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

November 29, 2010

"The Downside[s] of Polyamory"

Psychology Today blogs

Some of the difficulties of poly life should lessen in the future, but others are probably permanent, says Deborah Anapol in her latest article on the blogsite of Psychology Today magazine:

The Downside of Polyamory

...I'm the first to acknowledge that polyamory is not a good choice for everyone. In the interest of full disclosure to those who rightly suspect that polyamory can exact a price from those who practice it, I offer the following survey of potential difficulties.

...Some of these, such as social disapproval and discrimination, are artifacts of old structures and institutions that may well diminish in coming years. Others, such as a dearth of positive role models and perhaps even the prevalence of jealousy, are also likely to be temporary. But other difficulties with polyamory, such as the time demands and the emotional complexity of interacting intimately with more people, appear to be inherent to this lovestyle.

For many people, the risk of rejection by family, neighbors, friends, and coworkers is a major drawback to polyamory....

[Such] social sanctions serve to keep couples such as Jonathan and Victoria, who would be potentially excellent role models, safely out of sight. I know of several group marriages and open marriages whose highly functional partners have chosen to keep their intimate lives private....

Nonmonogamous relationships have a reputation for creating emotional chaos and drama.... If partners are able to relate with self-responsibility and integrity, drama need not be part of polyamorous relating. Ethical polyamory is certainly possible. But as long as our culture endorses monogamy and socializes our young people to expect sexual exclusivity, we can expect jealousy to be a major challenge....

...If you are [already] living a difficult and complicated life, you may not want to risk exposure to another possible source of worry.... If emotional upheaval goes with the territory of intimate relating, the chances of emotional upheaval increase exponentially when multiple partners are involved, at least until our brains have been rewired....

Challenges with time management and coordination are probably an inevitable part of polyamorous relating....

Read the whole article (Nov. 27, 2010). It's adapted from her new book that came out earlier this year, Polyamory in the 21st Century.

As for the "emotional complexity of interacting intimately with more people," I've observed something. There are more poly vees (two intimate relationships) than full triads (with three), more triads than quads (with potentially six), and more quads than quints (with potentially ten). The trend: the more complicated the setup, the less often it occurs in nature.

Extrapolate this trend the other way, and the simplest arrangement is the couple (with one). This is why I expect that even in the fully poly-aware and poly-accepting society we'll have by 2050 or 2100, monogamy will remain the most common choice.

Increasingly common variants, however, may be open marriages (monogamy with benefits, which by this time next year is going to be called "the new monogamy"), and intimate networks of people living essentially as singles.

Do you have thoughts about poly-life challenges, either temporary or permanent, to add to Deborah's? Please comment below.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 'V' arrangement may look simple, but you haven't mentioned a third relationship which needs to work; that between the two partners at the top of the V. If they get on, this is easy (or at least easier!). If they don't, it may very well cause the end of one of the relationships on the arms of the V.

November 29, 2010 1:16 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

> a third relationship which needs to
> work; that between the two partners
> at the top of the V.

True, but this relationship is less important (by definition) than in an equilateral triad. They can be anything from close friends to barely knowing about each other.

November 29, 2010 1:30 PM  
Blogger Donald Dunbar said...

I know you put "occurs in nature" in quotes, but that's a phrase that can mean whatever you like it to. In this context, it could mean:

A) Because Non-Human Animal A, B, C (& even limited to primates, animal B-onobo, C-himp, G-ibbon, or whatever) is most commonly found in relationship structure A, B, C, it's the closest model we have for a setup that "occurs in nature".

B) Because humans are products of culture and each have a huge import of foundational ideals and values, we should take the median ideals and values and, guessing, say that that is what might naturally occur.

C) etc., what Sex At Dawn says, etc.

But I think the point is finding a person who truly shares your values, shares an attraction with you, and has time to develop something with you is difficult. Finding two people is more difficult, three even more, four, etc., yes, absolutely.

I've only been ID-ing as poly for a year and a half, and I expect there may be more difficulties than I know, but to me it's way easier than monogamy. It's incredible to me how quickly most problems go away once whoever's talking is representing themselves fully and honestly, and really seeing whoever they're talking to as a human being deserving of understanding and kindness.

That all said, time management!

(& thanks, Alan, for the blog:)

November 29, 2010 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One difficulty of polyamory that probably won't be going away any time soon is the nebulousness of how relationships are defined. We ran into that very issue in this post:

- How is a V different from a triad? The third relationship is qualitatively different (to such an extent that some people don't think it "counts" as a relationship).

