Mocking the Polyamorous: an Exercise in Self-Defeating Advocacy


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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217 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Polyamory is something that leaves me very divided. My liberal instinct tells me that there should be no law or policy to prohibit or discourage polyamory or open marriages. Any such law or policy is going to cause more problems than they solve. My conservative side instinctively sides with socially and informally enforced monogamy and a presumption towards it in society. Monogamous societies tend to be a lot more socially stable and productive than polygamous societies. Modern polyamorists are going to respond that polyamory is going to be egalitarian and not like traditional polygamy were the men with highest status took multiple women for themselves like FLDS outposts. I’m not so sure of this though.Report

    • Avatar Notm in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Which is why i cant wait for somone to push it up to the S.Ct., so i can get popcorn and watch the liberals twist themselves in knots.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Notm says:

        Do you have any hobbies that do not relate to people you hate politically suffering? There are also lots of non-liberals that are going to be similarly torn and not all liberals well be torn.Report

        • Avatar Notm in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Yes i do but not that many. Part of the pro ssm argument was that there was no slippery slope to follow. This was either a fantasy or a lie. I want to see what liberals say and do now. I want to see if they jump on the poly marriage bandwagon.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Notm says:

            The slippery slope liberals rejected was that gay marriage would quickly slip to allowing Fred the pig farmer to marry his sow. Or hog. (SSM!)

            But why do you care what views liberals who supported SSM take regarding poly marriage? I mean, you opposed SSM, yes? Did you oppose it for principled TradMar reasons, or because you oppose poly marriages and didn’t want us, as a society!, take that first slippery step leading to Fred and Bessy gettin married? If the former, why care about slipperiness since the principle has been blown to smithereens? If the latter, then you should wanna pull the brake lever just as much now as before, yeah? Cut your losses, so to speak?

            Oh, what the hell am I even saying here?Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

              Now that I think about it, why shouldn’t someone be able to marry a pig? Polygamy is fraught with complicated legal issues, but one (wo)man, one pig sounds straightforward enough. I mean, I wouldn’t want to, but where’s the harm?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:


                A practical issue is that marriage bestows certain rights — or perhaps better framed as privileges — so would these extend to the lucky pig? Would the pig get hospital visitation rights? Could it be claimed as a dependent? Take custody of children?

                I mean, if some guy just wants to be able to say, “I’m married to that little feller over there,” and have that be legally true but the pig is still a pig legally, I don’t really see reason to object.Report

              • Avatar Mo in reply to Kazzy says:

                Also, can a pig legally consent?Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mo says:

                Oink means oink.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                @brandon-berg — I cannot find the link, but there was a great Tumblr exchange on this. It was basically, “Why can’t a man now marry a pig or a child?”

                Which the answer is, indeed, consent. Pigs and children cannot knowingly enter into a complex relationship such as marriage.

                But then someone pointed out that, in fact, this reveals how utterly sexist and horrible the right-wing is (at least those who would ask such a question). Marriage, whatever the sexes of the partners, is a voluntary joining of adults. It is not a man “taking” his unwilling partner. To ask this question requires that you see marriage formed of one will and one who submits to that will.

                Only a sexist could even formulate such a question.

                Anyway, it made me laugh.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to veronica d says:

                We don’t really care about consent when it comes to pigs, though. I mean, we kill and eat them. And who’s to say that they actually consent to the sex they have with other pigs on farms? We basically keep them in murder-rape camps anyway.

                Marriage, whatever the sexes of the partners, is a voluntary joining of adults.

                Well, that’s your definition. Some people have a definition that specifies that marriage must consist of one man and one woman. I was thinking more in terms of marriage as a legal union between two individuals.

                Anyway, in your rush to femsplain, you missed the point of my (admittedly Jaybirdian) question, which is: Even assuming that the opponents of gay marriage are correct and there’s a slippery slope from gay marriage to marriages between people and pigs…why should we care? How is that an actual problem?

                To ask this question requires that you see marriage formed of one will and one who submits to that will.

                Only a sexist could even formulate such a question.

                You’re right. I think men should be able to force women to marry them, and own them like livestock. That was a totally reasonable inference to draw.Report

          • Avatar Barry in reply to Notm says:

            “Part of the pro ssm argument was that there was no slippery slope to follow. This was either a fantasy or a lie.”

            Hobby Lobby. IIRC, the limitations from that decision were torn up by the same SCOTUS justices within the week.Report

      • Avatar David Parsons in reply to Notm says:

        Eh, poly marriages are just a partnership with romance + exchanging pbfs; I don’t see why anyone would tie themselves into knots about it (unless they were into it, of course.)Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think that a lot of snark at polyamory is usually because a crowd called the polyevangelists.

    Most of my exposure to polyamory was in college and/or through fandom. I believe the bible is called the Ethical Slut. I remember there were a lot of people who sincerely and truly believed that the world would be a much better place if we all dropped the shackles of monogamy. This was done with a zeal that could rival any Megachurch Pastor.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The Ethical Slut is the Old Testament of the Polyamory movement. Their New Testament is Sex Before Dawn. From what I can tell, the polyamorists associate monogamy with the patriarchy and the control of female sexuality and the persecution of LGBT people. There is no scientific evidence for this but that is what they believe. They also seem to think that the more negative human emotions regarding love and sex like jealousy, possessiveness, and obsession, and the pain felt at perceived betrayal would disappear in polyamorist society. I’m doubtful of this to. Like other utopians, they tend to ignore the facts that go against their ideology.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Sex Before Dawn is an interesting book that IMO overstates (or undersupports, however you want to look at it) some of its conclusions (and I don’t doubt that some readers then further overstate some of those overstatements).Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to LeeEsq says:

        For sure there is jealousy in polyamory.

