"Do polyamorous people understand love and sex better than you do?"
Now that the polyamory bandwagon is racing ahead of us on its own momentum — after devoted activists spent years pushing and straining to get the bandwagon's wheels to move half an inch — what's next?
One way our movement is succeeding in steering the bandwagon, even from behind as we run after it, is by continuing to press for correct narratives of polyamory's true nature. So many of you dear people — in your blogs, websites, Facebook presences, lectures, TED talks, and media appearances — continue spreading the word that poly done right demands high ethics, free and informed consent among all persons affected, and a foundation of good-heartedness, caring, and respect. And that if you want to succeed, you want to develop fearless communication, honesty, self-knowledge, a toolkit of relationship skills, and good character in general.
Of course many polyfolks fail to live up to such standards or even try to. But bad actors and messups often find themselves called out by the community around them before they can taint everything. Keep that up.
Ideally our communities should be safe places full of trustworthy people who get it. We're not always there, and we seem to be losing ground now that "polyamory" is trendy enough that anyone can announce a local Meetup and collect a flock of newbies, people who may not recognize an untrustworthy leader.
In helping us keep steering the bandwagon toward good directions, the news media — love 'em or hate 'em — have been crucial. Writers, whether for the Washington Post or network news shows or the smallest new-media fly-by-nights, are impressed by our insistence on good practices and good character, and they almost always get the basic definition right: "with the full knowledge and agreement of all concerned."
Sometimes they almost seem in awe of us, as if we're the relationship ninjas. The grad school of relationship skills. Cool! Such media treatments help inform newbies what they shouldn't tolerate from that random Meetup organizer — or from once-reputable established groups where a problem person has muscled their way to the top.
● The May Men's Health magazine at the drugstore checkout, with a muscly alpha male on the cover and headlines like "Protein Up Your Diet," has an Open Relationships 101 article that might scare a guy like the model on the cover. A version went online last week. Thanks Kevin and Antoinette, and Robyn and Chuy, for representing so well again.
Why More and More Married Couples Are Opening Up Their Relationships
They're married, but they sleep with other people. Do polyamorous people understand love and sex better than you do?
By Kristin Canning
Kevin and Antoinette, a married couple in Philadelphia, are out to dinner with their two little girls. Between inside jokes and bites of chicken fingers and pasta pomodoro, they talk about their day, about school, about movies. Like any typical family. But two other adults are with them at the table, a man and a woman. After settling the check, Antoinette leaves with the man — her boyfriend, Gary. Kevin says goodbye to them and to the woman, his girlfriend, Maggie. (Some names have been changed.)
Kevin will take the kids tonight while Antoinette sleeps at Gary's. Tomorrow, Antoinette will be with the kids while Kevin stays with Maggie. People sometimes think they're divorced with new partners, trying to make coparenting work. Nope: "I have a new partner," Antoinette quips, "but I kept the old one too."
Just a random threesome photo from Getty
...If that's hard to wrap your head around, you're not alone. For most of us, the traditions and limits of monogamy are deeply ingrained. There's courtship, marriage, and children. Then you grow old together, faithfully. That's relationship success, right? For those who aren't monogamous, there's no such road map. And that, they'll tell you, is a good thing. With fewer rules, there's more negotiation, more talking.
"Open relationships require so much communication just to survive," says Kevin. His previous monogamous relationships, by comparison, were on nonverbal autopilot. "We didn't feel we needed to talk about things, because all of our lessons came from TV shows and pop culture. Everything was just on a default setting." Antoinette agrees: "The moment we chose to step off the relationship escalator, we had to say, 'Okay, what are we doing?' "
...Another married but open couple in New York City, Sam and Kate, say they'll sometimes share partners and sometimes date separately. ... The unexpected result: Outside dating brings a new, appreciative vibe to their relationship.
...Start by nixing your default setting. "We shouldn't be static," says Renee Divine, LMFT, a sex and relationship therapist in Minneapolis. "We should constantly be looking at what's going on, communicating what we need, and thinking about how we can make things better."
For Kevin and Antoinette, that means not taking each other for granted — ever. ... That desire to continuously be a better partner — that's where open couples might be onto something. The lifestyle may not be for you, but their love lessons could be instructive:
– Know what you each want.
...Lots of monogamous people know that walking-on-eggshells feeling. If needs aren't expressed, Divine says, a relationship can crumble. Successful poly people form their guidelines from scratch and know exactly what they are and aren't cool with.
– Make a "want, will, won't" list with your partner.
...Wants are what you'd like to get from your relationship (support for your goals, for instance), wills are compromises you could make (moving for a partner's job), and won'ts are hard-stop things you can't live with (drug use, say; or handholding with an old friend). You each write yours down on separate Post-its and stick them to a board in three columns. Then share and compare. ...
– Take time for yourself ... Agree with your partner that you each deserve "me time."
– Accept the inevitable jealousy.
