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



April 14, 2021

Polyamory news roundup: Compersion in the media, pre-judging FMF throuples, "Good Trouble" developments, and more



As polyamory becomes more widely known and understood year by year, you might think the need for basic Poly 101 explanations would wane. Not so. As more people get wind of a topic, they create a demand for more explanations of it. Both mainstream and new media re acting very aware of this.

Last month I posted my choice of the three best Poly 101's on the web to send people to. That post took off faster than anything I've put up in a while.

Now here's a specific Compersion 101 just up on YourTango, a big online relationship magazine aimed at young women: What Is Compersion? A Look At The One Thing That Not Only Makes Polyamorous Relationships Work, But Thrive (April 12).

No, it's not "the one thing" that does that. But it is a major thing. A compersive personality is the biggest difference, IMO, between people who struggle with poly and those for whom it comes easily and naturally.


Vershinin89 / Shutterstock
By Koko Taylor

Amidst a crowded dance floor, a slender blonde woman leaned over to whisper in my ear.

"You're a very attractive couple," she purred. I smiled at her — an ego boost is always nice.... The man with her gave me a high-five and kept flashing smiles my way. It could not have been any more clear....

...When we left the bar, my boyfriend asked if I'd noticed the couple.

"I think they were trying to hit on me," he said.

"No, they were hitting on me," I replied.

Then it dawned on us — they were hitting on us as a couple. That's funny, we both thought. And then he looked at me and said, "I don't want to share you with anyone."

"Neither do I," I replied. Exclusivity with one partner is where I'm comfortable in a romantic relationship.

The model for romance in our culture is so dominated by the monogamous male-female relationship that most people subscribe to it without stopping to consider the alternatives.

But not everyone is uncomfortable with sharing his or her partner.

What is compersion?

People in open relationships often feel happy or pleasure when their partner has romantic adventures with other people. This feeling is sometimes called compersion.

Compersion is a feeling of joy from others’ pleasure, specifically celebrating your partner(s)’ other relationships in a polyamorous structure. In this sense, compersion is often defined as the opposite of jealousy. The Kerista Commune, a now-defunct San Francisco-based polyamorous community, is credited with coining the term about 40 years ago.

Compersion doesn't just apply to sexual relationships, however.

According to Urban Dictionary, compersion "differs from candaulism in that compersion does not specifically refer to joy regarding the sexual activity of one's partner, but refers instead to joy at the relationship with another romantic and/or sexual partner.

...Since compersion is feeling happiness from your partner enjoying other people, the opposite would be, well... jealousy. The opposite of compersion means becoming upset, jealous or sad that your significant other is with another person, romantically or sexually.

...When Shara Smith started dating Brian Downes, he was already in a relationship with someone else, and he wanted to be careful about respecting Stephanie, his first partner.

"He wanted to take all the right steps, and that made me more attracted to him," said Shara, who described compersion as a "positive emotional reaction to a lover's other relationship... I love to watch his face light up when she calls because I know how much he cares about her."

Shara doesn't view other partners as competition. "Every relationship is unique and nobody can replace me, because they are not me."

"It's like a parent watching their children spread their wings and fly," added Anita Wagner, describing the joy she feels when someone makes her partner happy.

-------------------------------------------

...It [can] take work to feel compersive for your partner. According to psychotherapist Paula Kirsch, to cultivate compersion, "Give yourself a break and recognize fear as neither good nor bad; it is normal. Love is not scarce: adopt an abundance mindset."


The piece goes on to describe some "components necessary to experience compersion in a non-monogamous relationship":


1. Empathy...
2. Intellect...
3. Support...

As Kirsch suggests, "Focus on your personal growth. Learn something new, expand your circle of friends. Process feelings with your partner." 


With the article they posted a companion video, a 2019 Tedx Talk by Joli Hamilton:


Turns out the article is reprinted from 2008; YourTango is clearly casting around for good poly material to publish. Writers take note. From its "Write For Us" page: "Send pitches to our Editor-at-Large Andrea Zimmerman and include the word 'Pitch' in your subject line." The page don't indicate what they pay, but discuss payment after an editor shows interest in your pitch.


------------------------------------------------------------------

OTHER RECENT ITEMS


●  Speaking of compersion, this powerful story is just up on Medium: What Becoming a Throuple Taught Us About Our Capacity to Love (April 13). 


...The three of us would go on to talk the rest of that night. While Erin didn’t come home with us that evening, she would spend her first night with us less than a week later.

The sex was so much more than that of a traditional FMF threesome. It was love making to the third power, awakening my bisexual side in more wonderful ways than I thought possible. ...

...Our time with Erin taught us more than we could’ve imagined about life and love.



●  And for those who will pre-judge any FMF triad (like that one) without knowing their actual dynamics, feminist writer Abby Moss on HuffPost UK tells you to get over your pre-judice:



We’re not two women being strung along by a man. We’re not a couple using another woman like a human sex toy. We are simply three people in a relationship.

By Abby Moss

...There’s one question that’s more problematic. “How can you be a feminist in that relationship?”

...They imagine him swaggering down the road with a woman under each arm. They imagine a non-stop orgy (one that’s flatteringly lit and airbrushed like mainstream porn). They assume the dynamic was his idea. They assume Andrea and I aren’t really into each other, that we’re both just doing it for his male approval – or that Andrea is trying to ‘steal’ him from me.

...Take the common misconception that Andrea wants to ‘steal’ Paul away from me. This assumes that a relationship (and most especially a monogamous two-person relationship) is the ultimate social success. ...
 
But not all women want [that].

Or take the assumption that Paul is somehow getting more out of our dynamic. This inherently positions Paul’s male experience as somehow more valid, and worth more, than a woman’s experience. It also plays into the scientifically disproven idea that men want sex more than women, as well as the disturbingly too common belief that bisexuality is not real.

