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

October 26, 2016

Two poly advice pieces, a study in contrasts

As more of the public pays attention to what we're doing and considers getting on board, the media are offering more advice about how to do this thing. Often they repeat advice from the poly world (thank you, people!), but they can still come off as outsiders looking in, trying to explain something they don't really get.

Today we had a study in contrasts.

● The New York Times posted Dating experts explain polyamory and open relationships. It's a well-meaning piece, based on interviews with Eli Sheff, Dan Savage, and Karley Sciortino, and some of the advice is on target. But it's totally from a primary-couple perspective, and you sense that the author couldn't get past feeling that poly is Some Alien Thing. The article appears online in the paper's Fashion & Style section. Excerpts:

Dating experts explain polyamory and open relationships

Yes, they used this stupid cheaters-on-a-couch stock
photo we're all sick of. Couldn't the New York
do better? Photographers, get busy!
(Getty images)
By Valeriya Safronova

Open relationships are one of those concepts that can inspire confusion. [Is the author confessing?]

To start, they are not the same thing as polygamy (that’s when you have more than one spouse). They are also not maintaining secret relationships while dating a person who believes he or she is your one and only (that’s just cheating).

Polyamorous open relationships, or consensual non-monogamy, are an umbrella category. Their expression can take a range of forms focusing on both physical and emotional intimacy with secondary or tertiary partners [no comment], though some relationships can veer toward strictly the physical and resemble 1970s-era swinging or group sex. [I'm restraining myself.]

To better understand open relationships, we talked to several experts. ... We distilled their thoughts into seven key points.

1. Open relationships aren’t for everyone. Neither is monogamy.

Among people who study or write about interpersonal relationships, there’s a concept known as sociosexuality, which describes how willing people are to engage in uncommitted sexual relationships. ... That said, a lot of people aren’t on opposite ends of the scale. Mr. Savage, who is in a non-monogamous marriage, said that when he first brought up being open to his husband, he rejected the idea. But several years later, it was his husband who suggested they try it.

“If I had put that I’m interested in non-monogamy on my personal ad, and my husband had seen that personal ad, he wouldn’t have dated me,” Mr. Savage said.

2. Polyamory is not an exit strategy.

Open relationships aren’t the way to soften a blow or to transition out of a committed situation....

3. Nor is it an option to just keep a relationship going.

“If it’s to avoid breaking up, I have never seen that work,” Dr. Sheff said. “I’ve seen it limp along for a few months. If it’s out of fear of losing the polyamorous person, that’s a disaster in the making. It’s like a lesbian trying to be happy in a relationship with a man.”

4. Rules and situations can change.

...“It seems boundless,” Ms. Sciortino said. “But actually, there are so many more rules in non-monogamous relationships than in monogamous ones. There’s only one rule in monogamous relationships.” ...

5. Prioritizing a primary partner is key.

...The problem with new relationship energy is that it can make a primary partner feel forgotten. “Your long-term partner can feel hurt if you’re taking your relationship for granted,” Dr. Sheff said....

“It’s emotional cheating that people want to protect themselves from,” Mr. Savage said....

So his pro tip? “Demonstrate that they are your first priority.” It’s called a primary partner for a reason.

6. Those sharing a lover can get along too. ...

7. Jealousy is present, but not unique.

“A woman once asked me, ‘Don’t you get jealous?,’ ” Mr. Savage said. “And I looked at her and said, ‘Don’t you?’ Monogamous commitments aren’t force fields that protect you from jealousy.”

Jealousy is a universal emotion that transcends sociosexuality states. ...

So what does she recommend? “Put yourself in their position,” she said. “If you can have sex with someone else and it doesn’t take away from your love and even enhances it, you have to allow [sic] them  the same freedoms.”

Dr. Sheff suggested taking a close look at the underlying causes of the jealousy: Is it insecurity? Fear? Maybe it’s even justified? “Sometimes jealousy is a signal that you really are being slighted,” she said.

Tips for confronting jealousy in open relationships are the same as in most other relationships: writing down your thoughts, talking out your feelings with your partner, seeing a counselor.

And that, all three experts were quick to note, may be the most important point to understand: In many ways, open relationships aren’t all that different from monogamous ones. The best way to feel comfortable is up to individuals and their partner(s).

Read the whole article (October 26, 2016).

Posts Chrissy Raymond Holman, president of Open Love NY, "Dear NYT, not every poly person does hierarchical. This erases relationship anarchism, solo poly and non-hierarchical poly."

● In striking contrast, also today Noel Figart — who's been dispensing solid advice as The Polyamorous Misanthrope for years and years — posted The Five Unbreakable Rules That Make Polyamory Work. She's serious about this. Excerpts:

1. Love

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. ... Love is patient. love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud...."

The Bible may not be part of your tradition or beliefs, but this passage makes a significant point. Love is a big, honkin’ deal. No love, polyamory won’t work. I put this first because it is the most important. Love first.

And by the way, love and NRE are not the same things. NRE is fun and awesome, and love can often be. But sometimes it is boring and tedious. It’s as much cleaning up after someone who threw up in the night, as it is about walking down a beach hand in hand watching the sun set. I talk more about the dull and tedious side because the other side is easy. ...

And love is also a verb. If you’re sitting there feeling nice, that’s cool. But get up off your ass and do stuff. That’s where it’s love.

2. Be Honest

...If you need peace and quiet and can’t get it when you’re being honest, maybe you need to take a look at Rule Five. If you want to get laid more and think you can’t do it being honest, again, Rule Five is going to be important to you.