Robyn and Jesus first met in a small town in northern California at a conference on polyamory (aptly named "Loving More"). Robyn was running it; Jesus was a rookie. They started dating, keeping things open — Robyn already had two long-term, long-distance partners, and Jesus later got another girlfriend too. Now they're "nesting partners" on a farm in Colorado.... Idyllic, right? Well, even after years of living a peaceful, poly lifestyle, they still struggle with jealousy. "Jesus recently had this hot chick over and took her up to the bedroom, and I managed to sit on the couch and watch TV by myself, and I was like 'Yes!' " says Robyn. "That's still a major victory for me."
How do they deal? By admitting the emotion — out loud. And by taking responsibility for it. ...
– Welcome change, always.
Open couples and poly groups are constantly tweaking the boundaries of a relationship — adding people, breaking up with others. They expect change, which can help the relationship endure even as partners evolve with age....
Asking for a change can be terrifying, Smith admits. Focus on what's going well first, and then use the word "and" (not "but") to segue into your request. Such as: "I'm really happy with how things are going and wonder if it could be even better if we didn't go out with the same people every weekend."
If you're asking for a change in behavior, your keyword is "I," says Divine. As in: "I feel bad when you get ticked off at my schedule, and I'd feel great if we could come up with a compromise." ...
This takes the blame off the partner and turns it into a discussion that you both can tackle. Awkward, maybe, but Smith says being direct is productive. ...
– Be radically honest.
People don't hold back at Loving More conferences. They get real about their feelings, sometimes while naked. "After I took my mom to a Loving More conference, she told me, 'I can't be around normal people now. They don't talk about anything!' " says Robyn. ...
The whole article (online May 23, 2018).
● From the Parenting and Family section of Greater Good magazine, published by UC Berkeley as "science-based insights for a better life": What You Can Learn from Polyamory, by Elisabeth Sheff (Feb. 13, 2018)
A 20-year study of consensually non-monogamous adults reveals seven lessons for anyone who wants to keep love alive.
...I studied polyamorous families with children for a period of 20 years, and I discovered their relationships can be intense, complicated — and fulfilling.
I also found that polyamorists have developed a set of relationship practices that can serve as lessons to people in monogamous relationships. ...
Polyamory isn’t for everyone, but here are seven lessons from polyamorous families that anyone might find helpful.
...In their quest to maintain sexual and emotional fidelity, some monogamous relationships prioritize the couple ahead of other social connections. When this focus reduces other sources of support, it can lead to isolation — and the resulting demands can be too much for many relationships to bear.
By and large, that’s not the case for polyamorous people. ... This process can also be good for children. “It gives my children a sense of community,” said Emmanuella Ruiz, one of my study participants. “They don’t have cousins or the typical biological extended family. But they have a big, happy, productive, healthy family nonetheless, and it is a chosen family. They know each person’s relationship to them the same way they would know if they were first or second cousins, aunts, or uncles.”
2. Don’t leave too soon
In serious relationships, giving up without trying hard to work things out can mean prematurely ending a good relationship that is simply having a difficult period. ... Polyamorous relationship require even more of this kind of work, because of their complexity. My participants report developing the skill to stay with a difficult conversation, even if it is uncomfortable. As one study participant, Morgan Majek, told me about moving from monogamy to polyamory with her husband, Carl:
"It really opened up communication between us. Because we’ve been together for nine years and that was my biggest complaint about him was you don’t talk to me… It really just helped us to learn how to be completely honest and communicate."
People in polyamorous relationships are also more likely to seek support from others, something that could benefit and sustain serial monogamous relationships as well. When things get rocky, we’re prone to hide the trouble from friends and family. Polyamorists suggest an alternative: reach out to friends and community members for sympathy, support, and advice. ...
3. Don’t stay too long
In what can be a delicate balancing act, polyamorous people find that it is important not to drag things out until the bitter end, when partners have been so awful to each other that they simply must run away.
Instead, polyamorists suggest that it is better to recognize and accept when people have grown apart or are not working well together, and then change — not necessarily end — the relationship. “I am not best buddies with all my exes,” said study participant Gabrielle. But she doesn’t think of many of her “former lovers” as exes at all.
...From this perspective, gracefully ending or transitioning to a different kind of relationship can be a celebration of a new phase instead of a catastrophe.
4. Be flexible and allow for change
Polyamorous people sustain their relationships through these changes in part by being willing to try new things. (This may also be because there are so few role models for consensually non-monogamous relationships that polyamorous people are usually making it up as they go along.) If the relationship isn’t working, then trying something else can be quite effective for both polyamorous and monogamous people. ...
...Polyamorous families must routinely adapt to new familial and emotional configurations as they accommodate multiple partners. To manage their unconventional family lives, polyamorous families try new things, reconfigure their relationships or interactions, and remain open to alternatives.
“I guess I’m not necessarily what you would call normal, but who cares?” said Mina Amore, the teenage child of one couple I interviewed. “Normal is boring.”
