Friday Polynews Roundup — Poly hospital drama in the NY Times, L Word, conservatives turn on a heretic, and more
It's Friday Polynews Roundup time! — for January 10, 2020.
● Polyamory and open relationships are fundamentally different (yes I know about the blends and overlaps), and the difference is the metamour relations. In this morning's New York Times comes a heartfelt reminder that sometimes, life doesn't want you to compartmentalize your relationships: Two Open Marriages in One Small Room. It's the Times's Modern Love article for Jan. 10, 2020.
A motorcycle accident brings together four lives that had been kept intentionally separate.
Brian Rea / NYT
By Wayne Scott
“I want to see the body,” said my 12-year-old son, Miles.
He and I were sitting in our minivan outside of the hospital. ...
“Miles, it’s not ‘the body,’” I said. “You only say ‘the body’ when a person is dead. Eric’s still Eric. He’s just had a terrible accident.”
“Then I want to see him,” Miles said. “Can’t we go inside? Just for a few minutes.”
“It’s private,” I said.
“Well, Mom is there.”
“Mom and Eric have a special relationship,” I said. “Eric is in an intensive care unit. They’re cramped spaces full of sensitive equipment. We don’t want the room to be too crowded.”...
“I think it’s just Mom there, and Eric,” Miles said. “Maybe Shelley.”
Here’s where it gets interesting. Shelley is Eric’s wife. My wife (and Miles’s mother) is Eric’s girlfriend. We both have open marriages and respect each other’s privacy, but this accident propelled us into a new reality.
...Like other couples we know in open arrangements, my wife and I compartmentalize, keeping our dating relationships mostly off each other’s radar, a buffer against jealousy and insecurity. ...
Good luck with that.
...Months later, Eric would come through all of this — ambulatory and healed, if altered. But that evening, looking at him, I felt a fluttering in my gut, a stir of mortal awareness, as if holding him in our gaze was the only thing tethering him to the earth.
● Remember last week's buzz about polyam coming to another TV show? Insider, for instance, ran 'The L Word' just showed a lesbian 'throuple' on TV in one of the first same-sex polyamorous storylines. That was Episode 4 of "The L Word: Generation Q."
Well the next episode aired last Sunday, and Insider issued a new story:
By Canela López
Episode 5 of Showtime's "The L Word: Generation Q" had audiences gasping Sunday night after the lesbian drama portrayed long-time audience favorite Alice Pieszecki and her wife possibly turning their relationship into a "throuple."
...With more celebrities openly identifying as polyamorous, it may not come as a surprise that the boundary-pushing show is attempting to normalize this unconventional way of dating.
...The episode doesn't reduce the throuple to a messy side story to poke fun of. Rather, the three are portrayed working through a strategy on how or if they should tell the children, how they should show up in public, and what other boundaries they'll have in their relationship.
This portrayal of communicative and, for the most part, healthy polyamory is a big departure from typical portrayals of being poly which typically conflates the practice with polygamy — a far more sexist version of non-monogamy [such as "Big Love" and "Sister Wives"]....
The episode's two-minute trailer:
UPDATE: The poly thing didn't last. From a recap of the season finale on TVLine.com, dated January 26:
...During her conversation with Gay, they talk about the notion of being a bad queer (a nod to the Bad Feminist book) and how Alice feels like one because she desires the typical hallmarks of heteronormativity. She thought she could do the radical, beyond-the-norm approach by experimenting with polyamory — and including her girlfriend’s ex-wife! — but it turns out that she doesn’t want that. She just wants Nat, and only Nat. ... They get back together — just the two of them.
● It's all too much for National Review, America's long-established magazine of old-style conservatism. This week it published an article against a conservative writer, Geoffrey Miller, who recently defended poly at length in another conservative magazine.
The reply is noteworthy because it's not overtly based on religion and does raise some issues that are worthy of attention (if you can get through the rest of it). It's titled The Counterfeit ‘Honesty’ of Polyamory (online Jan. 7).
By Daniel Frost and Hal Boyd
The trend toward privileging desire over commitment and morality has predictable consequences.
Hold it right there. Poly and other forms of ethical nonmonogamy are all about commitment and morality. Yes, we know that unethical people do the opposite of those things. That's why we do it our way.