These assumptions harm all of us because they reaffirm misogynistic biases that put male experiences, and male preferences, first. It also suggests, quite offensively, that women like me and Andrea are essentially doormats incapable of making active choices about our relationships and our lives.

...The most worrying part is that my friend is someone who already gets this stuff.... And that’s how powerful these prejudices are. They get into our heads even when we think we’ve overcome them.


For a dissection of common disfunctions that do occur in FMF groups, see this piece also by Abby Moss on the same site: Why Being The 'Unicorn' In A Threesome Isn't Always A Magical Experience (last updated March 2).


●  There's buzz in the polyam world about where last week's episode of Good Trouble is leading. Good Trouble is a hit progressive series about two young black women making a new life in L.A. (It's on Freeform, in its third season.) Poly Philia writes,


The latest episode of ‘Good Trouble’ has a very positive portrayal of polyamory! [S3 E8, aired April 7]. The main character Malika has a boyfriend named Isaac but then she meets a polyamorous man named Dyonte who has a girlfriend (who has another boyfriend). Malika admits her attraction to Dyonte to Isaac while in a therapy session together. The therapist says the following:

“Commitment shouldn’t mean suppressing your feelings or identity for fear you’re gonna lose the person you love. And, as scary as it is, not being your authentic self, not asking for what you truly need...that’s what ultimately blows up relationships.”

Powerful!


According to recapper Maggie Fremont on Vulture, the therapist


also talks to Malika about how “monogamy is a social construct” and some people believe being polyamorous is a sexual identity — some people are just “hardwired” that way and to deny that part of you is to deny your authentic self.


This is part of an ongoing storyline that continues to develop:


Malika chats it over with her friends. They’re basically like, okay, if you want to be polyamorous and that’s what you need to be happy, that’s one thing. Does Malika  think Isaac would be into it? Her friends put it bluntly: “Is it worth the risk of losing him” to find out if he’s into it....

And then we see a tearful Malika back in therapy. She says that she needs to tell Isaac that she lied when she told him she wasn’t interested in Dyonte, because she does “want to pursue a relationship with Dyonte.” But she also wants to continue dating Isaac. She wants them both. And then we see that Isaac is there sitting next to her at therapy and he looks at her in shock and perhaps a little bit of heartbreak?

It’s doubtful Good Trouble would go this deep into poly relationships and not dive all the way in, so something tells me Isaac might be willing to give it a go for Malika. ...


But, says Fremont, the next episode (E9, out April 14) left this story thread alone.


●  A review of Polysecure appeared in Greater Good magazine, written by its editor Jeremy Adam Smith: What Polyamory Can Teach Us About Secure Attachment (March 26). "A new book provides lessons for everyone about cultivating strong emotional attachments with romantic partners."

Greater Good comes from Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which "studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society." 


●  North Carolina Public Radio broadcast a 45-minute show with Black & Poly's website editor Crystal Byrd Farmer and others: Polyamory And Love Beyond The Relationship Binary (online April 2; aired Feb. 12).


Polyamorous relationships look as different
as the people who get into them. (Canva)

Polyamorous relationships look as different as the people they involve. But they all take some learning and “unlearning” of our standard relationship structures.

Crystal Byrd Farmer
Host Anita Rao talks with Rob, a co-organizer of Triangle Polyamory Meetup, and Crystal Byrd Farmer, the website editor for Black & Poly magazine, about how they approach communication and community-building in polyamorous relationships. 

And Natalie Murray, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, joins the conversation to talk about how she counsels people exploring polyamory.



●  Polysaturation statistics. How many partners is too many? Eli Sheff, in her Psychology Today blog, goes looked for data on where various polyfolks feel they max out: Polysaturation: When Polyamorous People Have Enough Partners (Feb. 25). Turns out there's not much data, and it depends on what definition of "relationship" people think they're using, but consider this:


Referring to her 30 years of providing counseling for clients in diverse relationships [in the Berkeley, CA, area], Kathy Labriola explained that her clinical experience indicates:

The vast majority of people in open relationships do not have more than two long-term partners concurrently. I have seen a very small number of people who seem to be able to have three long-term committed relationships. However, I could count them on one hand, and they are either retired or being supported financially by a partner, so they have lots of time and energy for relationships since they are not working. I have seen many people TRY to have three serious relationships concurrently, and almost invariably one or more will collapse rather quickly (within six months to a year) because they just do not have the time, energy, or emotional availability to keep all three people marginally satisfied.

My own research indicates that Labriola’s observations hold true for many polyamorous people who sustain two long-term relationships and either do not have the time and energy for more relationships, or have only occasional flings with others. A few, however, seem to be polyvoracious (another word I just made up) in that they never reach saturation and are always interested in a new partner, regardless of how many partners they already have. Some of these folks are relationship nomads who travel to see or meet new partners and may or may not have a home-base themselves.


Well, I know some longterm more-than-threes right in my area. With all respect to Labriola, who does have a lot of knowledge of the wider community, most of the relationships thata counselor sees are going to be ones in trouble.  



●  And on the subject of statistics, what is the infidelity rate among supposedly monogamous couples? Despite many surveys over the years no one knows, points out Michael Castleman in his Psychology Today blog: What Proportion of the Coupled Population Cheats? (Feb. 15)


...Infidelity is difficult to research. Few willingly admit it. I recall a survey showing that only a tiny percentage of married folks had ever strayed. The researchers interviewed subjects in the presence of their spouses. Duh! 

...Since Kinsey’s studies in the late 1940s, credible estimates of heterosexual Americans’ lifetime infidelity have been all over the map — for men, 12 to 72 percent, for women, 7 to 54 percent.


If you're writing or speaking on the subject, as quite a few of you are, those numbers are the only honest picture you can currently give.


●  And this afternoon, Women's Health attempts to choose The 9 Best Polyamorous Dating Apps You Can Download Right Now (April 14).

