Cosmo's "Polyamory Diaries" goes on a trainwreck. Why you need poly community.
|The lodge, seen from the creek|
And up on my screen pops a pathetic mess of ugliness posing as avant-guardism in Cosmopolitan UK.
It's Cosmo's new series "Polyamory Diaries," now in its second month. "Jack" chronicles the true story of him and his wife "Lucy" opening their marriage after she demanded it. This is supposed to save the marriage. She demanded that he date also, against his wishes, because it's "enlightened." Ugly dynamics are moving in the background, room elephants loom unspoken, and the crazy grows. Those poor people!
The January installment, the first, was titled Polyamory Diaries: “I want us to sleep with other people”. From Jack's narrative:
...We’d been through some hard times recently... which was why I was determined to make this evening special – flowers, champagne, her favourite food. ... But Lucy had some new ideas of her own. “Jack,” she said, turning to me. “Yes…” I replied, expectantly, thinking her next words would be, “Let’s go to bed and make everything alright.” “Jack… I think I’m polyamorous. I want to sleep with other people. But I want you to as well.”
...She went on to describe a lifestyle that, it turns out, she had been researching for the last six months. Polyamorous wasn’t a term I was familiar with, beyond it having vague connotations of sleeping around. Sometimes called ‘ethical non-monogamy’, polyamory is seen by its proponents as a more enlightened, modern way to conduct relationships. Sure, it means sleeping with whoever you like, but here’s the catch: as long as it’s agreed beforehand with your partner. In the unconventional future Lucy mapped out for us, our relationship and family life, centred around our three children, would still be our ‘primary’ – i.e., the most important part of our lives. However, we’d also be free to have ‘non-primary’ sexual relationships with others. ...
...The next morning as the hangover kicks in, my feelings of excitement are quickly replaced with ones of rejection and insecurity. At breakfast I ask Lucy if there is someone she has in mind who she wants to get together with, who sparked her interest in this whole new ‘poly’ lifestyle. She insists there isn’t and that she’s actually more interested in other women than men. (This isn’t a total surprise ... and, the truth is, another woman seems a lot less threatening than another man.)
“You know, polyamory doesn’t mean our lives have to change,” she says [Oh God. –Ed.], nuzzling my shoulder.
“Yeah, well, I don’t see why we have to change anything. I like how our lives are now. ... It’s not like we’re both going to suddenly set up Tinder profiles!”
A week later, I set up a Tinder profile.
Poly or divorce?
It takes a few days for the milestone realisation that ‘swiping right’ was going to be part of my life to set in. It’s hard to focus at work in the wake of Lucy’s first ‘indecent proposal’. Home life veers between talking in a thrilled way about how this new lifestyle might pan out, and having blazing rows that seem to escalate rapidly from the smallest issue.
...I fire off messages to a couple of exes and ‘ones that got away’ on Facebook, not revealing or suggesting anything, but simply to make new connections in my mind – the type of connection that, until very recently, seemed forbidden. ...
When, one night, I attempt to backtrack and suggest that maybe we should try more conventional ways to save our marriage – like counselling – Lucy becomes very negative. We had tried one session a few weeks before and she thinks it’s unlikely to help. In one heated moment she even says that we either give polyamory a go or get divorced. Given such a stark choice, the decision is pretty simple. Lucy is adamant she still loves me deeply and wants us to stay together as a family. I still love her too, so, really, there only seems to be one possible path…
When, that same week, I get news of two different couples I know well getting divorced, it feels like a sign. ... I realise that if this somehow works out, polyamory is surely better than divorce.
...Lucy hits me with another bombshell. Having previously stated that polyamory was just an idea at this stage, and something driven primarily by her sapphic side, she tells me that, in fact, she has got a man in mind. She met him at a party a few months ago, and if she wants to have sex with him, well, we are polyamorous now, so that should be fine with me.
I try to remain calm, although I am devastated. We draw up a written agreement setting out the parameters of our new relationship. ... It is the saddest point of our marriage to date. ... Part of me feels like I’m being forced into a life I never wanted. I thought I’d put all the hassles of dating behind me. I desperately want to go back to the safety of monogamy, where nothing can threaten our special bond.
But, with Lucy already planning her first date for 10 days’ time, trying to turn back the clock isn’t an option. ... I need a date, and fast, preferably next Wednesday, so I can be out when Lucy’s out and not be sitting at home agonising about what she might be up to. Only one method I’ve heard about promises to yield dates this fast… Tinder.
...Within 24 hours, I have a dozen matches and even a couple of phone numbers, though I don’t disclose my relationship status. I figure, let’s get chatting first, then I can tell them what’s going on once we build up a rapport. When I do reveal my ‘situation’, I am unceremoniously ‘dumped’ by one promising match. I feel raw and resentful of being forced into this position of rejection that I didn’t want. That night, Lucy and I have a huge argument and I go to bed hopelessly depressed.
The days until Lucy’s date are passing quickly and, just as I’m starting to give up hope of ever being out that same night, a profile makes my heart leap… Nell is a girl who is actually describing herself as polyamorous. ...
...Sometimes my conversation with Nell feels less like a date, more like a counselling session. I’m going to lose Lucy, aren’t I? What am I even doing here?
February's installment, much shorter, is just out: Polyamory Diaries: “Last night my wife had sex. Just not with me”.
...When she gets to the bit about her having sex with another man for the first time, I feel heartbroken. It leaves me wondering if our own sex life is really that unfulfilling. But Lucy has insisted that polyamory will strengthen our own bond. So now that I’m anxious to prove this, I focus on having sex with Lucy again as soon as possible.
