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Friday, March 24, 2006

Pick One…

Posted by on March 24 at 12:28 PM

I’ve been to a few polyamorous weddings, but not to many polyamorous anniversary parties. William Saletan at Slate thinks he knows why.

Look up other articles on polygamy, even sympathetic ones, and you’ll see the pattern. A Columbia News Service report on last month’s national conference of polyamorists—people who love, but don’t necessarily marry, multiple partners—features Robyn Trask, the managing editor of a magazine called Loving More. The conference Web site says she “has been practicing polyamory for 16 years.” But according to the article, “When Trask confronted her husband about sneaking around with a long-distance girlfriend for three months, he denied it. … The couple is now separated and plans to divorce.” A Houston Press article on another couple describes how “John and Brianna opened up their relationship to another woman,” but “it ended badly, with the woman throwing dishes.” Now they’re in another threesome. “I do get jealous at times,” John tells the reporter. “But not to the point where I can’t flip it off.”

Good luck, John. I’m sure polyamorists are right that lots of people “find joy in having close relationships … with multiple partners.” The average guy would love to bang his neighbor’s wife. He just doesn’t want his wife banging his neighbor. Fidelity isn’t natural, but jealousy is. Hence the one-spouse rule. One isn’t the number of people you want to sleep with. It’s the number of people you want your spouse to sleep with.

I think Saletan gets it wrong—but, hey, I don’t want to be an ingrate or anything. The piece is a defense of gay marriage, an attempt to show that it’s unfair for social conservatives to lump gay marriage in with polygamy and condemn both. Gay marriage needs all the help it can get in this country, and we’re grateful, William, really.

But what Saletan gets wrong, though, is this: The problem with polygamy and/or polyamory isn’t that it allows a married man “to bang his neighbor’s wife,ā€¯ but that one man plays husband to more than one wife—or one person plays spouse to more than one spouse. The poly guy is expected to treat both his partners, or all three of his partners, as somehow equal. While Saletan cites some examples of jealousy eating away at poly relationships, what really destroyed the relationships he mentions isn’t physical infidelity—it’s not the banging—but the emotional infidelity.

You can forsake all others emotionally and still bang someone else occasionally. Indeed, there’s an organized, heterosexual swinging movement in the United States dedicated to facilitating just that. Two people can commit to each other, put each other first emotionally and socially, and do all the above-and-beyond-banging stuff that spouses are expected to do for each other each other, and still sleep around a bit—indeed, that’s one of the things that social conservatives find so threatening about many gay male relationships. We seem to be capable of committing and also allowing for the occasional outside sexual contact without a lot of drama and divorce—and without a lot conventions in Vegas either. But what isn’t allowed—or sometimes is, but just doesn’t work over the long haul—is a relationship in which two, three, or more people are co-equal spouses.

The poly relationships that I’ve seen work are the ones where there are primary partners and secondary partners, but even that can be difficult to navigate.

CommentsRSS icon

I disagree. I think he is right about jealousy. My hat is off to gay men who can be committed and have physical contact with others. I cannot. If my girlfriend got it on with another guy I would lose it, emotional or not. It is my own insecurity, but it is what it is.

I have never personally witnessed a long-term, open relationship--which of course provides no evidence they don't exist. Also I wouldn't disparage them simply because of their limited potential for long term success.

I have noticed that gay relationships seem more flexible for surviving infidelity. That's a bit different than having a long-term, committed relationship that allows for extramarital sexual activity.

Your the sex columnist, so I'll have to take your word that it is possible and not uncommon. I'd be in a heap of trouble with my husband if I fucked around, and I'm mostly okay with that.

I myself am not poly but I know a lot of people who are. Over the last 11 years I've witnessed a couple dozen poly relationships form and fall apart. One that comes to mind lasted several years but most crashed within 6 months to a year, even when poly marriages were done to bind the triad together. I can't think of a single one that's still together, but the primary couples I know (usually a married man and woman) tend to keep trying, looking for another "Hot Bi Babe" (gack) to add to their happy family. I know that long-term poly relationships do exist, I just haven't personally known any.

