Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why be poly?

I am polyamorous, but it is interesting to ask why that is true.  What exactly is it that makes me this way, and why did I make the choices I made?  Part of it is simply being born this way - like most people I have the capacity to love more than one person at once.  However, there is a huge gap between having that capacity and deciding that doing so is the best way to live one's life.  Getting from 'possible' to 'do it!' took a lot of thinking and experience which is particular to me and my life.  Other people have different biological baselines, experiences, and priorities so they will end up at different conclusions.

The primary things that affected my choice are sex, poly theory, and a singular experience of new openness.

Sex is a big deal for me.  I have a big sex drive and very much appreciate variety of all sorts.  I want sex when I am sad, happy, stressed, calm, tired, energetic, and all places in between.  My primary love language is touch and for me the biggest and most impactful component of that is sex.  If I am not getting it I don't feel loved in the romantic sense.  For many years I felt that while sex in my marriage was good I could get extra happiness and satisfaction if I had more partners and more options.  If I could just find someone else who wanted to have sex constantly and then visit them for 30 minutes every day that would be super duper right?  (Good *%&#$ing luck with that, btw.)

More intellectually compelling but less viscerally powerful was my liking of poly theory.  I have always found jealousy distasteful and I dislike the idea of blanket social contracts with no room for individual preference.  It is completely cool if people want to be exclusive but it bothered me that doing so was considered the only moral choice.  I like the idea of every set of partners negotiating the things they need and granting their partners the freedom to do whatever makes them happy as long as everyone is getting what they need out of the relationship.  Being able to arrange the relationship to suit the people in it rather than arranging it to placate those outside of it makes so much sense!

I also grew to love the idea that love is not exclusive.  I can snuggle on the couch with two people I am romantically entangled with simultaneously and the love I feel for both of them does not diminish because there are two of them.  (Double snuggle makes me smile so hard it threatens to crack my face.)  It is both possible and common to be happy to see a lover be happy and deeply in love with someone else; such feelings are called compersion and it is a big selling point of polyamory.  I so much approve of the idea that love need not be the source of anger, need not require tight control.  Even if I weren't suited to polyamory or couldn't participate due to circumstances I would approve of the theory very much.

So sex and poly theory both pushed me to want to be polyamorous but what truly cemented the deal was an experience I had in the very early going.  After deciding to have an open relationship I felt a huge change in myself.  I felt walls that I unconsciously erected around myself fall away and a new sense of immense freedom took hold.  I took my vows of monogamy incredibly seriously and made certain to never put myself in a position where being unfaithful was even feasible.  Letting go of that control, allowing myself to flirt, to express interest, and to let my emotions flow where they wanted to instead of clamping down on them was *amazing*.  I had exerted such force in keeping myself on the straight and narrow without even being aware of it that being able to skip doing that completely was a transformative experience.

It got even more powerful when I actually did something about it.  The first time I confessed that I had a big crush on someone she was a friend who I knew pretty well - we had plenty of experiences together and a degree of trust.  Her response to my confession blew me away though "But I didn't even think you *liked* me..." That hit me hard because I suddenly realized that those walls I had set up around myself weren't just keeping me in check; they were actively keeping people away.  I realized that I had spent years pushing away people I liked, respected, and wanted to know by keeping myself unavailable and distant.  It made me wonder how many people had found me cold and unfeeling and how many friendships I had torpedoed by unconsciously trying to keep to my vows.

That experience made it clear to me that I cannot go back.  I can't again be someone who walls himself off from people, who when faced with someone wonderful immediately takes a step back instead of forward.  I fall in love easily and do so with people and in circumstances that aren't necessarily a good idea.  The only way to prevent that is to keep myself so far back emotionally that it damages any chance of a good friendship.  Doing so is far too great a cost and that isn't a promise I will make again.  That doesn't mean that every time I fall in love something has to happen - after all, sometimes love just ain't enough - but it does mean that I must live in such a way that love may happen and that it is okay when it does.

I showed up to the poly party on the back of lust and intellectual appreciation of a theory.  I am staying at the party because being here makes me happy and because it makes me a better person.  I can't think of a better set of reasons to do anything.


  1. I just wonder whether the same rationalizations and justifications apply to cocaine, or other mind-altering substances. There is the difference that one has a monetary cost, but beyond that...????