        Personally, I think what we have is an excessive hang-up about how bad jealousy is.

        We know that in a relationship we’re going to get angry with each other, and we need mechanisms to handle our anger graciously and communicate its underlying sources and come to agreements. Same with sadness and annoyance and all manner of unhappy emotions.

        But jealousy? You read and hear everywhere that jealousy is a “toxic” relationship pattern. So if it’s “toxic” you don’t develop a way to handle it, because that would mean accepting that you’re going to feel it. Feeling jealousy means either I’m a “toxic” person, so I’m terrible and must suppress what I feel, or my partner is making me feel “toxic” emotions so they’re terrible, and to blame for what’s in my mind.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:

          There is also the implication that monogamous relationships are devoid of jealousy. This is false.Report

          • Avatar switters in reply to Kazzy says:

            I agree Kazzy. The worst examples of jealously in my circle of friends comes from men in monogamous relationships. Which makes sense. All else being equal, wouldn’t people with jealousy issues more likely self select into monogamous relationships.Report

          • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

            I certainly didn’t mean to imply that.

            You may be able to get away without a considered approach to jealousy in monogamous relationships, at least if both partners not by nature prone to it; you can’t do that if you’re stepping away from monogamy. Agreed though, jealousy is a human emotion, and pretty much all major emotions come into play at some point in pretty much all long term relationships.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:


              Sorry, I meant that the focus on jealous in polygamous relationships implies that it is a non-issue in monogamous relationships. Not that you were implying as such.

              I mean, jealous seems like an issue that potential faces ALL relationships. Is it more of an issue in polygamous relationships? Maybe? I think if we are going to base our objection to it on the unique problems that jealous poses, than we would want some data to confirm that polygamous relationships indeed face a unique and inordinate amount of jealousy.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq — I actually haven’t read either book, but I am poly, and most of my friends are poly, and so — like — don’t be that guy who reads one book about a subculture and now thinks he gets it. You probably do not.

        Anyway yeah, you’ll hear various critiques of the “monogamous life plan” or the “hetero life plan,” and some of these critiques are on target and some are not. Does this surprise you?

        Has any monogamy advocate ever said anything dumb?

        Poly works great for some people. For others, it works less well. On the other hand, should I point out the divorce rates, or the number of people who admit to cheating, or should I enter a guess at how many people actually cheat? Are we making fair comparisons here?

        The idea that monogamy is great and poly totes fails is nonsense. I know a ton of folks who tried the serial-monogamy path and found nothing but sadness there.

        On the other hand, I know a few people who got married for life and are deliriously happy. On the third hand, I know folks who got “married for life” and ended up hating each other and fighting over the kid.

        I’ve seen poly ruin marriages. I’ve seen nearly everything else also ruin marriages. I’ve seen “poly-cules” that last for years and years.

        In my case, poly saved my marriage, at least for a while, till my ex and I decided we really wanted to move on, for the same kinds of reasons that would split a monogamous marriage. Now we are happier, much happier. I cherish the time we had together, and I delight in what we have become. That extra five years that poly gave us — it had its ups and downs, but I’m glad we did it.

        That said, actually right now my ex is having a really hard time in her poly relationship. Which, I won’t go into details, but she is in a structurally complex situation, and the human heart doesn’t play by the rules.

        The human heart does not play by the rules of poly, but do you think it follows the rules of monogamy? As if! I mean, do you live in a cave?

        Relationships are hard. Most fail. Most monogamous people filter through partner after partner until they marry and then divorce. Then back on the horse, unless they give up. It is a tale of woe. Poly people understand this process and find ways to keep commitment going while still tapping into new relationships.

        And then they deal with all the crazy shit trying to make that work. And meanwhile some friends of theirs have a happy marriage that lasts years and years. Yay them!

        Currently I’m dating a monogamous woman. It’s really hard, actually, since I pass up a lot of opportunities with really attractive people. But so it goes. I made my choice. I keep my fucking word.

        She and I have a compromise. Sometimes we invite friends. That lets me have adventures, which I missed out before transition and now I crave. But we do it in a way that neither partner feels left out.

        It might not work. But I damn sure don’t want a traditional marriage. That ain’t even in the cards.

        Whatever a person chooses, whatever you choose, I hope it works out. I hope you thrive. I hope your partner (or partners) thrive as well.

        Provided all consent, love as you choose.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There is a form of argument that says merely “LOOK AT WHAT THIS PERSON SAID!!! LOOK AT IT!!!!!”

    It’s pretty useful when ingroup members make it against members of the outgroup, less useful otherwise.

    As for Polyamory itself, there are a lot of assumptions. Should a relationship be for life? If not life, should it be for the long term? Are one-night stands of less value than long-term relationships?

    After we hammer those questions out, *THEN* we can get into the issues of “so imagine someone in a lifetime long term relationship who also has some other long term relationships who also has one-night stands” and then get into the issues that arise from that.

    There are people who look at that sort of thing and their immediate response is to say “LOOK AT WHAT THIS PERSON SAID!!! LOOK AT IT!!!!!” (or similar).

    Now, with that said, my experience of observing polyamory is that it’s about as likely to result in screaming fights, broken hearts, and drama as the serial monogamy that 20-somethings engage in but the drama for polyamory continues well into the 30-somethings while serially monogamous people get married and seem to settle down.

    Yes, there are divorces among the now-no-longer-serially-monogamous with the attendant drama but, per capita, it seems like polyamory is able to maintain turbulence for a lot longer than monogamy.

    If turbulent is your thing, polyamory will likely cure what ails ya.

