Advice columnists field many poly questions
Do advice columnists influence the culture? Who knows? Millions read them every day. If that's your pleasure, sit back and settle in. Lots of columnists have been taking questions from polyfolks... for better or worse.
For instance, Dear Prudence (Emily Yoffe) just had this up at Slate and WashingtonPost.com:
Q. Polyamory: Out or Not?: My husband and I recently opened our marriage to be polyamorous (more deep bonds with other people than the "running around" some consider open marriage). I’ve told a couple of female friends and I've lost them as friends. My boyfriend and I have a wonderful relationship, and he gets along well with my husband and our children, so I can see a time where he may end up meeting my very Christian father.... He'd be seriously floored and averse. Losing friends was bad enough, I do not want to go through this with my father. Can I keep it that we are “friends” even if eyebrows start to raise?
Emily Yoffe (Photo by Teresa Castracane)
A: Now that gay marriage has become so normalized... I expect polyamorists to start coming out of the closet. I understand polyamory is different from polygamy, and doesn't share the latter's rigid and noxious views that men run the show and are the only ones allowed multiple partners. I basically feel adults are entitled to make the personal arrangements that please them as long as that doesn't hurt others, but my concern is what it means to the children. I don't get the impression that you've seriously thought through the effect of this on them since you are so unsure about how to present yourself as a newly constituted family....
Letting your father in on your secret doesn't seem necessary or beneficial. I think you three adults need to do a lot more thinking about your arrangement and its effects on everyone involved, and right now I don't see the need to make your private lives public.
Read the whole column (May 13, 2013).
A few days earlier, in the UK's Guardian:
By Pamela Stephenson Connolly
My girlfriend of five months is into the fetish scene, has other partners and considers herself polysexual. Originally, I thought that this would be OK, but now I've fallen for her hard.... It tears my heart out to think of her with another man. How do I quell these jealous feelings?
Jealousy is a normal emotion that serves an important social purpose. Some people find ways to reframe it, but achieving emotional control in your situation is unlikely without a huge amount of work.
You are both torturing yourselves with what may be an impossible situation. The relationship you're attempting is one that requires extremely careful negotiation, enormous vigilance, and constant re-evaluation, plus an emotional and sexual sophistication that few people achieve. Even within the framework of an open relationship, limits and boundaries must be set.
You must both lower your expectations immediately, soberly recognise the difficulties inherent in achieving a relatively painless, consensual open relationship, and get back to basics: expressing feelings as they arise, listening to each other, and respecting each of your emotional challenges.
Can't say I disagree with the last parts, but someone please explain the "important social purpose" that is served by jealousy. See the whole column (May 5, 2013). It has more than 600 comments.
A few days before that, from a literal Miss Lonelyhearts in Canada:
Dear Miss Lonelyhearts: My new girlfriend wants me to try a polyamorous lifestyle. I admit I met her at the last fetish ball in town, but I had no idea she was that far along the track.... I am a pudgy nerd of a guy and it scares me (and would embarrass me) to get undressed to do anything sexual, except with my lady. But it is hard for me to find a girlfriend.
-- Scared Stiff
Dear Scared Stiff: Nerds can have boundaries. This is one of them. Tell your new girlfriend: like it or lump it. If she doesn't like it, then you are not going along on this experimental, just-about-anything-goes ride to please her. She may turf you but it'd be better than being dragged into sexual activities you don't understand or want.
Whole column (March 31, 2013).
The well-regarded Christian author John Shore ("Trying God's patience since 1958") gave some great pro-poly advice at Huffington Post:
My Sister Is in a Three-Person Relationship; What Should I Do?
...Here's the situation: My sister has come to me and told me that she has decided to be in a three-person relationship. My husband and I met the guy in the relationship last week (at the time she just told us he was her boyfriend). But now she has told us the truth, and is asking us to meet the woman this week. We are supposed to keep this a secret from our parents....
I don't want to meet her. My husband doesn't want to meet her.... I hate the way that I feel about this. I feel like I am spewing out the very same sort of hate and bigotry that I condemn. Yet on the same time I feel on a gut level that this is wrong. Mostly just wrong for her, but also wrong. And I can't sort out my feelings; I can't tell if they're a remnant from my upbringing, or if it's my conscience telling me to take responsibility for my kid sister (which I can't, of course; she's an adult)....
The first thing I'd recommend is to read this interview, which I did with a woman in a polyamorous (meaning more than two people) relationship: 1 Man, 2 Women in a Polyamorous Relationship. I can't imagine you not finding it helpful.
