Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

June 22, 2007

"The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder"

The Times (London)

The up-and-coming playwright Matt Charman in England has a new play titled "The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder". It opened on June 20 in London's National Theater, to this unsympathetic review by the London Times (June 22, 2007):

If we can credit the Cottesloe programme, we soon won’t have to trek to outlandish subsections of Utah to find households like the one on show in Matt Charman’s Five Wives of Maurice Pinder. Polyamorism, as it’s called by sexual anthropologists, may become rife in overpriced terrace houses in respectable Lewisham. And the polyamorist-in-chief may be neither a Mormon patriarch nor the sort of mad-eyed predator who inveigles vulnerable women into cultish seraglios but the likes of the title character, a plain-spoken, laid-back Cockney with his own scaffolding business.

Forgive me if I’m somewhat sceptical. Larry Lamb’s Maurice is a bit too good to be true or, as a feminist might say, too much the sympathetically handled fantasy of a wishful male chauvinist.... He’s a large-hearted idealist who serially marries women who arouse his compassion and affection, divorcing their predecessors while keeping them both in his bed and in what he calls his “family”.

...Charman avoids prurient sensationalism. Rather, he suggests that this extended family is only marginally more peculiar and superficially less normal than your average Mr and Mrs Jones of SE13....

Read the whole review.

Nor was the Guardian's reviewer much impressed:

What constitutes a family? What makes a marriage? These are the questions posed by Matt Charman in his curious second play. But, far from providing any concrete answers, Charman simply presents us with a set of irreconcilable attitudes to the subject of polygamy.

...The problem is that Charman seems in two minds as to whether polyamorists like Pinder are to be applauded or attacked. Having wheeled on a pompous planning officer whose narrow definition of the nuclear family makes one side with the hero, he then does a volte-face in which Pinder is exposed as a self-satisfied egoist....

Read the whole review (June 21, 2007).

The play runs until August 27.

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June 15, 2007

"Whole lotta love"


Salon, a widely read and highly respected general-interest online magazine, is just out with an excellent overview of polyamory and what it's about. It starts with scenes from the recent Florida Poly Retreat. As one reader comments, in the letters that are fast piling in about the article, "Wow! A nonsensationalist article on poly! Thanks Salon and the author for writing an article that pretty much describes a lot of the folks I know in the poly community."

By Liz Langley

June 14, 2007 | You may have seen a bumper sticker around town that says "Marriage =" and then, as if it was an elementary equation, silhouettes of a man and a woman. Traipsing through the wooded parking lot of the Pines Retreat Center in Brooksville, Fla., I notice a car with a different version of this bumper sticker: Instead of one male and one female, this one has three of each.

"As I'm fond of saying, polyamory ain't for sissies," says Anita Wagner, a 54-year-old legal secretary and poly activist in the Washington, D.C., area, whom I spoke to on the phone before the retreat. Anita has a primary partner with whom she's in a long-term committed relationship; she also has another boyfriend and a girlfriend; her partner has two other girlfriends. As far as being able to sort out the details of their relationships without acrimony, Anita tells me, "I'm very proud of us."

The four-day retreat includes workshops such as "Coming Out as Poly," "Poly and BDSM," "Poly and Christianity," "STD Update and Fun Safer Sex," and a roundtable event that I moderated called "Meet the Press," set up by organizer and poly activist Cherie Ve Ard.

..."There is no poly lifestyle," Franklin [Veaux] says at the roundtable when I use the term. "That's like 'the monogamous lifestyle.'"

...As for who practices poly, Robyn Trask of Loving More, a polyamorist association and magazine, offers me a survey her magazine did in 2002 of 1,000 poly practitioners (who, given their lifestyle, could conceivably be speaking for another 4,000). The survey found the following: 40 percent of the poly population have graduate degrees or higher (as opposed to 8 percent of the general population). Most were raised Christian (87 percent) but [many] identified as pagan (30 percent). One-fifth had never married; one-fifth had been divorced. And only 49 percent were sexually involved with someone they described as a love interest.

That last figure would seem to undercut the easy assumption that polyamory is all about sex.