    That said, my fundamental assumption is that we’re talking about childless adults here. Once we get stuff like “having/raising children” involved in the equation, I get moralistic above and beyond the whole “you people need to hurt each other less” (which is a sermon that applies equally to monogamous and polyamorous people).

    But without kids? Hey. What are body parts for?

    Edit: changed one word to another, more accurate, wordReport

  4. Avatar LWA says:

    Its pointed out often, the absurdity of those of us who assert the existence of a universal norms while insisting that the ever vigilant coercive arm of the state is needed to impose it on a latent explosion of popularity.

    Polygamy/polyamory is such a case.

    Suppose it were legal. Suppose the government provided tax benefits. Suppose there were PSAs around the clock on primetime teevee urging everyone to give it a try, that “Three’s Company!”

    How many would rush right out to try it? To be a little more blunt, how many women would joyfully accept a sister wife? Or men accept a brother husband?

    Lets face it, this is already legal for the most part- it you don’t mess around with young girls and don’t try to double dip on welfare, you can live with multiple spouses already. And there are already cable shows documenting and glamorizing the plural marriage life.

    Most of the breathless fearmongering about this is really just a proxy war over SSM.

    There are some norms and social mores that are entirely constructed, while others are constructed on top of a universal foundation.

    I think monogamy is of the second sort, where the desire for a single mate is pretty deeply wired into us, even if (Or maybe because) we enjoy playing around. The religious and legal norms are more embroidery and codification than construction.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to LWA says:

      I think monogamy is of the second sort, where the desire for a single mate is pretty deeply wired into us, even if (Or maybe because) we enjoy playing around. The religious and legal norms are more embroidery and codification than construction.

      Then why has polygyny (both official with multiple wives, and unofficial in the “mistress/concubine” model) been so historically-common across cultures, into antiquity?

      I’ll concede that polyandry appears less common, at least in the official form (unofficially is probably another story).Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        To be more clear, I am more of the mind that monogamy is primarily a cultural construction that appears to (possibly) better assuage (for some people, perhaps a majority) the truly “universally-wired” desires – for ex., if (arguendo) monogamy means a more even distribution of mates for all, so that fewer people end up alone (or experience excessive jealousy/conflict/disease/unwanted pregnancies) then “attempting to avoid loneliness/jealousy/interpersonal conflict/downsides of indiscriminate sex” are the “universal desires” we are attempting to meet with mongamy; not a universal positive desire to be with the idealized “the one”.

        Monogamy is a fence that can maybe help keep a lot of people out of the weeds; but it’s not because we have some inherent love of (or need for) fences, and fences are hardly foolproof (plenty of us are going to get into the weeds even WITH them); and some people may not need fences at all, to stay out of the weeds.

        It’s probably easier for a lot of people to live with fences; but easier is sometimes better, and sometimes not.

        “Marriage is a chain so heavy that it takes two people to carry it – sometimes three.” – Alexandre DumasReport

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

          When monogamy, as a social norm, is abolished, who do you think will be hardest hit within the various communities in which it is abolished?

          If I had to guess, I’d say women and minorities.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

          It’s probably easier for a lot of people to live with fences;

          The Artful Dodger, yes, Oliver Twist, not so much.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Glyph says:

          A lesson for me of the Ashley Madison hack (particularly combined with the UC Irvine study referenced in the OP (though the main surprise to me there is that the couples not expecting sexual exclusivity are so many, at 5%)) is that most of the 95% of married Americans with an expectation of sexual exclusivity, are deluded in that expectation.

          Ashley Madison allegedly had 37 million accounts in it. Allegedly 1 in 5 people in Ottawa had an account (and let’s just sit back and think what that implies about the federal government and civil service). Per some quick googling it sems there are about 60 million married couples in the US and 6.3 million in Canada. Granted, Ashley Madison has users outside North America, maybe even a majority of its users. But the vast majority of people who have affairs also don’t use that site. And 37 million is a LOT.Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to dragonfrog says:

            I just read something recently (don’t recall where, will try to find) that said for the first time, women were now admitting to infidelity at about the same rate as men do in surveys – and IIRC, that rate was somewhere around the 50% mark. The question was whether women now have more opportunity to cheat than they used to, or whether they were finally just admitting to it (obviously, all things equal in a society in which hetero pairing is the majority, you’d expect the M/F rates to always have been roughly equivalent, since it takes two to tango).

            But anyway, if those figures were correct, 1 out of every 2 (or three, or whatever the figure was) people is living a non-monogamous life to one degree or another anyway. They just pretend they don’t.Report

            • Avatar veronica d in reply to Glyph says:

              @glyph — One woman could cheat with ten men, or one man could cheat with ten women. You cannot estimate the frequency of one from the other, without further data.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to veronica d says:

                Oh, sure. But that risks presuming certain behavior on the part of individuals, or genders. Which is why I said “All else equal”.

                ETA – which wasn’t really my point anyway. My point was that if roughly 50% of women cheat, and roughly 50% of men cheat, then roughly 50% of PEOPLE cheat, which means we believe in monogamy a little less stringently than we say we do.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Glyph says:

                Or, perhaps we actually practice monogamy less than we aspire to. As with so many other things, real human behavior can fall short of idealized human behavior. This does not necessarily mean changing the ideal (but if you wanted to put that on the table for discussion, that’s not verboten either).Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I think a bit of falling short of an ideal is to be expected.

                I think a 50% rate means something else may be wrong.

                A law that 90% of people comply with, is probably a pretty good law, even if everyone everywhere can’t always comply.

                If 50% of people are flouting the law…it’s probably not a good law.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Glyph says:

                I like Dan Savage’s take on monogamy, and failures thereof.