Secondly, it's touching that you care so much about your younger sister's well-being. Sometimes, though, older siblings tend to take a little more responsibility for the feelings of their younger siblings than is altogether healthy or helpful....
I don't understand why you and your husband are so against meeting the other woman. What do you have to lose? Meeting her means having a lot more information about what your sister's getting involved in. How could that be bad? At any rate, by refusing to meet her you pretty much forfeit your right to have an opinion about your sister's relationship with her.... Go meet the woman. Be honest with her about your concerns....
Here's the thing: Your sister is either going through a phase that will pass, or she's really in love with these two people, and they really love her, and the three of them are going to live happily ever after. Either way, your job remains the same: to love and support your sister....
...Love is a strange, wild animal. I tend to think people were designed to love, mate-for-life wise, only one other person. But who am I to say what romantic/committed love should or must look like? The woman I interviewed above seems perfectly content in her polyamorouos relationship; if anything, she seems more sane than most people. Since publishing that interview I've received a great many emails from people in polyamorous relationships, and to a person they've seemed sane, kind and... rather disappointingly normal. They're not freaks. They're not immoral. They don't have subpar values. They don't seem any less dedicated to either of their mates than I am to my wife. They're just... in love with two people.
Who am I to say that such a love indicates the presence of... faulty wiring, or whatever? As long as no one's getting hurt in such a relationship, who am I to say it's inherently wrong or harmful? For all I know polyamorous relationships are better than the regular kind. I mean, it's not like any of us are surrounded by nothing but happy normal marriages....
...Again: if no one's getting hurt, I can't find a hook to hang my caring hat on.... Of all the problems in the world, I can't see getting upset over the fact that someone is loving two people instead of one.
So I say relax. If your sister's polyamorous relationship is real, you'll know it. If it's not, she'll know it -- and then you'll know it. Either way, you'll still be sisters. And that's a love that should never change at all.
Read the whole article (Feb. 25, 2013), which is also on Shore's widely read blog.
In the article he references his interview last year with a women in a happy triad family living quietly in the Deep South. Definitely worth a read.
Shore took a lot of heat from Christian commenters for those posts. I wonder if that's why he chickened out and insultingly dismissed a sincere Christian who later wrote in about his feelings of poly agape for another woman:
I’ve been trained doctrinally as a teacher for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and am an active member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. About eight years ago I was introduced to the concept of polyamory, but the concept didn’t make complete sense to me until this past December.
Is it possible to love more than one woman fully at the same time? This concept keeps showing up in numerous news articles, and I’m just feeling like I’m crazy, as my wife and I have a common friend whom we both “love.” I’ve approached my wife with the possibility that polyamory exists, and I’ve also done a lot of research and digging into this concept, especially into scripture. My finding is that it is perfectly possible to love more than one woman at the same time, but culturally it is unacceptable.
My wife sees no positives in this situation, as we would lose our Christian witness. And I’m partial to agree with her that even though I know I am capable of loving more than one person completely and intimately, I should restrain myself out of my respect to fellow believers, so that they don’t stumble.
I care so deeply for this friend that it almost feels like it’s my first true case of feeling agape towards another person that is not a specific member of my family. I’m just so torn about this, knowing that living in a polyamorous relationship is possible but not likely to ever happen in my lifetime....
From Shore's response:
...My insight is that you should (children: avert your eyes) stop fondling your dick through your pants pocket. You've got a wife. Put your attention there. I think you're really just looking for a way to have an affair. Stop doing that.
The whole article (April 2, 2013).
Blogger Sarahlinwilde took Shore apart for this and for another flip dismissal, saying he's gone back to assumptions "based on the idea that monogamy is the only virtuous option, and that non-monogamy exists so men can get laid more frequently than the Little Wife would allow. And that strikes me as problematic. It’s based on all kinds of cultural constructs and false assumptions that Shore seems to take for granted – similar to the false assumptions that had to be questioned before gay rights could become a possibility." See her whole post (April 11, 2013).
Moving right along now...
Dear Abby disses the idea of opening a marriage as a way to save it. (The poly-community expression of this is, "Relationship in trouble? Add more people" with eyeroll.) Abby then follows her reply with a reader's sad commentary on the awful state of conventional marriage. Accident or design?
Sister in open marriage takes sharing too far
Dear Abby: My daughters are attractive young women, both doing well in their professional careers.... I was horrified to learn that Melanie allows her sister to occasionally have sex with [Melanie's husband] Sam.... When I asked her and Sam about it, he said it wasn’t his idea. My current husband says any man who would refuse this “setup” would be nuts.... I am distraught about this mess. Melanie says she wants to start a family soon. She says she loves Sam, who can “handle everything,” and she enjoys seeing “everyone happy.” She says [sister] Alicia won’t sleep around now [the cause of Alicia's past divorce] and, maybe, one day she’ll marry a handsome man like Sam who will “return the favor”!