And yes it blows my mind how many "poly" men love the idea of the HBB but his wife can't have relationships with men. Their logic is that he's not sleeping with men so she isn't allowed to sleep with men either. And the wives buy it. I think these men are not threatened by their wife having sex with women because they don't see it as "real sex" and they don't think their wife will leave them for another woman.

Dan - you do better with the mechanics of a good orgasm - for any sex or combination.

It is only the sex. Get real. The emotional bonding stuff is brother to sister - and good friends.

Poly means harem. Old or new versions, and modern cultrures are farther from all that than the old male dominated ones.

By the way, Thre are many books on Moromon polygamy. And written by disruntled women - the biggest complaint, he quit coming to my bed.

Horny Mormon wives isn't a common perception, but I believe it.

The reason gay men form long realtionships with rules for play outside is just practical. Lust / sex one thing. Love / relationship another.

It works. But is not easy since convertion always advocates fidelity or monogamy or some such Biblical virtue.

I'm going to reproduce the comment I made on the previous poly* post, about that HBO series, since I only noticed that post a week late:

When I heard that that TV show was coming, I was horrified, because this is exactly what I thought would happen: everyone would have the image of multiple enslaved women serving one man on a perpetual ego-trip as representative of all multi-partner relationships. The term "polygamy" is avoided like the plague by people who engage in multi-parter relationships precisely because it brings up that image. The modern term is indeed "polyamory", reinforcing the idea that all involved love each other. These are complicated situations - it takes a strong will and the ability to approach complex, powerful emotions in a rational way, and to discount the instinct of feeling threatened by a partners relationships with other people. That is part of why they are so rare, and why most people wouldn't ever think of engaging in them. However, many people do, and very successfully. And, the principles that underly these relationships are in fact very good ideas for any relationship, no matter what its boundaries are. A very good book on the subject, written by two women, is "The Ethical Slut". You can also (more immediately) check out the website of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom: , an advocacy group for all sorts of (safe, consensual and ethical) alternative sexual practices. There certainly exist situations like the abomination of traditional polygamy, or the, let's say, flawed, hippie movement, but I plead with everyone to avoid associating all ideas of polyamorous relationships with the certainly limited examples you've heard of or participated in.

poly does not mean "harem". that is about one of the most ignorant things i have read on the inter-web lately.

yes, poly relationships flame out and break up on a somewhat regular basis. do i honestly have to point out that this happens to monogamous couples on a fairly regular basis as well? certainly poly can make things more complicated, but so what; one partner being wealthier than the other can make a relationship more complicated, or a dozen other factors, and that's really not the point. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, that's the real world.

polygamy is a subset of polyamory, but it's not the whole story of polyamory.

i know of several polyamorous relationships, secondary to marriages, that have lasted years. not without hard work, but marriages also quite often require hard work. that's why "harem" is such a degrading, preposterous way to think about it. "harem" implies that certain parties are inherently subservient. polyamory implies no such thing. people often need to work hard for the rewards they derive from polyamory.

i second the vote for checking out "the ethical slut". it's a very smart book.

Why is it ignorant to tell the truth?

Come on - as a species men like a lot of pussy. Dykes like a lot of pussy. Fags like a lot of dick. And other combos like.......

Harem applies to all their fantasies and focuses on the real power of sex drive.

Dress it in a lot of new age or pseudo intellectual mumbo jumbo - still just a harem desire.

Every one of these arrangements means one person gets a lot of sex. Works very well for that person. Alpha male, cult leader, religous icon, dictator, etc.

I know in this age, the old labels are not hip. Mother nature is the power force, fakey new names to the contrary -- aka. our animal biololgy.

Reminds me of the preacher wanting to screw all the young girls for the Sake of the Lord. Oh, sure, the higher order.

There is nothing wrong in looking for new sexual stuff. Just give up all the mumbo jumbo and call it what it is. HOT - lets's hope- HORNY stuff. And hopefully tru;y CONSENSUAL.

Does not need a dishonest intellectual disguise in 2006.......but might sell books......

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