                If someone has a 50 year marriage, at some point of which there was an affair that lasted half a year – that’s not a 50 year marriage of failed monogamy. It’s actually 49.5 years of successful monogamy with one partner, which is something one can justifiably be proud of.

                He compares that to someone trying to stay sober. If at one point during their whole life they fall of the wagon, and half a year later get sober again, we’d consider that a lifetime of successful sobriety, with one difficult spot during a hard time.

                So, if the 50% number is people who had an affair at some point, in one of their relationships past or present, maybe that’s not too surprising – I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that 50% of people had at some point in their lives a period when their drinking got a bit out of control.

                But if it’s the proportion of people in relationships who are also having affairs right now, that’s pretty amazing. At that point, the proportion of all people who are in at least one relationship wouldn’t be too far off the proportion of people in at least one relationship who are in at least one other relationship – suggesting that, on the whole, whether we are in a relationship already is basically irrelevant to our decision on whether to enter into a new one. Which would be just mindboggling.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to dragonfrog says:

                Point taken, and pretty sure the roughly 50% is “have you ever cheated”, not “are you currently cheating”. And FWIW, I often largely agree with Savage (though he’s gotten a bit lazy/jaded in his old age).

                That said, and I know it’s not exactly the same thing… but if 50% of the population has tried, say, marijuana…then piously holding up ‘not smoking marijuana’ as the society-wide ideal and standard starts to look a little silly, IMO.Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to Burt Likko says:

                That’s one way to phrase it, and I do see your point. But you could also phrase it as perhaps we practice polyamory more than we are willing to admit. Which maybe indicates this unusual arrangement isn’t really as unusual or unattractive as many claim it is.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Glyph says:

        Polyandry does seemed to have existed in a few Asian societies but in a more sexist form than imagined by modern polyamorist advocates. Historical polyandry seems to be two men pooling their resource to basically buy a woman to be their collective wife in a society where high status men get multiple wives.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Glyph says:

        Look how difficult and unstable it usually was/ is, though.
        Historically it required a very high status man to keep a harem, and even then, even with an overriding ruthless patriarchy, the women were usually restive.

        My thoughts are based on my own observation- I actually know people who have attempted secular polygamy. I actually don’t have any strong feelings one way or another- I’ve witnessed loving triads, and awful ones.

        But even the loving and well intentioned ones are always brittle and unstable and are sort of like those weird rare earth elements that disintegrate after a nanosecond- these require a tremendous amount of work and effort to maintain.

        I guess I just don’t see this as a threat to be attacked or fretted about. I don’t see a large constituency clamoring for recognition, just the occasional small groups experimenting with it.Report

      • Avatar Montaigne in reply to Glyph says:

        I like E.O. Wilson’s description of humans as being “mildly polygynous.” I think the historical record across cultures seems to bear that out, even in those cultures where monogamy was a prevailing social norm. Marriage, as has often been pointed out, has, for much of Western culture, been strongly related to property, inheritance, and ascertaining that children born legitimately of the marriage are the ones to inherit, i.e., property stays in the family and is defended against illegitimate claimants (at least among the property-owning classes). That has been a strong driver for monogamy, I believe, but a purely monogamous society seems to be a chimeraReport

  5. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    the extramarital sex wasn’t ever an issue, extramarital romantic love is cited as a cause

    I don’t think this is the entire story. In a monogamous pair bond, the act of sex renews and strengthens the bond. Sex is part and parcel with romantic love. In an open marriage, the link between sex and love has to be broken. A few people can turn it on and off, but for most there is a danger of that meaningless sex inadvertently becoming meaningful, or (worse, I should think) the bond losing what should be one of its most powerful links.

    This is not quite the same thing as polyamory, in the general sense. A permanent bond with three partners would be classified as polyamory, even if the relationship were closed to outsiders. But in practice, in my observation what I usually see are long-term couples open to short-term additions. Relationships are hard. It is hard enough for two people to come to terms. My guess is that three people making it work over the long haul is very rare.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      Most of my poly friends maintain multiple long-term relationships. In fact, they avoid too many short-term relationships, precisely because they link sex with love. They simply love more than one.

      That said, a know some young folks (early twenties) entering poly space who seem to play around more. But that is no surprise. They don’t yet know what they want. They don’t yet know what to expect. Mono people at that age often hop around between partners. This is similar.

      The older poly people may have “play dates,” but often those are arranged around specific fetish activities and don’t involve intimacy or orgasm. For many, sex is assumed to be on the path toward love.Report

  6. Avatar j r says:

    Mocking polyamory is perfectly fine. Much of it deserves mocking. As some above have pointed out, there is a certain crowd that sees polyamory as a corrective to the patriarchy. What this means in practice is that there a cohort of millennial women who really like having the comfort and stability of a steady boyfriend, while also getting to go out and have the occasional fling with the exciting guy who wouldn’t be available to her under any circumstances but a non-committal fling.

    Of course, men have wanted the same thing, and acted on those wants, for pretty much all of time, so turnabout is fair play. Men, however, do generally have the good sense to simply call this what it is instead of trying to wrap it in a veneer of phony social justice jargon.

    All that being said, you are absolutely right about conservatives and their penchant for conforming for the sake of conforming. But hey, conservatives are so often right for the wrong reasons (as opposed to progressives, who are so often wrong for the right reasons). So, when I read the Morse piece, I expected to see a whole lot more reactionary knuckle-dragging. There is a bit, but I’m not sure that his bottom line is all that different from yours.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to j r says:

      I think that’s right — I think the social norm of monogamy deserves robust advocacy. Morse offers something rather different than that.