The next day, I make my move in bed… and she brushes me off. She says she’s ‘had a long day’. I’m upset but try to remain calm. After all, we do at least kiss and, rather more crucially, share a bed for the first time since our daughter was born two years ago. ...
The next day is Friday, and I feel much happier. In my rush to embrace polyamory – and catch up with Lucy in the sex stakes – I have lined up a Tinder date (my second in three days). It is a disaster. She’s a rich lawyer – pretty, but also pretty self-centred. Still, she’s a good conversationalist, and I have vague hopes of some romance – until, after dinner, we talk about relationships. On her Tinder profile, she said she wasn’t up for anything serious. For my part, in our Tinder chat, I mentioned my wife, although didn’t spell out the polyamorous situation, thinking it was a non-issue in a casual relationship. I was wrong.
She is surprised to find out I’m still with my wife, having assumed we were separated. She thinks the whole polyamorous thing sounds bizarre. Despite her commitment-phobic profile, monogamy, for her, still seems an important endgame. At one point, she even describes Lucy as ‘selfish’, then lashes out at her, claiming that the guy Lucy slept with the other night didn’t seem to have much respect for her....
The fallout from the date is pretty destructive. I come home in a bad mood, secretly blaming Lucy for the awful time I’ve had. Lucy is, in turn, annoyed that she’s let me go out on a ‘hot’ date, and now I seem grumpy and ungrateful. All this is starting to pile on the pressure. ... If the idea of polyamory was to bring us closer together, it isn’t working.
By Sunday, the pressure has built even further. I buy flowers, champagne and cook Lucy’s favourite Chinese food. ... and the situation explodes into a huge argument, with screaming, slammed doors, tears and separate rooms. I swallow a minor, but deliberate, overdose of prescription sleeping pills. If this is poly, I want out.
No, it's not! What a terrible rep the Lucys of the world give us. PUP — Polyamory Under Pressure — is one sick puppy and its diarrhea fouls us all.
People seem so much more likely to blunder into poly catastrophe when they try it without consciously examining, and shedding, a whole raft of mainstream mono assumptions around ownership, control and codependency. And that's not just about the traditional orders forbidding someone to have new relationships; it's also about orders demanding they have new relationships! And assumptions that one of a couple shouldn't have relationship choice for themselves — including monogamy. Didn't she learn anything about boundaries and agency and respect in those six months of "researching"? Did she just read Cosmo and the tabloids? What about nonviolent communication, active listening, kindness, compassion, even the old bit to "Go as slow as the slowest partner"? And, "First get your existing relationship(s) into excellent shape"? And simple respect?
Me, I don't think I'll ever want to explore a deep relationship with someone who's not already skilled in poly/ New Culture/ mindful-relationship practices. Unless they're one of the blessed few who come by these things naturally.
How do you find such people? Be one of them. Gather with them. Community is what you need.
P.S. January 31: And still the tabloids can't get enough. The Daily Mail today features another happy-sounding poly family with happy pix, this one the absolute stereotype of the unicorn setup: Polyamorous couple plan to 'MARRY' the long-term girlfriend who shares their bed (and their two sons already call her 'mommy'). See how many embedded explosives you can count here. Excerpts:
The polyamorous couple, who share sons Dario, eight, and Anthony, three, (pictured together) met Courtney (far right) on a dating website.
By Emily Chan For Mailonline
...Courtney, 27, moved into their family home shortly after they met, with the trio now planning to commit to each other in a ceremony.
The couple's girlfriend, who has already changed her last name to Catano, hopes to legally adopt the couple's children, Dario, eight, and Anthony, three, who already call her 'mommy'.
Matthew, 32, insists that he loves both women equally, and says that they are not in an open relationship as many people believe.
Mortgage adviser Michelle, 31, said: 'We never considered adding someone to the mix until we were married. Our relationship has always been incredibly strong, but we thought that by adding someone else in to the mix it would be a fun new element.
'I was searching on a dating website and came across Courtney's profile, and Matthew and I couldn't believe how attractive she was.
'We got talking and we soon met up, and we both fell in love with her straight away.'
Courtney moved into the couple's home shortly after they met.... The trio's relationship has gone from strength to strength ever since.
Courtney even quit her job to become a full-time mom to Dario and Anthony — with both referring to her as 'mommy' as well.
Despite the unique situation, the trio claim that they all live harmoniously together, and that their children are happy and aware of the situation.
...'There's absolutely no jealousy whatsoever between us all, and we make sure to spend our one on one time together as well as individually.
'We'll explain to the children fully when they're older why they have two moms, but for now they just think they're the luckiest kids in the world to have three parents!'
The text-and-photos package came from one of the agencies (Caters News this time) that sell content to tabloids and clickbait sites.
There's no way to tell if these three people are really as hearts-and-flowers as they sound, or if they'll continue to be that way once Courtney grasps the implications of giving up her income and career to work as a free nanny to a couple who can dump her at any moment if something doesn't go their way. I hope they've all sat down and, with compassion and fearnessless, drawn up how Courtney will be paid for her labor and how to ensure equal freedom and agency all around.
For instance, what if her relationships with each of them don't continue to develop in perfect sync? The couple don't sound ready to "let your relationships be what they are" (quoting More Than Two). Can she have another partner if she chooses? No, says Matthew, they're "not in an open relationship." If she decides to marry another partner and set up a new household, will they put aside any regrets and come to her wedding with warm hearts for her happiness? Many polyfolks would, and do.
If you and your polyfamily decide to work with one of the tabloid agencies (they're beating the bushes to find you), please represent better.
How? Remember: You need community.