I'm glad to see that one of them is #Open, what with its founders' dedication to the community and their battle to see through the Great Wall of Google, which banned their Android app from the Google Play store for nine days when an algorithm reacted to words like "threesomes" in its description, while competing apps use the terms just fine.

Okay, enough for one post! More to come.

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March 27, 2021

Major BBC article: "The rise of multi-partner relationships"


The BBC, Britain's broadcaster to the world, has put up another significant article for the growing recognition of polyamory worldwide: Ethical non-monogamy: the rise of multi-partner relationships (March 25). 

It steps off with Ian Jenkins, author of the just-published Three Dads and a Baby (see earlier post). From there it presents various other interesting and informative people — including Dossie Easton, now 77, who tells of the event that inspired her to write her seminal The Ethical Slut with Janet Hardy (first edition 1997).

It's long at 3,500 words. Save it to send to relatives who think you're a lone nut. Some bits:  


By Jessica Klein

Multi-partner relationships are on the rise, and finding their way into the mainstream. Could this new exposure change the way we look at sex and families?

(The BBC led with the new faces of gay poly domesticity: Three Dads and a Baby author Ian Jenkins (left), partners Alan and Jeremy, baby Piper, and the family woofers. Photo: Sweet Me Photography.)


...Though it’s still rare for people in polyamorous relationships to share legal parentage of their children, various forms of ‘ethical non-monogamy’ – relationships involving more than two adults who consent to the arrangement – have becoming increasingly widespread over the past decade. Multiple factors contribute to this, from the rise of multi-partner dating apps and mainstream media representation [Thank you, dear brave spokespeople] to social media and more easily accessible networks for those interested in the lifestyle. “I think a huge factor is just people's willingness to be open,” says Jenkins. “There has to be visibility.”

These cultural shifts, however, date back to free love proponents in the 1960s, who worked hard to expand our sexual boundaries from groups working all across the globe. And changes continue to happen because of people like Jenkins and his partners, whose stories help shed long-held taboos about having multiple partners.

‘This is not a new thing’: the history of non-monogamy

In 2016, a survey of nearly 9,000 single US adults showed that one in five had previously been in a consensually non-monogamous relationship. A Canadian survey came up with roughly the same numbers a year later.

...“Something else we've seen in the last decade is that Google searches for the terms ‘polyamory’ and ‘open relationships’ have increased, which demonstrates that there's more interest in this topic,” says Justin Lehmiller, social psychologist and research fellow at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Bloomington, Indiana.

But people have been engaging in these types of relationships “for a really long time”, adds Lehmiller. “This is not a new thing.”

----------------------------------

...[Dossie] Easton had been talking about ethical non-monogamy for years when she and Hardy taught a BDSM workshop at a Mensa conference in 1994 in Big Sur, outside San Francisco. While the audience wasn’t scandalised by the BDSM, they were shocked that Easton and Hardy, who were lovers at the time, did the workshop right in front of Easton’s male partner. That prompted the pair to write the book, which covers how to carry on healthy non-monogamous relationships.

The Ethical Slut [now its third, expanded and updated edition] is still somewhat required reading for people interested in the lifestyle. “Every year it sells more,” says Easton.

----------------------------------

...The current near-mainstreaming of ethical non-monogamy, [Lehmiller] says, has happened because of both academic research that’s filtered into the public, through media and education centres, and more diverse depictions of these relationships on TV. These newer depictions go beyond HBO’s Big Love or TLC’s Sister Wives, which both follow Mormon families featuring one husband and multiple wives, to show a variety of poly relationships. Both Lucy Gillespie’s Unicornland, in which a newly single woman goes on dates with several different couples; and You Me Her, where both members of a couple fall for another woman together, are strong examples.

“The internet and more inclusive dating apps have also played a role in changing these attitudes,” says Lehmiller. ... [With new apps like Feeld and 3Fun] “there are more options for meeting and connecting,” says Lehmiller, “so it's not as much of an underground scene as it was in the past”.

Feeld is how Janie Frank, 25, met her two partners, Maggie Odell, 27, and Cody Coppola, 31, in 2016. ... Looking back, Frank [says that Feeld] introduced her to “this whole lifestyle that I didn’t know existed. Talking to people on the app… I began to realise there is a whole community for people who are ethically non-monogamous.” 

Today, Frank and Odell both have TikTok accounts, between which they have a few hundred-thousand followers. “We've been using them to try to talk about polyamory and bring awareness to it, and just normalise it and educate people on… what it can look like,” says Frank.

Some ethically non-monogamous people reach out to thank them for the representation. Others less familiar with the lifestyle comment to say they’re glad they learned about polyamory from Frank and Odell’s videos. “I had never heard about this before,” some say.  [Still!]

----------------------------------

Is the law catching up?

The rise in ethically non-monogamous relationships is leading to legal recognition beyond Jenkins and his partners gaining parental rights to their children. In July 2020, the Somerville, Massachusetts city council voted unanimously to recognise polyamorous domestic partnerships. The city of Cambridge, which borders Somerville, recently followed suit.

This isn’t just happening in the US. In 2018, two men and a woman in a polyamorous relationship were all recognised as the legal parents of their child in Newfoundland, Canada. The year prior, three men in a relationship in Medellin, Colombia, were legally married.

These geographically disparate moves towards normalising ethical non-monogamy may help spark a more global movement. [Claudia] Zinser, in Berlin, believes the push to online meetings and communities, spurred by Covid-19, will enhance “global networks” for those who practice ethical non-monogamy. The spread of information about non-monogamy, meanwhile, “is going to give people more options for designing the type of relationship that’s right for them”, says Lehmiller. ...


Go read the whole article. It's in the BBC's "WorkLife" section, "your global guide to getting ahead; a destination for everything that you need to be more successful." 