  2. More Sunday morning thinking on this topic.
    Sky - you really have me thinking about both cultural anthropology and biological behaviourism.
    When it comes to sexuality, humans, in general, are not locked in to any one thing. I believe only dolphins and bonobos share our propensity for having sex for pleasure and social intimacy - not just reproduction. But then there are the questions of cultural norms. Tibetan women have sex with, and often marry, pairs of brothers, for example. There are so many different forms of culturally accepted pair bond or free sexual relationships within our species - this alone makes us unique in the animal kingdom. Anything goes with our species - but there are many clearcut cultural norms. While polyamory seems clear of the bounds of any cultural norm, as soon as I read your references to "rules", I started to wonder whether this is in fact a cultural phenomenon - not necessarily a biological one. The line between the two is very fuzzy - and we could explore this for hours, days... years.
    But with regards to culture, I got to thinking this. Mono vs. Poly - is what you have been exploring. With regards to sexuality. But what about mono vs. poly with regards to age? My broad question is this: are we in the process of losing our cultural bounds and norms by virtue of the fact that age classes in our society interact much, much less than they did historically? And if so, do we risk (culturally) losing the "wisdom of the elders"? Ask yourself how much you interact with or exchange ideas with people in their fifties, or seventies, or eighties? I'm not talking about the fifty year old grocer, or seventy year old lady you say hi to on the park bench. I'm talking about meaningful interactions/discussions. And I'm not just talking about YOU. I have concerns that we (in N. American society, esp. urban settings) don't have adequate cross generation pollination going on, and as a result, cultural norms and bounds are being lost (for better or for worse???).
    I could go on and on about this, but not here.

  3. I don't know about the same justifications applying to cocaine or other drugs but I certainly feel that all drugs should be legalized. Making them illegal doesn't stop people using them, it increases the danger, it costs the state a fortune, and it makes treatment far more difficult.

    As far as monogamy as the norm, it is clear from the historical record that monogamy is one of many options practiced widely by humans. Universal lifelong monogamy was a thing that was spread along with Christianity as European nations founded empires. It existed other places certainly but until it was spread forcibly it was just one of many systems. Humans had and have a huge variety of other types of relationships, some of which are similar to polyamory, some of which are not. I recommend Sex At Dawn as a good read about this topic.

    I think you are right in that culture changes more rapidly when people aren't as exposed to a variety of age groups. The thing is, people have this idea of the wisdom of the elders that isn't true. Some older folks have plenty of wisdom to impart, and nearly all have skills and experiences that people could benefit from learning, but they also tend to be very much stuck in old mindsets and ways of understanding. Just look at statistics about marriage equality and who supports it and you can see that the wisdom of the elders often leads us down the wrong path. We should listen to the ideas of seniors, just as we should listen to anyone's ideas, and judge the ideas on the idea, not on the source. I think our culture of living apart from other generations is definitely causing us to change cultural norms more rapidly, and by and large I think that is a good thing. It does have plenty of other problematic elements, but I personally don't see a lot of value in maintaining cultural norms from past eras.

  4. On drugs: Regular runners report feeling a high from running, and may describe it in similar terms. Just because people have positive things to say about the way they live their lives doesn't mean there is anything similar about those different ways of living lives.

    But I don't want to dismiss drugs as a valid choice either. I'm sure there are huge swaths of people who are living happier, better lives for the fact that they sometimes use drugs of various sorts to alleviate pain, improve their mood, and do all kinds of other things. There are certainly some people who are ruining their lives trying to use drugs to alleviate pain that drugs can't fully deal with and having no success.

    The truth about drug use is that most people who use drugs, even hard drugs, do not become lifelong junkies. And even those who develop a dependence on them may be self-medicating a condition that they can't cope with otherwise and that they have no other tools to deal with.

    Right now the important differences between polygamy and illegal drugs include the fact that in the current system illegal drugs put you in legal danger, financially support dangerous criminal organizations, are generally fairly toxic, are in some cases physically addictive, and probably tend to be socially isolating.

    If anyone was in a situation where they had to choose between cocaine and polygamy, knowing that each would be equally effective for them in making them feel happier, I would definitely recommend polygamy. Of course literally no one is making that choice.

    1. Do you mean polygamy, or polyamory? They are pretty different, though obviously easily confused. Polygamy specifically refers to plural marriages.