[Segueing from a discussion about a man who visits sex workers,] evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller recently wrote favorably about a related, albeit slightly different, form of openness: “polyamory,” which, he argues, “is going mainstream, like it or not.” ...Miller and others tout polyamory, or consensual non-monogamy, as allowing more honesty regarding our true desires. ... Miller, in fact, characterizes polyamory as “radical honesty,” claiming that it allows once impermissible desires to be articulated and pursued more openly and truthfully.
This is perhaps one of the main arguments advanced by advocates of polyamory and consensual non-monogamy. After millennia of deceiving ourselves and others, we’re told, polyamory finally permits us to say what we really think and to act as we really feel.
...But before polyamorists congratulate themselves too much over their honesty, it’s worth investigating what they mean by “radical honesty.” It turns out that, in practice, this kind of “honesty” more often deals in half-truths and plays the role of legitimizing a self-centered form of sexual consumerism.
Actually, half-truths are not honesty at all, and "self-centered consumerism" is not ethical, caring, or loving. But the authors, who teach at Brigham Young University's College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, come from the doctrine that sex outside of monogamous marriage is contrary to God and therefore is necessarily destructive and bound to end in misery. And therefore so is love outside of strict bounds. In fact, their jobs at BYU require them not to think otherwise in public. So they close that loop of circular logic right away, perhaps without even knowing it.
But then things get more interesting:
Proponents often tout polyamory as an ethical, “consensual” form of non-monogamy. However, a recent survey, co-sponsored by the Wheatley Institution and Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life found that less than half of women who had been in a consensual non-monogamous relationship said that both partners desired the arrangement equally.
And, among all survey respondents, it turned out that “men desired an open sexual relationship almost four times more than their female counterparts.” To be sure, plenty of male respondents in the survey reported that their female partner wanted an open relationship more than they did; but, no matter the direction of the data, the findings suggest that the mainstreaming of polyamory would likely result in many individuals (particularly women) feeling pressured to enter arrangements that would not be their first choice.
And there exists a genuine problem. Women (and men) must have the power and agency to say no to a relationship style they don't want, and to leave it if necessary. But Poly Under Pressure, PUP, indeed happens, and as I've said before, it's a sick puppy whose diarrhea fouls us all.
Polyamory is the latest expression of sexual freedom championed by the affluent. They are in a better position to manage the complications of novel relationship arrangements. And if these relationships don’t work out, they can recover thanks to their financial capability and social capital. The less fortunate suffer by adopting the beliefs of the upper class.
...Marriage norms have seriously deteriorated among the poor, with serious consequences for single parents and children.... We are arguing that the spread of “radically honest” views of commitment and relationships will make family stability increasingly unlikely.
First, consensual non-monogamy is not peculiar to the upper class; elites simply attract more eyes no matter what they do, and they have less to fear from saying what they think. A 2016 study, spanning 8,718 individuals, found that the percent of the US population reporting experience with CNM "remained constant across age, education level, income, religion, region, political affiliation, and race." If the poor and marginalized lead more troubled, chaotic lives than the affluent, maybe it's because not having money means life is usually bouncing between trouble and chaos.
In fact, CNM can be adaptive among the marginalized. Talk to folks at a black polycon and you will hear that for many generations, long before the word polyamory was invented, networked intimate relationships in the black community were providing buffers against hard circumstances, even if they were kept on the down-low out of white view.
On the other hand... it's true that social trends often degrade as they go mass market. I've been saying for 12 years that as the poly bandwagon gets rolling, we need to steer the bandwagon to keep it on a path of good ethics, respect, integrity, and compassion, difficult as those things may be, or our defining word will come to mean nothing. So, yeah.
BTW, if the BYU profs are reading this, remember that quote from last week, "When a man is penalized for honesty, he learns to lie." Often without even realizing it.