    –  By the way, I've bought and am reading Three Dads and a Baby. In addition to being an important step for polyamory awareness and acceptance, it's also a good fun book by a kind and decent man; you'll enjoy it.

    –  "There has to be visibility," Jenkins says above. For the story of, IMO, the key person who brought the early modern poly movement out of its anti-media shell to tell its story to the world, see footnote 2 here.  

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March 22, 2021

THE 3 best Poly-101 articles to share out, IMHO. (And news updates)


New to this thing and looking for good Poly 101 overviews? Or know someone who is?

Or maybe someday you'll want fine guidance to send someone?

They, or you, might land on something mediocre in the mainstream media, like this recent throwaway in the UK's Independent newspaper. Or you might happen to land on a really good one, like this in the fashion magazine InStyle three months ago: Everything You Need to Know About Polyamorous Relationships (despite its overclaiming title).

Or you could leave the mass-market track and find your way to a gem...


● ...Such as this series on Scarleteen, a renowned site for "sex ed for the real world: inclusive, comprehensive, supportive sexuality and relationships info for teens and emerging adults".

The series comes in three parts:
A First Polyamorous Guide,  I Think I'm Poly; How do I Initiate Open Relationships?,  and Relationship Structure and Troubleshooting: Navigating Poly Relationships, all by Mo Ranyart and s. e. smith. Some content is repeated to make each article stand well alone. They appeared in July 2017 but I discovered them just now.

In speaking to teens directly as intelligent people, the authors dwell on insightful and sophisticated concepts that a 15-year-old learning about love can grasp -- experienced adults too -- and that you might not find elsewhere, because the articles are designed for people the authors care about rather than for clicks. For instance,


     – The difference between the default state of a new relationship where no one's established the relationship structure, and an explicitly polyamorous one, is the thought and intention that's been put into it.

     – If you don't have a great track record of honesty with previous partners, or have found that communication is tough for you to initiate, now's the time to really dig into those skills and think about how to apply them in your relationships. It gets easier with practice, and when you're balancing multiple relationships there are usually plenty of opportunities to polish those skills. And communication within poly is sure excellent practice.

     – When you're opening up an established relationship, keeping that original relationship strong and intact can be a goal that winds up driving a lot of your decisions.... And while it's fine to prioritize one relationship over others in terms of time or emotional energy devoted to it, it's not okay to discount a new partner's feelings or treat them as disposable if problems arise with an established partner. 

     – Especially early on, it's helpful to have some periodic check-ins with your partners, to make sure things are moving smoothly and everyone's still happy with the relationship structure. There may be ongoing conversations, negotiations, or adjustments that need to happen to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable with their individual relationships, and with the larger poly structure as a whole. ... These don't always have to be big, scary conversations; sometimes just saying "I'm feeling pretty good about this, are you?" and hearing an affirmative in response can be a solid reassurance.

     – You might hear... “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t tell me" or "my partner doesn’t care what I do as long as they don't hear about it.” This is something we call “information sequestering,” where a partner is suggesting that open communication isn’t necessary.... At best, it suggests that someone involved in the situation may be uncomfortable with opening their relationship, and someone will get hurt. At worst, it could mean that someone is cheating, and keeping their partner out of the loop is a deliberate way to avoid the truth coming out.


There's also serious treatment of STIs, safer sex, and discussing your safe-sex boundaries early (well before the heat of the moment), with links to the abundant safer-sex information elsewhere on the site.


●  This especially good Poly 101 just went up a few days ago, in the Healthy Living section of the widely used and respected UK medical site NetDoctor:  Polyamorous relationships explained. "41 ways to understand polyamorous relationships, dating and sex." (March 15)

It's long, and thorough and gently factual the way medical sites are. Amazingly, it hits more than 100 points correctly IMO with just one or two partial fumbles. That's an extraordinary score, especially for a one-source article (she's sex therapist Tatyana Dyachenko).

Just one sample, the summation at the end:   



Ladanifer

















By Annie Hayes

...41. The bottom line.

Different people express love in different ways, so just like monogamous relationships, no two poly relationships are the same. Polyamory is about opening up your ideas of love, sex, and intimacy – you're not looking for just one person to share a romantic or sexual connection with, but several. Above all, it's about respect, communication, and trust.



●  And third, another all-time favorite Poly 101 of mine is The Coffee Break Primer on Polyamory by Ada Powers. It's more broadly philosophical, and is especially clear-eyed about what you're getting into. It's the one with that haunting illo you remember of astronaut moves being demonstrated to a 1940s audience.
   

-------------------------------


UPDATE about HBO Max's "There's No 'I' in Threesome".  Gabrielle Smith, writing for Cosmopolitan, does a thorough takedown of so many things wrong with this self-centered, deceitful, open-relationship-experiment-gone-wrong docu-drama by Jan Oliver Lucks: 9 Reasons HBO Max's New Documentary "There's No 'I' in Threesome" Made Me Want to Literally Scream (Feb. 15). Pass that link to anyone who needs it. Post that link in comments you make about the film or in others' comments you see. 


UPDATE about Craig Ivey, the supposed "polyamorous tantric sex guru" in the tabloids for his affair nine years ago with now-congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-QAnon), she of the Jewish space lasers. Ivey is looking better, considering. He confirms that “It does sadden me to see the type of person [Greene] has chosen to become,” says “Am I a Tantric Sex guru? Fuck no. I found Tantra about 4 years ago,” and he has posted a statement about his discovery of polyamory, his insights about himself in learning how to do it well for all concerned, and other matters. Two panels from that:


Craig Ivey at home

-------------------------------


ANNOUNCEMENT:  Online event, Abuse in Polyamory. "Join this global live event hosted by Poly Pages. Join our host Claire Travers as she sits down with Alicia, Eve and Sydney for this live one-off event. This event will run on April 17. This event will be 90 minutes long.

