Following up with the flip side of my previous post
, here are some topics that are more troubling. We all know about the standard poly problems: time management, jealousy management, upset relatives, friends or employers; the potential use of poly as a weapon in custody disputes, the bother of careful STI prevention. People also often imagine that we have problems we actually don't.
But as the world grows more poly-aware and -tolerant, and as more people choose to try this way of life, other problems may emerge.
Here are three examples that showed up lately on the poly internets.
1. "Polyamory + Aging = Loneliness?"
An articulate essay on being left old and alone by "Shipwrecked," a man in his early 40s:
I practiced polyamory from 1995 through 2010, in a progressive West Coast city with a large and vibrant poly community. I've attended countless poly workshops and poly-friendly gatherings, and read pretty much all of the major poly books. But despite all this I ultimately ended up alone, and lonely.
I'd like to state the reasons this happened, since I believe they're reasons specific to polyamory, but which I've yet to hear any member of the poly community articulate a solution for.
1. The pool of potential partners drastically shrinks with time.
A recent TED Talk by psychologist Meg Jay brought this home for me, when she described dating in one's 20s as being like playing musical chairs: you're merrily changing seats, but suddenly realize the music has stopped and you're the one left out. Of course, in theory with polyamory this doesn't have to happen, but in practice many of the people who claimed to be polyamorous when they were younger eventually transition to monogamy. In fact, in my case this happened with every single one of the people I used to date fifteen years ago....
2. As polyamorous people age, the only spaces in their lives tend to be for secondary rather than primary partners.
Even among the once-poly folk who don't transition to full monogamy, if they have room for you at all as they age it's probably as a secondary partner. I realize that splitting hairs over definitions is something our community dearly loves, but once they're boiled down here's what most definitions of being a secondary really mean: you're expendable....
3. Polyamorous dishonesty and/or self-deception is often harder to detect than the monogamous variety.
I realize that sounds insane, but hear me out....
4. A history of polyamory diminishes your ability to find partners outside the poly community.
Unfortunately, it's easy to underestimate how repugnant polyamory is to much of the population....
5. Polyamory creates constant reminders of your own aging and associated loss of attractiveness.
The previous four points were more about how, despite its best intentions and hype, polyamory can paradoxically result in fewer partners than monogamy (i.e. zero rather than one). By contrast, this point and those following it are more about how it can increase your subjective feeling of loneliness regardless of how many partners you actually have.
This one is pretty simple. In permanent monogamous relationships people tell each other that they're still attractive, or "still as beautiful as the day we met".... But even if there weren't a single grain of truth to it, at least the fact of your loss of the ability to attract new partners isn't constantly thrown in your face.... As time goes on, you steadily see fewer and fewer of your invitations accepted....
6. Constantly hunting for partners can blind you to the other good things in life for which age isn't a barrier....
Why I Took the Time to Write This
Despite what my experience of polyamory has been so far as I've aged, I am still willing to keep an open mind. So, maybe someone here actually will be able to point out a reason why the odds aren't as bleak as they look to me....
But failing such a reason, I at least want to know that I said what I could.
Again, I have no moral problem with polyamory, and in fact believe that for the young it's much better than serial monogamy. But when you get to your 30s, if there's anyone still in your polyamorous life whom you could see yourself spending the rest of your life with, at least consider proposing exactly that while there is still time....
Read the whole essay
(Nov. 11, 2013) and the many good comments. I commented, in part,
Simply by numbers, this problem ought to be self-solving. If there come to be more than a few people in this situation — aging, poly, wanting a permanent life partner, and actively looking for the same — they can advertise and find each other.
2. Poly and kids when the kids are teens breaking away.
Humans are evolved to break loose from their birth families after puberty and strike out on their own. We are not sessile creatures like sponges; youth rebellion and walkabout spread the species across the globe. Modern life requires most teens to stay in the birth home longer than nature intended, IMO, and everyone knows how the tensions can go bad for both sides.
That's especially a problem — for both sides — when the parents are leading a socially disapproved lifestyle. Even more so when they have been less than stellar in their parenting, and how many parents are perfect?
Here's a post by a teen daughter embarrassed and humiliated at school, on Mommyish.com:
My Parents Are Polyamorous And I Hate It
I’ve been following the Polyamorous Mom’s articles with great interest, and I wanted to share my story. I’m not a mom, but I’m the daughter of two polyamorous parents.