      I also am tickled by your phrasing about how the two political poles get to their policy conclusions.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

      I think this is right. You can’t point this out to polyamorist advocates without getting flamed though. From what I’ve read online from people in heterosexual open relationships, the women seem to have more actual multiple partners than the man even though both could theoretically date. A lot of times it seems that the man in the open relationship gets a boy’s night or hobby night when the woman is out dating. I have no idea why they put up on this. Open relationships aren’t a good idea. They are an especially bad idea when one party has more actual opportunity than the other party because envy or at least melancholy will come from anybody who is not a saint.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Mismatched sex drives come to mind as one possible example. (i can think of, offhand, two marriages that broke up due to that). Voyeuristic or exhibitionist tendencies as well.

        Personally, I’d be careful to consider that the group of “People whom I knew who are poly and/or in an open marriage” is not the the same as “People in an open marriage/poly whom I happen to know”.

        It’s a lot like atheists. Unless they tell you, they look like everyone else.Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Part of the point of polyamory is trying to overcome those feelings of envy or melancholy. To learn to feel joy at the prospect of your partner enjoying him or herself with another, instead of angst. To support them instead of control them. Its hard, no doubt, but I understand why the effort is made. And maybe the guys in the relationships you observe prefer a boys night out, or prefer that some of their partner’s sexual needs are filled without any effort from them.

        Open relationships may not be a good idea for you. They may not be a good idea for lots of people. But just “not a good idea”? That’s much too broad for my taste. The worth of an endeavor is not correlated with the likelihood of its success. Otherwise, we’d have get rid of monogamy as well.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to switters says:

          The overwhelming number of times that I see someone discussing being polyamorous, they’re talking about what they do and what they want to do. I rarely see someone talking about what they’re okay with their partner doing.

          “I’m polyamorous so I don’t mind my primary dating another person!” just doesn’t show up. It’s far more likely to be “I’m polyamorous and so I I I I me me me me my my my my.”Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

            Because if they talk about themselves, they appear selfish to people; but if they talk about their partners, as the original post that prompted all this discussion did, people pity them as a doormat with no backbone.

            So most of them probably don’t talk about it at all to outsiders.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

              Good point, I should have addressed this particular article as being a huge exception.

              I admit to finding the article somewhat *TOO* perfect, though.

              It makes me wonder:
              What would the general response be if a woman wrote this about her power husband?
              Would the discussions of polyamory be similar?
              I wonder what happens if/when the wife finds herself “expecting”. (Richard Hershberger wrote a downright awesome comment in the recent Pancakes post in which he pointed out “If it is your own kid, or even a close blood relative, you are primed to go all gooey and proudly post the products of the kid’s artistic genius on your refrigerator.” I wonder what will happen with the next kid. I hope ‘close blood relative’ does a lot of heavy lifting.)
              I wonder what will happen in 3-5 years.

              Now, granted, the guy pointed out how happy he was (how happy they both were). Hey, if that makes him and them happy, that’s great.

              Stuff like this article is making it difficult for me to tell the difference between “this is my ethos” and “this is my fetish” anymore, though.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think Glyph is right — the number of people willing to admit being poly openly (or to some outside individual) is a pretty specific set.

                They’ve either got to be openly poly (which means they are not only aware they’re rowing against the stream, as it were, but are broadcasting this to all and sundry), close enough to you personally that they think you’d notice their friend Bob and Cindy who they seem to do a lot of stuff with and are strangely touchy-feely and don’t want you thinking anyone’s cheating (in the ‘hubby doesn’t know!’ sense) or actively scouting you.

                If my wife and I were poly, um…nobody would know except the people we were with, unless an explanation was required (see the aforementioned ‘cheating’ example) and we’d avoid that like the plague.

                Mostly because, well, I don’t exactly share my sex life with people I’m not sleeping with. That wouldn’t change just because I was poly.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Morat20 says:

                That’s certainly the reason our neighbours know we’re poly – they’re nice folks, we help each other out here and there, our kids play together, we’ve been to one anothers’ birthday parties – but we’re not really so close that we’d just randomly discuss our love lives. But our kitchen window faces onto their living room window.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

                Some of the comments on the original article basically made that argument – that the author has a cuckolding fetish.

                Let’s say that’s true. So what? Plenty of couples involve a partner(s) with a fetish. They either find a way to accommodate that fetish and survive, or they don’t and they don’t.

                Why does this guy come in for special grief?Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Glyph says:

                He comes in for special grief for two reasons:

                1) He wrote an article about his sex life in a nationally popular magazine.

                2) He’s claiming to be happy doing something that most people he’s claiming it to can’t imagine themselves doing, and he’s making that claim in a way that specifically attacks patriarchal structures.

                I’m pretty sure that in this day and age either one of those ends up leading to special grief, no matter WHAT you are doing. Both of them together, and the grief will flow out in never ending streams…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

                “Your Kink Is Okay” is one of those things that I try to keep in mind when it comes to consenting adults doing stuff with other consenting adults.

                It’s none of my business.

                (It does, sometimes, irritate me when I am asked to not only have an opinion on something that is none of my business but a *PARTICULAR* opinion on something that is none of my business.)

                In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised if these very responses are part of what the original author of the post was looking for and this very act of actively participating in the comments means that I’m doing the equivalent of sending him pictures of my feet.

                Which also irritates me.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Glyph says:

                As far as why he came in for grief from Morse specifically, I think this from Morse’s rant is your clue:

                “It makes me fighting mad to think that somewhere out there, your beta-laced article is convincing some poor woman that sleeping with men other than her husband is a viable option. You’re creating victims while you justify your victimhood.”