...A recent St. Petersburg Times story featuring Cherie Ve Ard reported that when she finds a new romantic interest "she sends him a 'sexual history disclosure spreadsheet,' complete with names of partners, the types of sexual contact they had and the results of tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Ve Ard expects the same in return."

This is the part where some people start to think, "This sounds like a lot of work."

..."In the monogamous world," Cherie tells me, "jealousy is usually handled at the trigger point. It's assumed that your partner isn't going to flirt with other people." Poly people don't get the luxury of being on romantic autopilot — if a partner's flirtations upset them, they have to think about why. It means a lot of self-assessment.

Read the whole article. (You may have to click past ads. If you can't get the second page, you can read the full text here).

This is definitely one to bookmark and send to people who need help understanding what we're all about.

Here is Cherie's own backstory about her difficult decision to allow this reporter into the Florida Poly Retreat, and how pleased she is with the outcome.

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June 14, 2007

"Is Open Marriage the Modern Couple's Answer to Infidelity?"

Sirens Magazine and AlterNet

"When I think about open marriages," writes Joslyn Matthews, "I can only conjure a stereotype: deeply unsatisfied adults, most likely going through a mid-life crisis, pathetically searching for hot sex as a solution.... But apparently, I am stuck in the past." Matthews explores the possibilities and perils of open marriage in an article out today (June 14, 2007) in Sirens, a women's magazine founded to go beyond "the staid format of mainstream women's magazines." The article was also picked up by AlterNet:

Although it is slippery by definition, open marriage is generally considered a committed marital relationship between two people who, under a set of mutually-agreed upon rules, engage in sexual encounters with various partners other than their spouse. According to those who care, it should not be confused with polyamory, a lifestyle that promotes multiple romantic relationships between any combinations of people at the same time.

...So, then, is open marriage the modern couple's answer to infidelity?... Could it be viewed as an honest attempt to make marriage work? "I think that's what people tell themselves, but it raises a red flag for me," says [marriage counselor Caroline] Robboy. "It is incredibly common and incredibly destructive for couples to experiment with open marriage in response to problems or boredom in their sex life. This is not the time to experiment with open marriage. To experiment with open marriage, you have to be in an extremely healthy relationship."

The difference between the successful and unsuccessful open marriages, she says, comes down to communication, agreed-upon ground rules, and compatible values regarding sex: "The couple has to come first. Once you stop talking and stop prioritizing your partner's needs, you're in trouble."

...In reality, people often break the rules. Mike and Joan Wilson (names changed at their request), owners of a small business in New York, are an example of what can happen when you open the Pandora's box of open marriage. At Mike's suggestion, they decided to experiment with an open marriage lifestyle to bring "spice" back into their bedroom....

Mike and Joan decided on ground rules: They were to always be together and in the same room during an encounter, kissing was not permitted, and condoms were to be used every time, without exception. They were happy with their initial encounters.... However, things came to a halt when... Joan's partner refused to wear protection and, at the risk of being exceedingly graphic, he didn't pull out. The experience ended Joan's interest in further experimentation, but Mike's affairs continued, in secret, swiftly moving him from open marriage into infidelity....

Read the whole article.

I've taken flak for saying this, but I'll say it again: this type of rule-bound, compartmentalized setup is sickly and pathetic compared to what, IMO, polyamory ought to be: something more loving, communicative, and equally respectful all around, from the outset by full mutual intention.

And as a practical matter, rule-ridden compartmentalization of your relationships is actually more explosive, not less.

An analogy that I've long used is that if you want to fly beyond the speed of sound, you have to handle jet fuel. Which is indeed explosive. Handling jet fuel requires intelligence, care, alertness, and knowledge of the safety procedures that have proven to work best — rather than relying on your own uninformed rules or blind proceduralism or good intentions.