...If you modify the noun “honesty” with the adjective “brutal” then I think you might want to take a look at Rule Three and Rule One. Honesty is not incompatible with kindness and love. If you think it is, you need to work on your communication skills, cupcake.

To do an end run around the whole, “But what if she asks, ‘Does this make my butt look big?’ ” and she happens to be a bit broad across the beam, I want to offer this thought:

You can still be kind. You can ask, “Are you asking if that is flattering on you, or if it emphasizes your butt more than you like?”

That’s not dishonest, and it is also kind. You’re asking for clarification about what they really mean, and you’re not assuming.

For what it is worth, if you need feedback and you’re dealing with a partner who you know does their best to be honest (you fortunate thing you), you can help by making sure you’re asking the question you need to be answered. If you need reassurance that you’re loved, found attractive, valued or whatever, it is totally okay to ask for exactly that! And hey, since that’s what you want and need, it’s also…

Being honest.

3. Be Kind

...I get that you sometimes have a terrible day. But try, try, try to keep kindness in mind as your motivator for dealing with your loves.

...The thing is, treating a love well means that you’ll need to know your loves well enough to learn what makes them feel loved and cared for. ...

4. Own Your Own Shit

“Own your own shit” is a phrase that, like using "I" statements, can be perverted into a stick to beat people with. Y’all do know that’d be a spectacular way to break Rule Three to use this on people that way, right? Good.

Owning your own shit is really recognizing several things:

It means knowing that your past has probably taught you coping mechanisms that aren’t very loving. Check for them. Root them out as best you can. You won’t entirely. It’s a life-long project. ... But perfecting your character and your treatment of other people is an excellent project – one that will serve you well in all relationships, not just poly.

However, owning your own shit means you have to be able to identify your own shit, and not other people’s. This brings us neatly to…

5. Have good boundaries

Boundaries are what is in your locus of control. What do you choose to do? What behaviors will you choose to interact with, and what behaviors will you walk away from? What are you responsible for, and what isn’t really your responsibility or problem?

So, here’s a boundaries example. You’re at a fancy dinner, and the hostess is passing around a dish of asparagus. You loathe asparagus to the bottom of your being and do not want to eat any.

“Would you care for some asparagus?” asked the hostess.

You reply, “No, thank you,” and you pass the dish on to the guest on your left.

That’s boundaries in a nutshell. You didn’t like something, you said no, and you passed on it. Good boundaries. Interestingly enough, good manners. It’s amazing how often the two coincide.

This is, of course, simplistic and ignores the personal baggage that we often bring to relationships. Interestingly enough, [setting] good boundaries does sometimes mean [investigating] this. Kindness and love may require exploration. (Why do you feel unloved when I say no to your asparagus surprise? I love you, and I love your cooking. Can we talk about this?) But, that loving discussion actually can’t happen until the boundary is bumped up against. So, boundaries are crucial when it comes to loving effectively.

Read the whole article (October 26, 2016).

What a contrast.


Update: For the person who asked "What's the contrast", it's the difference between treating poly relationships as Weird Things versus, you know, loving relationships. Or as Noel puts it in the comments, between a rules-based outlook (which will be incomplete, poorly adaptable, brittle) and a principles-based outlook (which will be deeper and more rooted, and adaptable to unforeseen situations).




Anonymous Goddess of Java said...

Part of the contrast, I think (and by the way, your comments are incredibly flattering, thank you) is also a difference in teaching method.

I'm a principles-based teacher (even for stuff like software), which means that I think that "rules" aren't very useful until you get the *principles* behind why you do a thing down. I suspect you also are partial to this way of thinking.

A lot of poly advice, especially among people who are new, aren't actually *teachers*, or are looking in from the outside, tends to revolve around the rules. It's understandable, but can cause problems.

In the US we tend to tech process rather than principle in general. It's not just poly. I wish principles-based instruction were more common, as I think it could solve a lot of problems on many different levels.

October 27, 2016 8:47 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

Thanks Noel. The difference I see is that a rules-based approach to understanding something will be superficial, poorly adaptable, and brittle in practice, while a principles-based approach will be deeper and more firmly rooted, so it will be adaptable to new circumstances.

Gee, I wish some of my friends understood this about the U.S. Constitution.

And I wish companies and bureaucracies understood this about things their employees are supposed to do.

Alan M.

October 28, 2016 1:27 PM  
Blogger Bhramari Devi Dasi said...

=As is often the case the NY Times article greatly marginalizes a significant segment of the ethical non-monogamy community....just as one of the people quoted, Elizabeth Sheff does. While Elizabeth Sheff is a researcher on relationships and I'm well aware of her engagement with the poly community, her exposure continues to seem pretty limited, she is not polyamorous herself, and yet has crowned herself as an expert...while she makes pronouncements about polyamory that leave out a large segment of the culture and community....and thus what she presents is slanted.

The article also limits itself to only conveying poly-hierarchy and rule-based dynamics, and is couple-centric. At least they didn't feature the overused and worn out image of a stereotypical triad.

Noel on the other hand is usually totally spot on....as is the case here as well.

October 29, 2016 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Goddess of Java said...

Liz might have more engagement with the poly community than I do. I'm pretty reclusive, have been to ONE poly convention in my life, never attend local poly events and while I do have some poly friends, I don't think Liz's engagement is necessarily less than my own.

Yes, I'm poly and she isn't. But my stuff ain't academic research.

October 30, 2016 11:25 AM  

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