"Abuse can happen in any relationship, whether you have one partner, two partners, or more. A polyamorous relationship is not any more or less likely to be abusive than a monogamous one, however having multiple partners may create unique situations that abusive people may exploit. Our social understandings of abuse assume a mono-normative relationship, leading to poor understandings and awareness of the ways abuse may present in a non-monogamous dynamics. In this one-off, live event - join three polyamorous survivors, educators and writers in a global conversation about abuse in polyamory. Facilitated by Poly Pages -- an academic non-monogamous platform -- this event is a facilitated, closed panel discussion. This panel will include: how we speak about abuse in polyamory, how abuse may present in polyamory, and how we as individuals and as communities, can address abuse in polyamory."

Paid event; modest cost; sliding scale.

Have an announcement that belongs here? Email me at alan7388 (AT) gmail.com. 


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March 19, 2021

At the one-year mark, polyamory's many-sided Covid tales


Hannah Minn

With things finally looking up, here's a collection of stories on how people in polyamory have held up through the pandemic year.

It varies. Settle in for a read.

First off: The annual round of polyamory conferences and retreats remains on hold for at least a few more months  at least in person. Coming up online is Southwest LoveFest March 25–28, normally held in Tucson but this year on Whova, a virtual-convention app. No travel required!

But for something like 25 years now, real-life conferences have been a central, productive nexus of the polyamory movement  like conferences in just about every other field. Their suspension has been a big blow. Can't wait to get back!

Get your shots. Proof of vaccination is shaping up to be a requirement for many conferences and other big, crowded indoor events.


●  "Polyamorous relationships under severe strain during the pandemic" is the title of a long survey article being reprinted widely in mainstream media. It's by Riki Thompson, a sociologist and polyamory researcher. She published it on The Conversation, an open-source public journalism site for academics to tell about their work. The site's quality standards are high, and once an article gets on it, media of all kinds are allowed to reprint it for free. (Feb. 11).


The pandemic blew up some carefully constructed ‘polycules.’

By Riki Thompson 

...I decided to focus on how the pandemic had influenced the dating lives of my participants. ... One finding soon emerged: People practicing polyamory were facing a totally different set of pandemic-related dilemmas than those who practice monogamy.

At the same time, their experience navigating the complexities of having more than one partner put them at a particular advantage when it came to managing pandemic-specific dating issues.

(Yes, they used one of those feet pix.  EyeEm/ Getty)

Relationship networks – also known as “polycules” – can be complex and interconnected. ... 

...On a March 2020 episode of his “Savage Lovecast,” sex columnist Dan Savage declared that “poly is canceled” because of the pandemic, adding that “monogamy is where it’s at these days.”

In my study, some participants who identify as polyamorous seemed to agree with Savage’s assertion. They told me that they were “monogamous for now,” though not out of preference, but by circumstance. ...

People in Facebook groups devoted to poly relationships were discussing how stay-at-home orders advantaged some relationship types over others. Those with “nesting partners” – a live-in partner or partners – were automatically granted the right to maintain their relationships during lockdown. Meanwhile, those living apart were [often] expected to cut off connection for an indefinite period.

In my study there were also participants who have tried to retain some semblance of their preexisting relationships.

Because open communication is an important element of poly relationships, it’s common to talk about sexual health, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and testing.

...As Dandelion, a 20-year-old nonmonogamous, nonbinary person, explained, “I think having to navigate STI conversations before COVID prepared me a lot to have those conversations.”

A 64-year-old poly man who goes by Special Sauce made a similar point regarding the coronavirus: “Conversations about risk and exposure to SARS-CoV-2 are just like conversations about safe sex and testing.”

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard about families and friends forming “pods” or “bubbles,” limiting maskless interaction to a small, predetermined group.

For many poly people, their pods and polycules do not neatly overlap. ... Curio, a 38-year-old solo poly woman, reported that members of her [housemate] household changed the rules in August when they realized they “needed to set people up to make informed and harm-reduction-based decisions, instead of saying a flat ‘no’ to everything.” They agreed that housemates would be permitted to connect with others beyond their bubble if the person they were seeing had received a negative COVID-19 test and quarantined until meeting.

Suedonym, a 35-year-old poly woman, described similar negotiations to protect an immune-compromised pod member; the group decided that “a person needs to be quarantined and asymptomatic for two weeks before being allowed into the pod.”

And yet the risks could be daunting, with some polyamorous arrangements reflecting a sprawling web of contacts. ...

In May, Poly Slut, a 45-year-old solo poly man, sketched a social network map of his and his roommate’s interconnected polycules. He quickly realized that it would have been impractical to adhere to safety guidelines, so in the end he put some relationships on hold to reduce risk.

In January, Ebullient Mommy, a 47-year-old married, poly woman, decided, sadly, to end “all in-person sleepovers with my boyfriend because … he chooses to spend indoor time unmasked with people that he and his other partner are casual acquaintances with and I’m not.” ...



●  Next up:  A long and unusually hopeful article recently appeared in the feminist Refinery29: How Polyamorous People Are Surviving The Pandemic  (March 8). In addition to more material like the excerpts below, it presents lots of on-target Poly 101 explanation for newcomers to the topic, making this a good one to share out.


Hannah Minn
By Elly Belle

Before the pandemic, Rachael, a 32-year-old sex and relationships coach, used to host a monthly potluck. “Everyone would bring their partners and friends,” Rachael said; and so would she....

Rachael prefers what she calls “kitchen table polyamory.” Her relationships with her partners don’t exist in seclusion, but in the community, meaning that each connection is in conversation with the others.

...Things were going smoothly until the pandemic, [Rachel] says, which “led to some new stressors to navigate with my nesting partner, since we were suddenly together almost all the time and we were both feeling burnt out and overwhelmed.” But, by identifying this as a problem, Rachael and her nesting partner started seeing a couple’s therapist, which helped them so much that Rachael says things are even better now than they were pre-COVID.   