And using jet fuel in our horse-and-buggy society requires that you grasp some larger, underlying paradigms. If you make your horse drink jet fuel hoping that it will make the horse pull the buggy faster, the horse will die. If you pour jet fuel in your whale-oil lamp hoping to make the lamp burn brighter, it will explode and you will be badly burned. Jet fuel requires new engines and pipelines and valves for it to perform its flying magic, and we're only now evolving these things through (sometimes bitter) trial and error. But it's getting better each decade, for those who study what has been learned so far. Many people, however, should not try.

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June 12, 2007

"Big Love," Season 2

"Big Love" is back (HBO; Monday nights at 9). The place it will occupy in TV history, cultural historians will someday write, is as TV's first serious exploration of life in a polyamorous family. (Never mind the broadly stretched definition of "polyamory.")

Season 2 began on June 11th and has been getting excellent reviews. For instance, from the Los Angeles Times:

...The folks at HBO needn't worry about the death of "The Sopranos." The Henricksons have got their backs.

Season 1 opened predictably — perhaps cynically? — with the sex hook. Meet Bill Henrickson, a normal, home-store-chain-owning guy who happens to have three beautiful wives, all of whom want sex every night....

Once creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer let go of the sex-juggling act, "Big Love" really hit its mark: as a daringly smart analysis of marriage and family.... It effortlessly captures the shifting politics that form women's relationships, the insularity of modern family life and general slipperiness of the American dream....

The first season ended and the second season opens with Barb having been outed as polygamous by persons unknown just as she was about to accept a mother-of-the-year award. Undone by anger and shame, she questions her commitment to the marriage, wondering whether she can "keep on doing this."

It is a question all thinking members of any sort of marriage, or life partnership, ask themselves at one time or another. Because this is polygamy after all, it is Margene, not Bill, who tells Barb, "I don't think I can do this marriage without you." Still, "Big Love's" greatest strength is that in showcasing three marriages, it is able to, strand by strand, unravel the complexities of the institution itself.

...In Season 2, issues of both faith and sex take a backseat to family politics and revenge. Barb's mini-breakdown solidifies the women's relationships — Bill may have the final word on things in the Henrickson household, but he sometimes has a hard time getting that word in edgewise. "There are four of us in this marriage, Bill," Nicki informs him when he is not dealing with Barb to the other wives' satisfaction....

That a polygamous family could live in the middle of America is frighteningly believable as [our everyday] idea of community becomes less about real sharing and more about carefully orchestrated play dates and dinner invitations/obligations. That a polygamous family could be made up of free-willed, interesting, lovable people is, at least in the world of "Big Love," equally believable.

Read the whole review (June 9, 2007). Or Google up lots more.

An actual Mormon plural wife in Sandy, Utah (home of the Big Love family), who is active in the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices, has interesting and thoughtful commentary about the show on her blog.

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June 10, 2007

Poly 101: "Ten 10 realistic rules for good non-monogamous relationships"

Sex Geek

Andrea Zanin is a sex educator in Canada whose Sex Geek blog is a mine of wisdom and knowledge. In particular, her "10 realistic rules for good non-monogamous relationships" should be high on our community's list of recommended Poly 101 materials. Here is the complete text for archival purposes, but please link to and refer to her (better formatted) original post (June 10, 2007).

1. Know yourself. For starters, be brutally honest with yourself and answer the following questions. I’m not kidding about the brutal part. Sugarcoating will not help you here. Also, remember that the answers to these are never final… you change every day and with every experience you have, so it’s worth revisiting these questions over and over throughout your lifetime.

What kind of person are you?
What are your core values?
What are your life priorities?
What are your needs within relationships?
What are your shortcomings within your relationships?
Why have your past relationships ended? Are you able to articulate what part you played in that?
How do you deal with conflict and anger?
How are your communication skills?
What kind of people are you generally attracted to? Are there any predictable patterns in your attractions? Are they positive or problematic?
What do you have to offer a partner? What sort of partner, lover, friend are you?
What does your life look like? Your schedule, your energy levels, your health, your obligations, your stresses, your joys? What would you like to change?