                The key word there is “beta” – Morse is an MRA douchebag, preoccupied with the notion that feminism is all about turning men into (even more) victims of the crushing matriarchy (than they already are). This article hit all of his triggers, so he had to fight back.Report

              • Avatar Notm in reply to dragonfrog says:

                Any guy ok with his wife sleeping around is a beta.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Notm says:

                Any guy who divides guys into alphas and betas isn’t worth giving the time of day.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to dragonfrog says:

                This is a bit of a composition fallacy, no?

                Besides that, people chafe at the terms alpha and beta, but we all understand the respective characteristics and behavior to which they respectively refer. We understand that some people are naturally charismatic and outgoing and some people are shy and retiring. And more importantly we understand that the rest of the world treats people differently depending on in which category a person falls.

                Even academics make these distinctions, just with different terms.
                Here, for example, is a Google Scholar search on the term “cads and dads:”

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r says:

                #1. I find that anyone that seriously uses the term “beta” in this context, believes themselves (or wishes) to be an “alpha”. Even taking their (highly simplified and suspect, IMO) definitions at face value…let’s just say I have my doubts.

                #2. Yes, some people are more assertive, and some more retiring; and it’s also a cliche that these roles are often *reversed*, when it comes to matters of sex.

                #3. Even leaving aside the confounder of sex (and boy, is sex confounding), these terms are woefully inadequate to describe power relationships in relation to personality types. Lincoln is not traditionally thought of as a “people person” (“shy/retiring” is probably a better description, from what I am given to understand), yet he was an “alpha”. Bill Gates likewise.

                Besides – any pyramid that puts people like The Donald at the top needs toppling, I don’t care WHAT it is.

                I don’t advocate for anyone to let people walk all over them (I mean….unless that’s what they are into. I don’t judge.) If some people find the framework of “alpha/beta” helpful in learning to assert themselves, then good on them.

                But I ALSO think that the type of people that I encounter that seriously use those terms on the reg, are probably somewhere in gamma territory. 😉Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Glyph says:


                You are just restating and elaborating on the composition fallacy. It’s like when reactionary types say things like anyone who uses the term privilege unironically must be a SJW; therefore I don’t have to take that person seriously.

                And again, if the terms were meaningless, why do psychologists use synonymous terms? The terms have validity and they can be used well or used poorly. It’s fine to criticize poor use, but to dismiss all use is too much.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r says:

                OK, then let’s go to the specifics here. Did Notm use the term in any useful way? Or, as usual, was it a short sharp un-nuanced attack at those people “not like” Notm?

                Notm’s use of the term “beta” isn’t the cause of me not taking Notm seriously. My days of not taking Notm seriously have certainly come to a middle.

                And honestly, you are telling me there are no red-flag terms that people use that make *you* roll your eyes and go, “eh, I bet I know where THIS is going.”

                Sure, that may not be fair, but it’s human, and hey – stereotypes are a real time-saver! 😉Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Glyph says:

                Any non-irony uses of the MRM or redpill movement’s terminology gets that from me.

                Most uses of the term “SJW” do as well, although I’m more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on that one.

                Using Redpill, MRM or pickup language gets you mentally labeled as not worth attention.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Glyph says:

                @glyph and @morat20

                All of this comes down to my stereotypes are fine and accurate and are helpful in letting me put people in the appropriate categories; their stereotypes are false and meaningless and show what terrible people they are.

                If that works for you, that’s fine. We can agree to disagree.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to j r says:

                It’s the internet age. I can conceivably talk to a thousand people today — or more likely, listen to a thousand or more people talk.

                Everyone needs some way of reducing that to something workable.

                To be perfectly blunt: If an concept or idea is solid, I’m gonna hear it from more than one person. So blipping out Redpill idiots because I don’t want to deal with the Redpill garbage doesn’t cost me anything.

                I mean, if the KKK is marching do you go down there for debate on race relations? Or have you decided, beforehand, that the KKK is likely to have anything useful to say?Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Morat20 says:


                The problem here is that you have already decided that the redpill folks are the equivalent of the KKK. So, you’re claiming that you’re using stereotypes to help you navigate a pre-determined ethical taxonomy, but what you are really doing is using stereotypes to define those categories in the first place. In the other words, your premise assumes your conclusion.

                Personally, I listen to people with whom I know that I disagree all the time. Sometime I walk away having learned something new and sometime I walk away thinking that it was a huge waste of time. That’s me. You’re free to stick with the stereotypes that make you comfortable.

                I honestly don’t care enough about this redpill stuff to defend it, because the parts that are true just don’t need defending and the parts that are bogus aren’t worth defending.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to j r says:

                The problem here is that you have already decided that the redpill folks are the equivalent of the KKK.

                Yes, because I’ve read what they have to say and spoken to them and learned about them, and filed them in the same bin as the KKK. They have quite a bit in common, in fact.

                They work really, really hard to claim their sexism is rooted in biology and fact, just as the KKK does with their racism, for instance.

                I wouldn’t be here, on this blog, if I didn’t listen to people I disagree with.

                But to be blunt, the world is FULL of people I disagree with. Why should I listen to the ones who ALSO spew Redpill idiocy when I can listen to ones who don’t?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

                The problem here is that you have already decided that the redpill folks are the equivalent of the KKK

                Simply because you’re equating their death threats against uppity women to the KKK’s death threats against uppity blacks, completely failing to take context into account.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to j r says:

                j r,

                I don’t mean for this to be a gotcha, but my reading of your comments at this site is that they are very frequently based on stereotypes. It’s just that the generalizations you employ are higher up the analysis chain. Eg, you lump people into folks who are motivated purely by signalling behavior, or hold beliefs due to partisan loyalties, or a host of other meta principles. So I’m not sure I see any difference on that score (except that those generalizations based on meta principles are believed to hold greater explanatory power by those who express them).