For some, though, the problems come from not having a current partner. “I float between groups and prefer one-on-one interactions, so I never had a ‘pod’ or polycule,” says Dylan, a 26-year-old who has practiced polyamory for roughly seven years. ...

For many polyamorous people whose living situations dramatically changed when the pandemic hit, finding new activities to do with partners and new ways to spend time together has perhaps been the greatest challenge. But in many ways, it’s also brought people even closer to their partners, forcing them to be in a pod together for their own safety.

“It’s been really hard not to see so many of the people I’ve been really close with over the last several years because of COVID, and I’ve leaned a lot harder on my partners for support since they’ve been in my bubble,” Rachael said. But, “as rough as this year has been, having multiple partners in my bubble has allowed me to go to my girlfriend’s place when I need to get out of my house, and it’s meant some fun hangouts with all of us together, like getting to spend a snow day sledding with both my partners.” ... 

...Avery, a 24-year-old who has been practicing polyamory for about three years, is currently in a throuple with a married couple. Avery also has their own partner with whom they live and who isn’t involved with the other couple at all. Over the course of the last year, Avery has had to get used to many long distance dating techniques to keep communication with their partners alive. “Even though my partners aren't technically long distanced, we've utilized techniques such as video chatting, calling, and more in order to connect with each other since we are quarantined separately. I think these techniques may go away once we can see each other more often post-COVID,” Avery says. “But, it made me more open-minded to long-distance relationship techniques....”

“Being involved with a married couple is such an interesting experience alone, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about having a shared relationship, but making it personal and special still. All of that while also having a separate live-in partner is a challenge, but also a beautiful thing in itself,” Avery says. ...

...I’ve personally practiced communication and providing affection by sending love letters across the universe and great divides of physical distance, all in hopes of staying connected and showing my partners I care for them despite not being able to hold them or physically show up in other ways right now. ...All of these are love letters and acts of service to me. 

...After all the struggles of the last year and all of the yearning, the most prominent feeling inside me now is not dread or even desperation for touch and affection. Instead, it’s hope and excitement about the new lessons, new feelings, and new partnerships blooming on the horizon — and all around me.





Bohdan Skrypnyk / Getty
By Shelly Baker

On March 15, the day before Gov. Gavin Newsom announced shelter-in-place orders for California, my partner of nearly five years left me and our life for someone else.

When a long-term relationship you never want to end, ends, no one tells you how to move through it. I wondered if there was a word for “knowing it is dead but living in denial,” because that was still the feeling I woke up with daily for nine months after that fateful week in spring.  

...Before COVID-19 took hold, my “polycule” had a rotating 6-7 people in it. I had two partners ― my life partner and a newer relationship that was fast developing, sparked from a friendship. And they each had dates of their own, some casual, others in a more serious capacity, and sometimes those people had dates, too. With polyamory, you must make the best of your dates’ choices, and I would be lying if I said it was always easy.

In non-monogamy, so often, you run up against the dilemma of “ideals vs. practice.” In theory, a relationship style that is all about love sounds like a beautiful path to take. But in practice, especially when you’re gay and everyone has abandonment triggers, the reality can unfold quite differently.

...Regardless of what relationship orientation you prefer, everyone says the same thing when you get dumped. Don’t isolate! Link up with other people, let your friends hold you, go out. But how do you do that in a global pandemic? 

It became immediately clear to me that I had been watching my entire last year on a split-screen, my perception of it on one side, the truth on the other. 

My remaining date and I were experiencing problems, too. While he was quarantining with his other partner and I was feeling immense levels of abandonment, I ended it. And so it was that I lost both partners to other people.

...I couldn’t even cry in a friend’s arms.

...Instead, I went to the clinic where I work long days in a mask, hoping I wouldn’t die, getting upset because I didn’t die, then coming home to cry, sleep and repeat. When you are grateful for your high-risk hospital job just to keep sane, something is severely wrong. 

...Despite my private hell, it seemed like every week, someone I knew was going through a breakup, job loss or moving due to COVID-19. I started wondering how other people were coping with being left during the pandemic. As winter rapidly approached, I felt the hole of sharing holidays with partners.

Slowly, I have begun to make sense of all of this. But I am also surviving this dual breakup and rejection during a period when all of my communities are being stretched thin. ...

...There are a few things I know for certain after this experience, the biggest being that if you are abandoned, romantically or by friends or family, it’s genuinely no marker of your worth. Scarcity culture has always been present if you’re LGBTQ+, but now it’s starvation culture, and everyone deserves compassion if you’ve got some to spare. ...



●  Speaking of starvation culture:  In societies where access to sex is a scarce commodity  meaning hard to come by  people obsess about sex. The same is true for trusted intimacy, sexual or not. In the polyam world these things are at least theoretically abundant. Many people in large polycules have remarked that with the sex-scarcity pressure off, it's easier to form deep platonic friendships without both parties worrying that this thing is supposed to end up in bed.

A trans woman writing in Refinery29 tells about how liberating this was for her to make deep friends in the poly world: What Being Single During The Pandemic Taught Me About Friendship (Jan. 18)


Vesna Asanovic / Refinery29
By Drew Gregory

Since childhood, I projected my trans womanhood onto crushes. I didn’t understand my gender, so I assumed my affinity for women was solely romantic. I thought that if I could just find my soulmate my gender confusion would disappear. Until I did — and it didn’t. Then I came out.

...The best date I went on [in 2019] was with Gaby. We didn’t hook up or catch feelings or go on some adventure; it was just coffee. But it began one of the most important relationships of my life.
After the date, Gaby texted me to tell me that they had a partner, Mal, and that they were polyamorous. This shifted my expectations, but only slightly. ... Gaby and I continued getting to know each other, and at some point we both confessed that we were better at finding hookups than platonic friendships. We clearly had an attraction. We clearly had a connection. But maybe dating wasn’t what was needed to best serve that connection. What if instead of hooking up, we asked each other, we did something far more vulnerable for both of us? What if we became friends? And so we made a pact not to have sex. Yes, that sounds like the first act of a romcom, but this one had a surprise ending: We kept our agreement. ...