2. Love yourself. Okay, so this sounds like the greatest cliché known to man, but it’s actually the basic ingredient for good non-monogamy. It’s the macaroni in the mac & cheese. You gotta take care of yourself. If you don’t have this one down, you will simply never be able to fully enjoy healthy love relationships with others. Lots of people try to ignore the basic and all-pervasive importance of self-love, and that’s why many people have messy love relationships. You wanna try that with multiple love relationships? Believe me, you will sink fast.

If the answers from the questions you just asked yourself show some areas that may pose challenges, love yourself enough to take up those challenges before you start exploring elsewhere. Go get therapy, take up a meditation practice, start writing in a journal, get more exercise to boost your mood and self-confidence, or attend to your spiritual life. Not taking care of yourself is not an option.

3. Be happy ALONE. Yes, that’s right. Alone. All alone. No partner. Married or otherwise partnered already? That’s fine, but you still need to have this one down. If you approach your relationships with the idea that they’ll make you happy when you can’t make yourself happy, you will inevitably be disappointed.

Very few relationships actually last a whole lifetime; it’s wonderful if they do, but let’s be realistic. You can’t base your entire concept of love and relationship around an ideal that a small minority of people actually achieve. Not to mention that longevity is not an indicator of happiness – some relationships should last a few months, some a few years, some a few hours. This is not an indication of failure, it’s an indication of reality.

Be happy alone first. Then add one or more partners to enhance, deepen and enjoy that happiness with you. But do not make your happiness dependent on someone else’s presence in your life or your bedroom, let alone two or three people’s presence. That’s not relationship, that’s codependence. It also gets real complicated if your honey has three partners and you don’t – unless you are (ta-daa!) happy alone.

4. Communicate. Honestly. Now comes the time where you take all that brutal honesty with yourself, and translate it into brutal honesty with your partner(s). Good poly happens when things are put on the table. Are you jealous? Say so. Are you scared, worried, angry, upset? Use your words. Are you happy, in love, admiring? Spread the joy! Is there something on your mind that you don’t want to tell your partner? MAJOR warning bell… this is almost a guarantee that you should be telling them!

I absolutely promise that if you keep shit to yourself, you will run into problems. If you have the first three rules down and drop the ball on this one, your poly is still going down the tubes. Buy self-help books. Go to joint therapy. Take an active listening workshop. Read up on jealousy and other issues to see how best to deal with them. Whatever it takes, improve your communication skills. You’ll thank yourself for it!

5. Know what you want. Here’s another list of questions for ya. (Hint: Rules 1 to 4 come in real handy before you get to this one.)

What would your ideal polyamorous relationship look like?
What joys do you think polyamory will bring to your life?
What challenges do you think you will face? Do you think you’re equipped to handle those challenges?
Do the benefits you want match up with the kind of room do you have in your world for multiple partners?
Do the benefits you want match up with what you have to give in return in terms of time, energy, availability, etc.?
What do you think an incoming partner might want from you? How might she or he feel about your situation?
If you have an existing partner, do your values, desires and abilities match up well? Are you looking for the same or compatible sorts of polyamory?
Are you open to a range of options within the range of polyamorous arrangements, or is your interest very specific? If it’s specific, why? What do you hope to gain from that particular form?

6. Go for content, not form. Once you’ve answered the questions above, you might have a form of poly in mind that you feel would be perfect for you. If so, the next step is to ask yourself what that form means to you… and do a reality check. Two girlfriends = never lonely? Think again. Two couples in a quad = excellent balance? No guarantees. “Middle-aged married couple – he’s heterosexual, she’s bi-curious – seeks hot young bisexual woman with double-D boobs who likes giving head, available every second weekend and the occasional Wednesday night.” Does this sound familiar?

Lots of people have an idealized vision in their minds. We often get caught up in the packaging without remembering that relationship is about what’s inside. You and your honey might spend years seeking out the ideal couple to form the perfect quad, while your best friend and her boyfriend have been working up the nerve to ask you out for months. You might want your wife to have fun with a cute gal for your entertainment, when in fact that guy she met at the BBQ last week would make an amazing addition to your world for years to come, loving her deeply and being a wonderful friend to you… and maybe you should try dating that woman you met at the gym.