I can’t believe these girls are my daughters....
—Heartbroken Mom in Florida
Dear Mom: Your daughters appear to be into the concept of open marriage. Clearly, they do not view marriage and relationships the same way you do.
Melanie is naive to think that encouraging Sam to have a sexual relationship with her sister will discourage him from seeking other partners. Far from it. And as for her wanting to start a family, has she considered what will happen if her husband impregnates Alicia at the same time — or first?
But back to your question: Are you right to protest? You certainly are. That’s what mothers are for — to inject a dose of sanity when everyone around her is losing theirs.
Dear Abby: The other day at work, my girlfriend overheard a group of people in the break room talking about what they’d do first if they won the lottery. Without exception, everyone in that room said the first thing they would do is get a divorce. My girlfriend was stunned....
The whole column (Feb. 13, 2013).
Dear Abby again, now ignoring the existence of poly relationships though she's been intrigued with them in the past:
DEAR ABBY: Is it possible for a man to be in love with two women at the same time? -- NAME WITHHELD IN VIRGINIA
DEAR NAME WITHHELD: Yes, I think so -- and it is usually for different reasons. The same holds true for women. However, for a lasting relationship, people have to choose the one partner who has more of the qualities they think are most important.
The original (Dec. 4, 2012).
On the other hand, a columnist for Toronto's news-and-arts weekly NOW knows about the subject and goes on goes on at interesting length:
I am hopeful that you will respond to me, you being one of the world’s great proponents of polyamory.
I’ve been with my current girlfriend for nearly five years. She is amazing, and we are very much in love. The sex is really good, too....
However... I’ve had partners (two in particular) with whom I was naturally more in sync; it was with those women that I had mind-blowing sex. Those two encounters were more than one-night stands -- they lasted several months.... I have never cheated on my girlfriend; I don’t think it’s fair for me to do that to her.
Here’s the issue: I keep in contact with those two girls. I remain incredibly attracted to them and have a fondness for both of them, which, although it’s not love, is a strong feeling nonetheless.... My girlfriend... only has eyes for me. In fact, I think she takes it really hard that I don’t only have eyes for her. She finds it distressing. So if I decide that I want to be a polyamorist, how do I broach the subject with my girlfriend?
I am not one of the world’s greatest proponents of polyamory. I do believe, though, that given some very obvious facts, it’s something many of us should look into. I can assure you most of the time I actually believe that polyamory is insane and those who indulge in it, while clearly trying to embody admirable qualities, are out of their fucking minds. But this attitude extends to all relationship models, really. Getting involved with someone = crazy thing to do.
Polyamory strives to have one noteworthy quality across the board, however and with whomever you practise it, and that is honesty. So whether you are involved with two people on even terms and have a few lovers on the side, or you’re married to someone and have five other paramours, everyone is in the know. In other words, you don’t do things that benefit your naked areas and ego at the expense of other people’s feelings....
This openness is touted as the good thing about polyamory. But it is also the bad thing about polyamory. If you even so much as get close to one of these Gordian configurations, you will get dragged into it like an undertow. Just try having a casual thing with someone in a polyamorous relationship(s). Just try getting a hand job without having to hear all about the various arrangements this person has with each of their other lovers and the work they do in other aspects of their lives to facilitate open sexual dialogue. “I get it,” you will want to say, “You are an erotic renegade. Now will you wrap your rebel hand around my rigid dick?” No, they can’t, you see, because there needs to be an eight-day discussion with everyone else in the fuck tribe about it.
I am truly beginning to wonder, when it comes to relationships, if there is any such thing as honesty and not just varying degrees of misapprehension. We’re all just here flailing around trying to be good and bad at the same time, honest to ourselves and to our partners, riding that line between getting what we want and wanting what we get.
...Now, Partners, even if you have been buoyed by my inspirational words, you don’t strike me as a good candidate for this type of arrangement, not at the moment anyway.
Why? Well for one thing, you’re sneaky....
...There are some people who ostensibly do this shit with great success and have generously taken notes so that you can do it successfully as well. Look at Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up or Wendy-O Matik’s Redefining Our Relationships.
Here's the whole column, which ran under the helpful headline "Open Whore Policy" (Aug. 4, 2012).
Wow, this post is getting long! And there's more data-dumping to go. Taking a break here.
To Be Continued.
Labels: advice columns