I’m the all-American teen. Cheerleader, homecoming court, mostly A’s and the occasional B or two, cross country, charitable, and just kind of making my own way. I would say average except my parents are in a triad with this woman who I used to call mom. I haven’t called her that in years, but that’s a story for another time.... My parents told me when I was younger. I didn’t really care. I was too young to fully comprehend it. They just told me that they loved me, weren’t breaking up, and wanted to share their love with others. Being the naive kid, I just like said whatever and went back to playing with my toys.
I’m older now, and I’m struggling with why they can’t be normal? Their girlfriend has been with my mom since I was two, and they’ve been a triad since I was four. I have a half-sibling. Yeah, dad and his girlfriend had a kid together. My parental units wanted to scream their love from the top of the skyline and jump on couches like Tom Cruise, so everyone knows. We live right outside of Hollyweird, but they never stopped to consider if their need to be out of the closet would later affect me or my sibling.
Last week, my school had parent-teacher conferences at my new school. I thought just my mom and dad were going to attend. Since they’re not hiding it from anyone, they told all of my teachers that she was their girlfriend and that she’d be an active part in my education. I go to a Catholic school, and yeah, the example set before me doesn’t look too hot. They were showing affection like holding hands with each other, and it embarrassed me....
They never asked how I felt about them inviting my girlfriend or telling the office staff that she had the right to view my records or anything like that. It’s hard enough being a teenager without parental units complicating the high school experience and making it worse. I feel like everyone is talking about me now. The way teachers look at me says it all....
I should be happy because I’ve got three “parents,” but I’m miserable. I’m begging them to send me to boarding school overseas, so I can experience something normal....
Read her whole article
(Nov. 14, 2013).
A happy benefit of poly, especially networked poly, is that it helps exclude abusers. Ideally, it trains people to believe in their rights to their boundaries and to stand up for their needs fearlessly. It also provides support from intimates who can spot the early signs of abuse. An abuser typically tries to isolate his victim from family and friends. A healthy poly network will call this out and intervene.
But sometimes, gang-ups can work in the other direction. At Feminspire:
Accidental Polyamory: How I Found Myself in an Abusive 3 Person Relationship
...Tina and Andy were inseparable and adorable. I loved them both from the moment I walked into their home.... My first night there found us having a somewhat light-hearted discussion about my ex’s suspicions regarding their intentions toward me. It was mentioned that they did, actually, really love the idea of my being part of their relationship. Not just in the bedroom, but as a permanent third party....
I had never engaged in this sort of relationship before. I didn’t even realize that other people had. My relationship experience with women was limited, but I felt a connection with Tina that I had never found with another female. Andy seemed like a really sweet man, and while I adored him as a person, I wasn’t attracted to him sexually. However, it was a package deal, and I figured it was worth a shot.
At first, everything seemed to fit like a glove.... [But] the first time we were intimate with each other was a mixed bag of feelings for me. On the one hand, I enjoyed being physical with Tina; she was passionate, gentle, and sensual in our lovemaking. However I felt quite awkward sharing that moment with Andy looking on, and occasionally participating. There was no real direct sexual contact between he and I, which I was actually quite grateful for.
...Our relationship outside of the bedroom was faring little better, due in large part to Andy’s growing jealousy of the chemistry and emotions shared between Tina and I. When we tried to broach the subject with him, he became moody, sullen, and volatile. She suggested to him that perhaps he simply needed to fuck me and be done with it. I was totally against this idea, however in the end, I figured that if it could help repair the damage in our relationship it was worth a shot.
Andy and I went into the bedroom and awkwardly began to undress. He was very cautious and kind, making sure to continually ask me if everything was all right, if I was ok. I lied through my teeth, wanting the whole ordeal to be over and done with as quickly as possible. There are no real words to describe how uncomfortable it was, how violated I felt.
...I believe that Andy could tell how uncomfortable I was and that I had zero interest in him sexually, which seemed to fuel his anger even further.... I remember hearing them fight in the other room frequently, and soon they stopped trying to hide their fights from me at all. Instead Andy would explode at me in front of Tina, who had given up on her attempts to defend me, and also began to join in on the attacks. Suddenly, it was my fault that their relationship was damaged. It was my fault that they were fighting all the time.
The emotional abuse escalated to a point where I was physically afraid of them, specifically Andy.... Finally, during one particularly terrifying episode, I knew it was time to leave....
The whole article
(May 7, 2013).