Think of polyamory as a state of openness to love in whatever form it comes to you, and then take responsibility for managing that abundance when it arrives… rather than sticking with a particular formula you believe will be ideal. See rule #10 for more.

7. Be nice. Polyamory is not about the technicalities. It’s the spirit, not the letter of the law that counts. Polyamory is not all about you getting laid. In fact it’s not really all about you at all. It’s a philosophy of moving through the world that’s about plurality, generosity and giving, and guess what – it goes way beyond your Friday-night date. Love is not tit for tat; it’s not a pie with only so many pieces to go around; and it’s not there just to beef up your ego. So…

Don’t date someone else’s partner behind that person’s back just because it’s not “technically” your problem.
Keep an eye out for the people you get involved with to make sure they’re all right, and doing poly for the right reasons, even if that’s not “technically” your call to make.
Know your boundaries and respect them; watch out for other people’s boundaries too, even if that’s not “technically” your job.

As a poly person, your responsibility toward right relationship doesn’t end when you have an orgasm or when you drop your date off at the door. So don’t be creepy and go out cruising for what you can get out of love, or to see how much you can get away with. You’re missing the whole bloody point if you go at it that way.

8. Have safer sex. This doesn’t just mean use a condom. It means figure out how to talk about sex with all your partners. It means figure out what acceptable risk looks like for you. HIV is not the only risk out there, and condoms don’t protect against everything. For example: if someone has oral herpes, will you kiss them? Will you let them go down on you? This answer might be different if, say, you see them only three times a year… if you have a compromised immune system… if you are healthy as a horse.

Here are a few questions worth thinking about. Remember, this isn’t just about you. Conceivably, your sexual choices could affect dozens of other people… people you care about. Sex is awesome. Keep it that way.

Are you informed about the relative risks of the various things you like to do in bed? If not, do you know where to find the information you need?
Are you aware of how and when to use safer sex products like condoms, gloves, finger cots, Saran Wrap, dental dams, silicone toys, etc.? If not, do you know where to find the information you need?
How much are you comfortable telling your doctor about your sex life? How will those limits affect his or her ability to provide you with appropriate care?
Do you have access to STI testing? If so, how often do you think it’s appropriate for you and your partners to get tested, and for what?
How might you deal with an unexpected pregnancy – yours or someone else’s?
How do you feel about alternative sexual practices, like fisting or anal sex or BDSM?
Do you have limits around blood play, bondage, penetration…?
Are your limits different with different people or in different situations?
How do you feel about your partner(s)’ limits? Are they compatible with yours?
Where are you willing to compromise, and why?
What are your needs and limits around your emotional safety in sexual situations?
What happens if you find out you have contracted an STI – who do you have to tell and what will you do?

9. Be strong. Make no mistake about it: choosing a polyamorous relationship style is a radical thing. It upsets people – some of those people may include your parents, your friends, your work colleagues, members of your religious or spiritual groups, your kids, and more. Just because we have an alternative philosophy about what makes us feel happy in our relationships doesn’t mean the whole world will be on board with us. That creates pressures on everyone involved.

To handle this, it’s really helpful to have strong friendships, a strong philosophy, an independent streak, a lot of self-confidence, a good sense of boundaries (other people’s, not just your own), some well-articulated knowledge and words with which to defend or explain your choices (answering questions in this list can help with that, as can reading a few good poly books), and a community that includes other poly people.

Here are a few more questions to think about:

Can you deal with the social pressures you will face because you’ve made a different choice than the mainstream?
How, exactly, will you deal with this? What would your approach be for each of these situations I listed above?
What do people need to know? How much are you comfortable telling them about your choices?
Is it safe for you to come out to people about your multiple loves? Will this affect your child custody, your career, your community standing?
Is it actually unsafe for you to come out to people about your multiple loves? Or are you internalizing social pressures and censoring yourself before even giving your friends and loved ones a chance to show their support and open-mindedness?
How will you deal with it if you’re perceived as a cheater, a slut, a greedy person, an immoral person?
What will you do if people whom you didn’t want to tell end up finding out?