● Sociologist Eli Sheff, in her long-running Psychology Today blog "The Polyamorists Next Door," is doing a series on how and whether to open a marriage together. Part 1 was Relationship Broken, Add More People? "Dangers of opening a broken relationship, what to do instead, plus one caveat" (Nov. 18). Part 2 is When Can Opening a Heteroflexible Monogamous Relationship Work? "Four tips that can help when opening a previously-monogamous relationship" (Dec. 30). From the second one,
1. Establish True Consent
The most important factor contributing to the success of opening a relationship is ensuring that it is truly consensual. Bullying, badgering, and coercing a partner until they finally give in to something they really don’t want to do is setting yourself up for disaster, and getting your mess all over the people you try to date. [The PUPpy diarrhea.]
...Real consent is a living thing negotiated among people who can say yes or no. When someone is unable to say no, then their yes is just lip service and not true consent. Consent is not only negotiated, but it can also be renegotiated as requirements and experiences change. People who want to try CNM would do well to educate themselves about how to attain and sustain true consent because it can be especially tricky in CNM relationships.
2. Cultivate Relationship Skills
Polyamory and other forms of consensual nonmonogamy require some skilled relationship maintenance. Just like other kinds of relationships, polyamory thrives on compassionate communication, active listening, and creative problem-solving. For these relationships to be successful, people must be willing to put in effort and view relationships as worthy of investing time and energy. This usually means taking the time to learn communication skills, listen deeply, work on compassionate responses to conflict, and try different things when the old ways no longer work.
If all of that sounds like a tall order, it is. ...
3. Be Flexible
Many people in established monogamous couples — especially heteroflexible couples composed of heteroflexible or bisexual women with heterosexual men — approach CNM with a very clear idea of how it will work for them. Often based in fantasy, this idea can calcify into an inflexible structure that might not actually work in the real world. ...
4. Find Support
Finding social support is key for establishing a happy polyamorous relationship. Swinging, open, monogamish, and some other forms of CNM tend to be more separated from family life and sometimes exclude emotional intimacy. Polyamorous relationships, in contrast, are generally more deeply embedded in daily social life and family interactions. Connecting with [others] provides access to advice, other perspectives, role models, friendship, emotional support, and companionship.
...Sometimes, however, CNM does not work even when couples work to establish consent, gain relationship skills, stay flexible, and get support. The third and final blog in this series addresses when CNM will not work for an established couple and what to do about it.
I'll flag that when it comes out.
● Zinnia's daily Polyamory Advice column has returned from a four-month hibernation, taking new questions every day since January 6th. Yesterday's was about a common newbie issue: I really want to be in a specific type of triad, and it's all I can think about (Jan. 9)
I really wanna be in a triad relationship with two boys (I’m a girl), but I've never met anyone who is down with that and it's all I really think about and I really want this?
It’s important to remember, though, that ultimately, we date people, not relationships. Pursuing a specific relationship style rather than seeking intimacy with individuals is an easy mistake to make but it will lead you down some rough roads. Seeing a relationship as a “goal” to “achieve” will also cause you tons of anguish, so be careful with that.
Work on yourself, find ways to meet polyamorous people organically (dating sites, meetups, the local scene), and try to be patient. ... Inevitably, reality won’t end up looking like your expectations, and it’s better to live in the present than the future. ...
● From another advice column, "Ask an Alaskan: Sex and Relationship for the Last Frontier" in the alternative Anchorage Press: Poly Problems (Jan. 8)
...Now we are in a situation that I never expected. I am going to break up with my boyfriend that I moved to Alaska with, but I also want to continue dating the person that we started dating together.
How do we break up with each other but continue to date our mutual partner when we are not together?
● From another newspaper, in New Zealand, We want an open relationship but don't know where to start (Jan. 10).
Since opening up to my partner about being poly-curious a few years ago, we've been talking and reading resources about open relationships, and we're thinking about opening up. Our current relationship is strong and my partner has expressed their open-mindness about this.
We recently visited a local polyamory support group to seek advice but didn't feel that we could do so once we got there. Besides an interest in open relationships, we didn't really have all that much in common with the other attendees.
Where should a long-term couple like us start?
My own advice? Go back to that group and pick their brains for knowledge even if you don't "really have all that much in common." In a big important way, you do.
Even if, let's say, you're quiet churchmice and they're fluorescent-haired 20-something psychonauts. To learn new things, be ready for new things.
That's Friday Polynews Roundup for now. See you next week, or sooner if something big develops!