Another abusive relationship, with a manipulative, gaslighting "celebrity in the BDSM community," as told on xoJane:
It Happened to Me: My Polyamorous Boyfriend Cheated on Me
My relationship with David started off with a stacked deck: we lived 1,000 miles apart from each other, he is a generation older than me, and he is polyamorous, while I had only ever been monogamous.
Despite these challenges, we had a loving and stable relationship. He met my family, I met his wife and girlfriend. We communicated almost every day, saw each other as often as we could and after a year and a half together, I made a solid plan to move to his city. Our relationship was low on rules and high on freedom.
The only set boundaries were: 1) tell the other person if you start a new relationship and 2) keep our private life off of social media.... Trust is a huge hurdle for me, but he assured me that he’d be the best man I’d ever had. That polyamory made it easy to be honest.
...That’s when I made my plan to move. There was just one nagging problem in the back of my mind: Rose.
I’d met Rose the year before at an event, and had heard of her in conversation so I knew she was a casual friend of David and his girlfriend.... She started responding to my tweets rather aggressively.... I’ll admit it: Her blog was pretty hot. I started reading it for the material, but then I started to piece together some details and realized that she was writing about David. I was confused for a while, as I thought he would have told me about their relationship....
...I asked him in casual conversation if he was the guy she called by that name. I told him I wasn’t upset, but I was confused and worried I had been doing polyamory wrong and had done something to complicate our communication.
He said they had been lovers years ago, but now they were just friends.... He said she had a lot of emotional troubles, so he provided her with support. But they were not “dating or anything.” I filled him in on the Tumblr and he said he hadn’t seen it, that it was all fiction, that he felt his privacy had been compromised and he had to go lay down. I was baffled....
I requested that he talk with her about her online behavior as it was making it very hard to believe him and I felt like I was going Ophelia-level mad....
David is a “celebrity” in the BDSM community [BDSM = Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism], and he reminded me that a price of dating him is that people would always be talking about him. His advice: ignore, ignore, ignore. He said she is delusional and an “obsessed fan”....
...I wrote an email telling him I thought he was lying all along, and included links to things I saw.... The photos were of her bruise-covered breasts, taken the same week she was helping him around his house.
His response? A brief email. He said that I could believe him or what is said about him....
I was even more confused a few days later, when he followed up with a phone call, during which he called me a “monster” and a “crazy psychotic bitch.” Rose was just a “poor broken [31 year-old] kid” who needed him, but I was mean and manipulative. I had no empathy or compassion for her, and I had abandoned him....
The weeks following that phone call had me going over everything in my head all day, every day. Maybe he wasn’t lying. Maybe everything she wrote really was a delusion, and everyone else was just knew about it and ignored it because she’s sick. Maybe I really am crazy and a monster. I sent an apology text begging for forgiveness....
...One click told me all I needed to know: She is one of his “core partners,” that Friday nights are their date night, that they are in a “sexual/romantic” relationship. That same day she made four posts about how that day was their third anniversary. He had been hiding his partnership with her for the entirety of our relationship.
I went nuclear and emailed him, and got this response: “Believe what you want to believe.”
I am no stranger to the BDSM community, and weirder things have happened.... Of course the fallout has all been documented on social media, too. He writes about people needing to be right vs. being happy and folks jumping to conclusions....
Read the whole article
(Nov. 22, 2013). And look up gaslighting
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: The case above is mild. Be wary of "celebrities in the BDSM community," especially those who deny that it has — like the U.S. military and the Catholic priesthood — a problem of rape, victim-shaming, and coverup. For all the talk about the BDSM community ethic of "safe, sane, consensual," I keep hearing evidence that genuine abusers and sociopaths are attracted to the BDSM world in outsized numbers, because they have learned they can operate pretty freely in it. Victims are especially reluctant to go to the police because their lives would be exposed and they may be dismissed with "You asked for it," even if they then had a safeword ignored.
Predators swim toward opportunities. Sociopaths tend to be charming, charismatic, persuasive, skilled at manipulation, and they often rise to the top. And sometimes throw the best parties, where they scout victims. This problem will continue until the BDSM world changes its culture to hear and care for victims, to support them rather than the victimizers even if it means getting disinvited from the best parties, or threatened — and to call out serial abusers and threat-makers by name, in public. Are you listening, Fetlife?
Some BDSMers, I'm told, advise playing only in clubs and other group spaces with enough people around to watch out for you, especially if you're new to the area.