                Another thing: Morat’s conclusion isn’t entailed by his premise since he specifically said that his beliefs about the KKK (say) are determined by listening to what KKK people have in fact said. So the generalization isn’t invalid, it just might not be as fine grained as you think it ought to be.

                Another-nother thing: at some point this reduces to the degree to which people think political action and the policy formation a good thing, since accepting a highly-fine-grained analysis of individual’s beliefs results in political impotence since it takes a potentially infinite amount of time to determine what everyone thinks about a specific topic. (And at this point I wanna remind you – not in a gotcha way! – that you yourself make generalizations all the time!)

                Course, people hold differences of opinion regarding the different processes by which beliefs about others and discourse and policy-advocacy ought to be arrived at. But those are just as much a function of ideology (meta-ideology!) as any “we oughta pass a law” advocacy. And generalizations about those processes are sorta entailed by the (meta-)ideology each of us holds.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Stillwater says:


                Find me a place where I have claimed to be above signalling or free of stereotypes and I will promptly recant that statement.

                I have a fairly well-elaborated libertarian-ish/classical liberal world view that I regularly speak on behalf of and I’ve never pretended not to. Part of that classical liberal world view, however, is my belief in maximizing tolerance and empathy towards dissenting views, even for people who would never do the same for me. So yes, that clashes with a lot of peoples desire for political action and activism that seeks to actively marginalize people who’s world view they find repugnant. But that’s the whole point.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r says:

                Well, to some degree I am acknowledging the silliness of it and the ways in which it obviously fails, with my quote of classic The Onion there at the end.


                But it really boils down to the person, and the use, for me. I’d probably talk about “alphas and betas” over beers with you, if you wanted.

                I probably wouldn’t bother with someone who’s demonstrated little ability or interest in fleshing out and exploring nuances.

                I don’t see anything about the original comment that prompted this discussion, or the commenter’s commenting history, that would lead me to believe there is something interesting there, in relation to the larger discussions at hand.

                I mean, let’s take it as a given that the statement is correct….so what? Where does that lead us? Anywhere novel?

                Speaking for myself: not that I can see. It just looks like bomb-throwing for the sake of it.

                What if I just said something unprompted that was factually true, but un-elaborated, like “Black people score lower on IQ tests.”

                Nothing about the flaws of IQ testing and pitfalls of test design; nothing about the fact that poor people (and black people will tend on average to be poorer) usually get worse educations; nothing about the fact that poor people (ibid) have worse childhood nutrition, which affects growing brains and cognitive skills….wouldn’t you probably just assume that I was a bomb-thrower, best ignored?Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Glyph says:


                I try to assume infrequently. There is almost never a reason. We almost always have context.

                If you want to dismiss notme for being notme, that’s fine. He has a commenting history to consider. It is a different matter to say anyone who uses the terms “alpha” or “beta” in this context can be dismissed out of hand. It is only the former to which I was responding.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Glyph says:

                @glyph — Right. The guys who sling these terms are the worst fucking misandrists, way worse than any bra-burning, Dworkin-quoting radical feminist could ever hope to be. They truly despise men as they are.

                Hey guys, it’s okay to be kinda shy. I mean, at some point you gotta step up. That’s important, right, you get that? But it’s okay to not be hyper-testosterone guy who grunts a lot. Women aren’t a prize. No one needs to keep score.

                I wish you guys could meet my wife’s b/f. He’s this nerdy former chemistry guy — like totes science nerd — who now works in a rather hippy-dippy profession (which I won’t say cuz anonymity). But anyway, he’s a total sub. You fuckers would read him as beta as hell. But he has more partners that she!

                And she’s fine with this. The notion that most poly girls get more than their poly boyfriends is probably not cuz that’s how it is. It’s more likely cuz dude-sour-grapes get broadcast loudly.

                Cuz male “incels” go shoot people while sex-deprived females just pet their cats. (Or whatever. Back in my lonely days, I mostly did math.)

                So yeah, we’re on the boundaries of Redpill space here, and fuck those guys. Seriously, they’re sadsack, try-hard puds who hate shy men. But then, projection much?

                Self-hate is obvious. We see through you!Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to dragonfrog says:

                Especially given the one guy I know whose wife DOES sleep around (something he’s quite okay with) is quite assertive and dominant.

                He’s also very, very, very voyeuristic.

                And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised — knowing him — if there’s not a bit of a thrill at showing off what he has. You know, the equivalent of letting your friend drive your brand new car he wishes he could afford.

                *shrug*. As long as they’re both happy, more power to them.Report

              • Avatar Notme in reply to dragonfrog says:

                Do you dislike the terms bc you take them personally or feel they reflect on you?Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Notme says:

                You try so hard, but you’re so transparent. It’s pretty cute, like watching a baby deer struggle to stand.Report

              • Avatar notme in reply to Morat20 says:

                I’ll bite and ask what you think I trying to acomplish? I’m just as surprised as others here about Dragonfrogs flippent wholesale dismissal of anyone that uses certain terms that seem to be well accepted in ethology. I thought i’ve give him a chance to answer. If he wants to base his opinion of sterotypes fine, just be honest and speak up instead of letting others fight your battle for him.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Notme says:

                I’ve never heard anyone use them who hadn’t deeply internalized that being an ‘alpha’ is the only good and whole way to be, and obsessed with being and being appraised by others as one – usually by identifying things about other people that make them ‘betas’.

