multiple Erins
Savage presents answers from Dossie Easton (of Ethical Slut fame) and from Franklin Veaux (More Than Two), then one of his own:
...So in the interest of fairness, I’m going to offer a defense of Erin’s position.
It’s not uncommon for people in open relationships to insist on a rule that seems arbitrary, even capricious, to their partners. I call these rules “Brown M&Ms,” a reference to 1980s hair rock band Van Halen. The band’s touring contract stipulated that bowls of M&Ms be set out backstage with all the brown M&Ms removed. To see if their contract had been followed to the letter — a contract that included a lot of technical requirements for their elaborate and potentially dangerous stage shows — all the band had to do was glance at those bowls of M&Ms. If a local promoter couldn’t be trusted to get something simple and seemingly arbitrary right, they couldn’t be trusted to get the bigger stuff right. And if the promoter didn’t get the big stuff right, it wasn’t safe for the band to perform.
Arbitrary rules in open relationships are like Van Halen’s brown M&Ms: a quick way to check if you’re safe. If your partner can’t be trusted to not sleep with someone else in your bed, not take someone else to a favorite restaurant, not use your favorite/special/beloved sex toys with someone else, etc., perhaps they can’t be trusted to get the big things right — like ensuring your physical and emotional safety and/or primacy. So, NAME, if obeying a rule that seems silly and arbitrary makes your partner feel safe to “perform,” i.e., secure enough to be in an open/poly relationship with you, then obeying their seemingly silly rule is the price of admission.
My opinion? Too cute by half. Yesterday, at the Beyond The Love poly convention in Ohio, Ferrett Steinmetz made a more astute observation about such situations. In poly relationships, he told a class, sex between you and me and nobody else ceases to be The Big Thing that defines a "real" couple, as we were all taught to think. So an insecure couple will often seize on something else that must be exclusive to them — maybe involving names, or not drinking tea from a green cup, or not taking anyone else to Bob's Crab Shack.
Rules like that are often a passing phase as a newly open couple gets used to the water. Or they may be a small, permanent accommodation, or a warning sign of deeper problems.
● The other letter raises another common poly issue: whether to open a marriage to solve an intractable sexual mismatch. Dan's advice here is probably good, but one glaring problem leaps out at me. I won't tell you what yet. Can you spot it? Let's see if we flag the same thing.
I, like many hetero, monogamously inclined single women in their 20s, have had a difficult time finding love in the Tinder age. I’ve been single for two years, peppered with some mundanely heartbreaking flings throughout. Recently, I met someone at work and we’ve been dating for a few months. We’re emotionally and politically compatible and he is solid and kind. The only issue is that I don’t feel the level of sexual chemistry that I’ve felt with others. Part of me feels like, at 26, I’m too young to settle in the passion department. The other part of me feels like it’s a dating hellscape out there and I’d be an idiot to walk away. Please advise.
—Seeking Hot And Lasting Love Or Whining?
Dating is a hellscape, SHALLOW, but it has always been thus. Before Tinder and OkCupid and FetLife came along, women (and men) complained about singles bars, blind dates, moms who gave [your] phone number to [their] dentist....
...If the spark isn’t there — no strong physical attraction — you should bail. You say you’re “monogamously inclined,” and that’s wonderful and I support your lifestyle choice. But monogamy would preclude entering into a companionate marriage with Mr. SolidAndKind while Messrs. ComeAndGo meet your needs in the passion department. The monogamously inclined need to prioritize strong sexual connections (chemistry) and sexual compatibility (similar interests/kinks/libidos) right along with kindness, solidity and emotional and political compatibility.
The problem? "Messrs. ComeAndGo." He's suggesting they're a solution at least for other couples. But people are not dildos. Casual sex has a way of sparking deeper connections, and then what? And if you and your husband have ruled out polyamory in advance, you have agreed to use your future other partners as things. If Mr. ComeAndGo turns out to be an actual person with a heart, you're the dick. "Sin, young man, is when you treat people as things."
The whole column, in Savage's home paper (November 9, 2016).