10. Go with the flow. In other words, don’t go out looking for anything. The best people show up when we’re just going about our business, doing good things in life, being happy, and being generous. It’s not that personals sites or matchmaking are a bad idea… it’s simply that the joy of non-monogamy is in being open to the many things that may come our way, rather than gunning for any one thing in particular. Life is generous if we’re open to receiving it, and it pulls away when we clutch at it…a lot like people.

Please refer to the original article.


June 6, 2007

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Polyamory in the News!

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June 1, 2007

"Bisexuals booted from dating websites"


"Canada's leading queer source of fresh news, views, ideas and culture" comes out with an article today (June 1, 2007) on anti-bi and anti-poly policies at online dating services — in particular Lavalife, based in Toronto but owned from Connecticut.

...It's not the first time that bisexuals looking for loving have found themselves bounced from an on-line hookup site. Last year Match.com and Yahoo Personals got into trouble with queer clients for discriminating against both bisexuals and people in polyamorous relationships. Match.com was found to be rejecting profiles of users who identified as bisexual because its employees assumed that a bisexual person was inherently non-monogamous. Neither site allows profiles involving non-monogamy on the grounds that it conflicts with their anti-cheating policies.

Read the whole article. Lavalife claims 600,000 active members, a staff of over 270, and annual revenue of more than $100 million.

And then this story came out later the same day:

EHarmony sued for excluding same-sex matches

By Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, June 1, 2007

Linda Carlson was looking for a partner and decided to try eHarmony, the Pasadena-based online dating service that advertises its ability to "deliver matches that have the foundation of compatibility based on a lifetime of joy." When the San Mateo County woman tried to log in, she was given two options: "man seeking a woman" or "woman seeking a man."

Neither suited Carlson, who was seeking another woman. Her complaint to the company this February got nowhere, and on Thursday, she filed suit in Los Angeles accusing eHarmony of violating a California law that prohibits businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

"The case is about moving gay rights into this century," Todd Schneider, a lawyer for Carlson, said Friday. "It could not possibly be OK to say no black people allowed, or no Chinese people allowed, but for some reason, this Web site thinks it's OK to say no gay people allowed."

But Lanny Davis, a lawyer for eHarmony, said the company isn't violating California law by excluding gays and lesbians. He said the law prohibits only arbitrary discrimination that lacks a legitimate business purpose.

"Our rational business basis is that our research database comes from a clinical psychiatrist observing successful marriages vs. non-successful," observations based entirely on opposite-sex marriages, Davis said....

Read the whole article. Or google up lots more.

EHarmony was founded and is chaired by a prominent evangelical Christian, Neil Clark Warren, with the ideal of helping men and women to marry successfully. It owes its early growth to promotion by arch-conservative James Dobson, a friend of Warren's, on Dobson's Focus on the Family radio show. In recent years it has sought more secular markets. It claims more than 14 million users.

You might think a legal clash is coming between the company's religious principles and California's clear nondiscrimination law, which covers every type of "public accomodation." But EHarmony's defense ducks the issue, with its claim that Warren's system for matching husbands and wives is untested for same-sex couples and that the company doesn't want to serve them poorly.

Update Nov. 19, 2008: In a settlement of lawsuits against it, eHarmony has agreed to create a new website for gays and lesbians, named "Compatible Partners," by March 31, 2009. The first 10,000 same-sex customers get a free subscription for six months. Details.


P.S. FOR POLYS: Three dating sites that polys often speak well of are PolyMatchMaker, the newer Poly Friends Network, and especially OK Cupid (be sure to answer lots of questions to build a detailed and useful profile).

On any dating site, expect to get a lot of spammy sex solicitations (ignore them); expect to answer many reasonable inquiries before finding one worth a date (meet only at a safe public place); expect many dates before finding one that clicks. You may do better just by widening your real-life social circles, especially in the direction of alternative-culture interests.

And of course, start going to the meetings of your local polyamory discussion/support group — not to look for pickups, please, but as a long-term investment in making new friends and widening your social circles in interesting directions. Here is Loving More's listing of local poly groups. Here are Tristan Taormino's lists of groups in the U.S. and in other countries.


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