5. Support personal growth
...Instead of trying to avoid painful emotions, polyamorists try to face them head on.
People in long-term polyamorous relationships say that a combination of introspection and candid communication is the route to managing potentially challenging or painful feelings. Having to face their self-doubts, question their own motives, and consider their own boundaries often forces poly people to either get to know themselves — or to quit polyamory. ...
6. De-emphasize sexuality
Even though most people associate polyamorous relationships with sex, polyamorists frequently de-emphasize sexuality to help reconfigure and cope with change. ... Polyamory emphasizes that the end of sex does not have to mean end of relationship. Remaining friends is a real choice....
Another important element of de-emphasizing sexuality is the tremendous importance polyamorous folks often attach to their friendships and chosen-family relationships. Emotional connections with intimates do not rely on physical sexuality. Monogamous people can also establish deep friendships that provide support, emotional intimacy, and meet needs.
7. Communicate honestly and often ...
Monogamous relationships have many social rules that structure the way partners are supposed to interact. Some of these rules encourage people to tell each other small lies to smooth over possibly difficult or hurtful situations. While diplomatic phrasing and empathy are important for compassionate relationships, small lies that start out protecting feelings sometimes grow into much larger or more systemic patterns of deception. ... If you want to be close to your partner, tell the truth and create a compassionate emotional environment that is safe for them to tell you the truth as well. Gentle honesty may break well-established monogamous rules about hiding things from a spouse....
● In Humans magazine, Best Polyamorous Relationship Tips to Make It Work (Feb. 2018)
By Ossiana Tepfenhart
...Speaking as someone who was in a polyamorous relationship with five different people, I'll be the first to say it's not for everyone.
In fact, if I was honest, I'd say most people do not fare well in poly relationships. However, if you're extremely emotionally intelligent and are able to control yourself, you can find a really unique and rewarding way to have an amazing family.
In my days, I've seen seriously fucked up people who hid under the guise of "poly" to emotionally manipulate, abuse, and neglect people who just wanted a relationship. This is not what a polyamorous relationship is about.
Some of the best polyamorous relationship tips include...
Meet your partner's other partners, and give them permission to be a partner. ...
Use protection with all the other partners, talk sex health with each of them, and get tested regularly. No excuses.
As hard as it is, don't try to force your relationship to be some kind of way. ...
Don't keep score, but do keep an eye on trends. ...
Here's what you need to understand about poly mindsets versus normal ones:
Your needs matter, but they do not have anything to do with other partners. ...
Similarly, if you feel squeezed out and your complaints are falling on deaf ears, it's on you to extricate yourself and find happiness on your own. If anything else, polyamory puts a huge amount of personal responsibility on you.
...A person who is insecure will flip out in a polyamorous relationship ... Do yourself a favor, and fix yourself before you even consider this kind of relationship.
Don't be afraid to ask others for advice when it comes to complex emotions. ...
Therapists can help, as can polyamorous communities. ...
You need to tell your partners what you need. In a polyamorous relationship, letting problems sit and stew is a great way to destroy your life. ...
A lot of the polyamorous relationship tips you'll read deal with arguments. You need to learn how to argue without hurting others. To start, stay calm, bring facts. ...
...[Getting disapproval from friends? Look for] friends who are more interested in making sure that sex and relationships are healthy rather than traditional.
● Esquire: How to Be Non-Monogamous Without Being a Jerk (Aug. 16, 2017)
By Sofia Barrett-Ibarria | Aug. 16, 2017
...As Michon Neal writes for Everyday Feminism, consensual non-monogamy is "a community that prides itself on offering healthier solutions regardless of relationship orientation." Polyamory can be a way to build a family, or spread out your sexual and emotional needs so that they don't fall on one person's shoulders alone.
...When done correctly, consensual non-monogamy is meant to be a mindful, communicative practice that a lot of people find incredibly fulfilling. ... Alex, a researcher in New York, describes her current poly relationship as "the most honest relationship I've been in."
...Speaking from personal experience, I can point to a few ill-advised situationships with guys who said their girlfriends were "cool with it" (SPOILER ALERT: they were not). They made excuses for their shitty behavior by telling me there was "no wrong way" to do poly, my feelings of being left out were the fault of "society," and I was just too much a normie to "get it." The use of gaslighting and general dishonesty violate both the "ethical" and "consensual" part of the whole "ethical and consensual non-monogamy" thing.
One of the core components of consensual non-monogamy is talking candidly and honestly about everything — face to face, not in angry emails. Be honest about your own boundaries, but never assume anyone is cool or not cool with something just because you are.
Occasionally, ugly, uncomfortable feelings like jealousy toward a partner's partners will arise. ... Own your mistakes and know when to let go — no one's perfect.
...Be honest, be respectful, don't be an ass. Basically, try to leave people better than you found them. Not only is this the decent thing to do, but it will help build your network....
Lots more, but that's enough for now.