...Before then, I had never allowed myself to be vulnerable, to open up emotionally, or to express my needs and wants in friendships — only in my romantic relationships. But with my new [poly] friends, I could be vulnerable. It became okay to cry, to talk about money, to make mistakes, to say no, to say yes, to say maybe. These friends taught me what it means to trust in a friendship. And through this discovery of queer family, I achieved a newfound independence. ...

...In spring 2020, Gaby and I lived within walking distance of each other, but we might as well have been in different states. They lived alone, but I lived with four roommates, all of whom continued to see their partners. I didn’t begrudge them this — if I was in a relationship, I would’ve wanted to see that person too — but it meant we weren’t totally quarantined, so I couldn’t safely see Gaby or anyone else. Meanwhile, Gaby was making plans to move in with Mal.

Suddenly, cracks began to form in my newfound revelation around community. Sure, it’s nice to think that as queer people we can prioritize our friends over traditional relationship structures. But with the pandemic limiting the number of people we could safely see, people were choosing their partners. And I was alone. ...

...My roommates let me know there was an option to get out of my lease early. I shared this news with Gaby and Mal. “Why don’t you just move in with us?” Mal casually suggested. I told them not to joke about that, and they said they weren’t. ...

...I started the pandemic wishing my friends could care for me like my partners used to. Turns out? They can.


●  During the worst months of the crisis, writer Natalie Davis published this pair of articles in Medium's burgeoning Polyamory Today section (which has grown to a couple hundred articles by 48 writers.)  My Husband’s Girlfriend Moved in with Us During the Pandemic (Dec. 15)


My husband’s girlfriend, Molly, moved into our house during the summer of 2020, in two, three and four week spurts at first, and now, perhaps, for the duration of the pandemic. She is not our unicorn. We do not have wild threesomes, or even tame ones. Molly is one of my husband’s three polyamorous partners, counting me. His other partner lives with her boyfriend about ten miles away.

...Eric and I are fully employed and while the world spins topsy-turvy during the pandemic; we are working remotely, or remotely working, depending on the day. We get together with our presumptively monogamous neighbors over fire pits at a safe social distance, complain about politics, and walk our neighborhood in large loops to get fresh air and retain what is left of our sanity — like anyone else. ...

...Molly, almost ten years my junior, lived a few miles away with her college-aged children. ...While Molly was mostly following stay-at-home orders, her children’s routines included working at a hospital, going to the gym, visiting boyfriends, and eating at restaurants.

The lifestyle of Molly’s household was inconsistent with the tighter lockdown practiced at our house. ... Molly was having a rough go if it, primarily because without a live-in partner, she was lonely for actual adult companionship and sex. ... Cue, Eric.

As Eric saw it, he and Molly had four options.

  -- He could accept the risks her household posed as the cost of polyamory, and they could see each other with no physical barriers, other than condoms. This would necessitate consultation with, and agreement by, the rest of our bubbled-in polycule,* whose members had lower risk profiles — and no kids.

  -- He could wait until the pandemic was over to see her at all.

  -- They could continue with the socially distanced visits — wine on the porch or a masked walk in the neighborhood.

  -- Or they could devise a plan that included coronavirus testing and quarantining, and could lead to Molly bubbling in with us.

...When Molly tearfully choked out last spring, “Eric, I need you to be my person. I do not have anyone else because of the freaking lockdown. Can you do that?” — Eric, man that he is, protector, hero, problem-solver, and co-owner — with me — of a relatively large house, was game.

... This was actually happening. My husband’s cute, engaging, fun, smart, sexy girlfriend, with whom he never had to talk about parenting, ceiling leaks, and whether the peanut-buttered attic traps caught any flying squirrels, was living with us, and all that entailed. She would be using my fridge, washing her lacy black panties in my laundry room, and sharing the entirety of my home. She would be sleeping in the guest room, whose floor was also the sound-porous ceiling of the master bedroom. She would be sharing my husband, in decibels I could hear.

When the bedposts banged the wall upstairs, how welcoming could I really be?

...Eric is “kitchen table” poly, which means he loves to have his partners and my partners, all around the metaphorical as well as physical table, as a type of chosen family. My default is usually to do my own thing with my other partners and let Eric do his, and have our streams cross less frequently. Covid changed that. ...

I reminded myself that I had agreed to this trial.

--------------------

...I found Molly sitting on the back porch with her coffee, crying. My shoulders slumped and I felt like what I was — an inconsiderate, jealous jerk. I desperately wanted to turn the clock back fifteen minutes.

“I told Eric that we needed to get up,” she sobbed. “It’s my fault. I was taking a long time.”
“Oh Molly,” I said as I sat down. “This whole thing is hard. Talking about having a partner move in, even someone as wonderful as you — and I do think you are wonderful –is light years from living it. Obviously, I know you and Eric have sex and am cool with that. I just don’t really want to walk in on it.” ...

...Each of Molly’s extended visits yielded increasingly less friction and more growth. I was also examining my relationship with Eric more closely, which led us to communicate with deliberateness, because, as Eric and I try to remember, “your lover is not a mind-reader.” This was exponentially true with three interconnected partners living under one roof and sharing two beds. ..

Our adventure continues.


Meanwhile, the pandemic played a big role in ending another piece of her poly life: My Partner Broke up with Me by Text, and I Never Replied (Jan. 7).


...I sent Wes photos of our Halloween costumes, outdoor treat table, and a ginormous inflatable lawn dragon we named Blaze. He, in turn, sent photos of his clever candy delivery chute from his porch to the sidewalk below, complete with a bell for kids to ring to trigger a treat avalanche.