- How is the third relationship different? At what point does the relationship between the two "arms" switch from being merely friendly to being romantic, thus turning the V into a triad?

Naturally, this becomes more complicated the more relationships there are. What is the difference between a quad and two very friendly couples? What is the difference between a quint and a five-person "network of people living essentially as singles"?

As it stands, these questions are impossible to answer categorically and are even difficult on an individual basis. Perhaps a radical restructuring of how our society defines various relationships would clarify things, but I doubt that's going to happen (and wonder if it's even necessary).

November 29, 2010 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Extrapolate this trend the other way, and the simplest arrangement is the couple (with one)."

Even simpler is one person with zero interactions.

November 29, 2010 7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that it's true that many extremely successful poly relationships & families aren't even visible - let alone active! - in the poly community. This drives me absolutely crazy at times.

By way of example, in one family of my acquaintance the four separate dyads (five individuals in a W configuration) have been together for years - ranging from more than five years for the newest of the relationships to more than twenty-five years for the oldest, with the other two close to the midpoint between newest & oldest. Everybody gets along, there are occasional conflicts but no drama; they do some things together, but they're all individuals with their own lives as well... it just works. (I have no doubt that this is because they've worked quite hard over the years at making it work!) They are just the sort of role models that people need to see, in my opinion.

However, perhaps because it works so well and because none of them is 'looking', they don't feel the need to be involved in the community. Even the need to have a place to be 'out' provides no motivation for involvement with any poly group, since individually & collectively they are socially active and while they are careful & discreet about sharing the poly nature of their lives with their social connections they are by no means closeted about it. (In fact, my own acquaintance with them stems from unrelated shared interests; finding out that they were poly too was just a nice bonus in our friendship.)

Their non-participation is a great shame in my opinion, though, given the general scarcity of such role models. Unfortunately, their disinterest is not unique, even if their reasons are different from those presented in the article.

This is a tough nut to crack; if individuals & families in happy, healthy, long-established relationships haven't already felt the need to join any poly groups (local or online) they aren't likely to. There's just not too much motivation for doing so.

It's closely related to the issue we face in persuading the mental health profession that ethical non-monogamy is a valid, healthy, workable option, i.e. that the real-life examples they're seeing generally aren't the successes.

I wish that I had an answer to this riddle!

November 29, 2010 10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say it's "less important" at all. Maybe less entangled, but the stability (and simplicity) of a poly relationship depends, IMO, extremely highly on the stability of the metamours involved, not the number of people. Even if that means all the metamours barely know about each other/don't talk to each other, the *stability* of that arrangement will make or break the larger poly group, regardless of how many people there are in it.

I also disagree with the assessment that a larger poly network is comprised of individuals living mostly "as singles". My network has somewhere around 50 people in it, yet no one in the network lives "as single", except for, arguably, me, and that's not by choice (I just can't afford to move to the towns where large blocks of my network live, and those towns don't have much work for me even if I had the cash for moving). Our network is comprised of very closely entwined and intimate groups (not just a bunch of married couples with "outside" partners or a handful of Free Agents being secondaries to everyone else), many of whom live together in communal houses and/or make important life decisions together as families.

What seems to make this work is a generally-accepted attitude that "permanence" is not part of the definition of "stable" or "successful". Change is inevitable, and preparing *for* the change, instead of protecting against it, seems to both draw in stable people, and provide that protection against too much drama that the "protect the relationship" types are trying to do, without sacrificing the relationship to its own protection racket. Our family name was even chosen to remind us that change is inevitable, and to work with it, not against it (The Amorphous Squiggle).

A monogamous dyad that fights all the time, where the couples ride a roller coaster of high and low emotions, where they don't seem to actually like each other much but remain together out of fear or inertia ... that may be a long-term or even permanent relationship, but I wouldn't call it stable, and having only 2 people in it certainly doesn't make it less complex or more simple.

A relationship between several people that fluxes and moves with circumstances, but in which the participants are generally happy, communicate well, and disagreements are handled with good communication and conflict resolution - I'd call that stable *and* simple even if its not permanent. And I don't know about anyone else, but if it's a question of one or the other, I'd choose the latter.

November 29, 2010 11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

True poly is rare. Poly is a front for most people. Although poly people claim lots of things, essentially, it's about having sex with different people. Nothing wrong with that. But don't claim you're in love with someone just because you're so intent on "being poly" that you can't see it's only about the sex.

August 29, 2011 12:54 AM  

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