Nonetheless, these concerted text exchanges were not enough to sustain our relationship. His last text to me was:

Hey… I wish I knew a less awkward and gentler way to say this … but I would like to break up. I really appreciate the effort you’ve been putting into trying to maintain our relationship, but I’m just not feeling the same connection and I’m not able to put in the same effort. I still like you (and Eric and the rest of the polycule) and would be happy to see you at a poly conference or whatever if events are ever a thing again.

He had not asked me a question like “can we talk?” He had not sought my input such as “how can we make this work better?” Rather, he had stated his course of action with finality. I stopped staring at my phone and took a 20-mile bike ride along the river. I mulled and rode, and rode and mulled. ...



●  Also during those worst months: How 3 Non-Monogamous Couples Pivoted During COVID-19, on Rewire (Jan. 26)


OneLineStock/ Adobe

By Annie Burdick

...What about those in open, polyamorous, and ethically non-monogamous relationships?... 

Lindsey*, 23, bisexual, and Greg, 25, bi-curious

...Their boundaries have shifted during COVID, as Lindsey and Greg have tightened their relationship's guidelines by a mile. For them, online dating has become the new norm, and neither has been on a physical date since the start of the pandemic. 

..."For the time being, Snapchat and FaceTime help us strengthen our emotional bonds with prospective partners until we're able to decide if it's worth testing out the physical bond, too," Lindsey said. ...

Matt, 26, bi/pansexual, and Leah, 25, queer

..."I had been having a difficult time with dating due to mental health issues and time commitments, so I wasn't particularly interested in meeting anyone new," Matt said. "There wasn't much of an adjustment to be made."

... Leah had been seeing people only casually, more of a friends-with-benefits approach than building meaningful connections. While she and Matt both had dated more actively before, they just happened to be in momentary pause from serious connections as the pandemic started. 

For Leah, this was a signal to let go of the casual relationships, which didn't feel worth trying to maintain as physical connections became less safe. 

Leah had friends with polycules who had contracted the virus, and this also influenced the decision to lean away from non-monogamy for the course of the pandemic. 

"What is most interesting is that I'm choosing to value existing relationships with people I care about, rather than spend the time and emotional energy to build new ones," she said.

Erin, 31, pansexual, and Ryan, 34, bisexual 

Erin and Ryan are nesting partners.... They are in a polycule with John, 29, who identifies as bisexual, and Lucy, 32, who identifies as non-binary and pansexual.

...The result is that each member has metas (short for metamour, the partner of your partner), and often a person's meta is also their active partner as well. In addition, Erin has queerplatonic partnerships that have developed since the pandemic began, and other members of the polycule have outside relationships as well. ... They're a "chosen family" and often spend quality time as a group.

..."None of us have veto power," Erin said. "We avoid using words like primary and secondary. We try to minimize couples' privilege as much as possible," she said.

Their boundaries prior to the pandemic were limited and dealt with sexual health. They've made adjustments during COVID to factor in the added risk of a larger network of physical relationships. ... 

"I imagine each of us having a decision-making formula that contains all the variables needed in order to make an informed decision. If a partner is showing me consideration when making decisions, (that) doesn't mean that the formula will equal a decision in my favor," she said. 

"The decision made should still be the authentic choice of the person. Consideration is simply knowing I was included as a variable in their formula at all.

During the pandemic, variables have "shifted in size and importance" for the polycule. ... Once more was known about COVID, they adjusted their assessment of which risks were worth taking to maintain the relationships outside of their household, with added cautions. 

Erin has created shared documents for the polycule outlining guidelines for health and communication expectations when podding with other households. Other documents help them equitably schedule time with various partners. They choose only to pod with other households who present a low risk. 

They agree to inform each other if they want to engage in risky activities with people from outside the pod, so that the other members of the polycule can assess if the risk is acceptable to them. If it's not, but that person decides to go ahead with the decision, they're able to quarantine in a designated part of the house before getting tested and reentering the group. This allows for the ever-important autonomy and safety. 

With all these changes, Erin says her relationships with some of the non-nesting partners have at times felt like long-distance relationships, despite being local. ...

"You can see them, but can't touch them. You have to schedule out visits far in advance," she said. "Each 'visit' feels like a special occasion." 

This has led to challenges in the lack of physical intimacy, but benefits in the strengthening of mental connections. ...




Laura Boyle

●  This episode of Laura Boyle's Ready for Polyamory podcast is Love in the Time of Covid, an interview with New England poly event organizer David Overton "on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and precautions against it on polycules and polyamorous relationships" (Jan. 9; Season 2, Episode 3).

In particular, they discuss how pandemic choices are exposing unspoken hierarchies in polyam group relationships.

For instance, whose word sets household safety practices when there's disagreement? 


[David's] household came up with carefully defined, science-based, case-number per population guidelines for seeing their partners from outside the household when it became clear the shelter in place orders were not just going to be "a couple weeks in March." So, we had an interesting conversation about the effects these guidelines have had on their extended polycule that I struggled to cut down to an hour-long podcast for you all. 


Relationship realities, such as the ones Covid is exposing, get handled well or poorly depending most often on whether everyone can freely and fearlessly discuss them, IME. No guarantees  but caring, gentle, fearless discussion  early and often  is consistently the best way to place your bets, I find, even if it takes a deep breath and a leap of faith.

And that includes facing up to facts that are present, both the group as a whole and you individually. "Facts are stubborn things," said John Adams, and trying to wish them away only leads to darker and darker places. Examples of facts hidden under rugs are sneakyarchy (hat tip to Page Turner for inventing the word), tolerance of abuse, and utopias that steam Casey Jones style to trainwreck because they are ideologically unable to self-correct.

Dear beloved people, may we come out of this year stronger or at least wiser.

From my heart,

Alan

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