                I suspect but do not know for sure that a minority of those folks are cruel narcissists who really do possess dominance and revel in abusing it, while the majority are unshakeably convinced that they’re ‘betas’ and hate themselves for it, compensating by finding flaws in everyone else’s behaviour, and constantly looking for ways to turn every situation into an opportunity to display dominance for no purpose other than to demonstrate to themselves and any witnesses that they can.

                I have never encountered any person (they’re almost always men) who devoted any thought to the classification of men (it’s only ever men) into alphas/betas, or who brought that classification into a discussion, who had any worthwhile contributions or insights to add to the discussion, or whose goals were in any way compassionate.

                I only have 60 minutes of my mental energy per hour, so those folks don’t get any of it.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to dragonfrog says:

                I confess, I have long held a theory that states that to whatever degree there is such a thing as an “alpha male,” one of the surest markers of not being one is the regularly usage of the term “alpha male.”Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Notm says:

                Question for all those doubling down on the overall terribleness of the terms alpha and beta in regards to human behavior:

                What about the use of the synonymous cads and dads in psychological research? Is all that research useless or is there is something meaningfully different in that usage?

                Or what about this SNL sketch with Tom Brady and Fred Armisen: ? Obviously, it is a joke, but the whole reason that we understand it is a joke is because we recognize some differences between Brady and Armisen.Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to j r says:

                I don’t think the terms are terrible, but I don’t think the uses i most frequently encounter are very useful.

                To recognize the differences between Brady and Armisen isn’t to agree to judge the one better than the other. The alpha/beta distinction seems to require that. Or at least that’s my impression when i hear those terms used. Alpha = good, something to aspire to, while beta = bad, something to remedy.

                And I get the jokes that a member of one group may make to disparage the member of another, but that doesn’t mean i have to agree that the underlying premise or stereotype is true. Meaning I laugh when i see a black comedian make fun of a white person dancing. But that doesn’t mean I think white people can’t dance.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to switters says:

                To recognize the differences between Brady and Armisen isn’t to agree to judge the one better than the other. The alpha/beta distinction seems to require that.

                Why? I’ve certainly been arguing no such thing.

                You are conflating the issue of whether the terms alpha and beta have any external descriptive validity with the question of those categories normative value. That is the exact thing against which I have been arguing.Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to j r says:

                I wasn’t really attempting to agree or disagree with you. More so just responding to your question, which started with a pretty open ended “what about”. While admittedly not following the previous comments in this particular thread very closely. So i was more riffing/thinking out loud than taking issue. Apologies for the derail if thats what i did.

                And I’m still not really sure what your point is. And likewise not sure whether i agree, disagree, or am indifferent. I really got your point in the 11:34am comment you posted. And I agree with it. But I’m not sure where you were going with this brady armison comment. If your point is that alpha/beta, even if flawed, convey some meaningful information some of the times they are used, then you’ll get no pushback from me.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Jaybird says:

                “I admit to finding the article somewhat *TOO* perfect, though.”

                Bingo. As was said in the response rant. Likely not written by a real dude given the language used.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to switters says:


          Perhaps but my distrust of the polyamory crowd comes from their single-cure utopianism. If we all did this, everything would be happy and rainbows.

          I distrust utopianism in any stripe. There is no one path to happiness and there is no one good version of the good life.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to switters says:

          This comes close to my point about ignoring the parts of human nature you don’t like. Its like how the Communists tried to get rid of the acquisitive, competitive, and exchanging parts of human nature. It may or may not be possible to overcome feelings of sexual and romantic envy, jealousy, and melancholy. Some people seem to either never possessed these feelings in the first place and others somehow get rid of them. I think they are fairly hard-wired into the human brain though. They seem to exist in most cultures even though they might manifest differently depending on the taboos of love and sex in a particular culture.Report

          • Avatar Switters in reply to LeeEsq says:

            I’d say the same thing about monogamy. It’s an exercise in overcoming parts of human nature. It’s just different parts you need to overcome.

            Hell, life in general is that for me. A pretty constant struggle to overcome my base instinctsReport

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Switters says:

              Yes, monogamy does go against the natural human mating habit; which seems to be a punch of powerful men taking most women for themselves as a way to demonstrate their power and status. Monogamy is an institution with proven success though.Report

              • Avatar Switters in reply to LeeEsq says:

                An institution with proven success? I can’t agree.

                What % of current supposed to be monogamous relationships are actually not monogamous (I.e., involve infidelity)? Numbers vary, but it’s a significant %. Historically I’d guess those numbers are even higher. Given that, why should monogamy get that much credit?

                Plus the whole argument relies on logic similar to: the world is pretty good, there has been a lot of religion in the world, therefore religion has proven track record.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Switters says:

                @switters, if your defending institutionalized monogamy in terms of actual faithfulness between couples than the success is varied. Despite infidelity, monogamy is a socially successful institution. Monogamous societies have out produced and have been more stable socially than polygamous societies. The number of countries prohibiting polygamy have declined rabid. The countries with the longest history of monogamy, those in Europe and their descendent countries in the Americas and Oceania, are the wealthiest on the planet and were the first to embrace feminism and the sexual revolution. The remaining polygamous countries are still highly conservative places. On that level, monogamy is a success.Report

              • Avatar Switters in reply to LeeEsq says:

                On that level, so is slavery.
                Or, that’s a strong claim and I don’t think you’ve done much other than point out a bunch of stuff that might be correlated.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Switters says:

                Wait, very few places can be now said to be slave states. And I can’t even think of a single society which having been non-slave-holding, takes up slavery again for any enduring period (being invaded then enslaved does not count).Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Murali says:

                @murali – I think you misunderstand @switters ; he’s not saying *slavery* has been a success. He is saying that if @leeesq is willing to ascribe all of the successes of Western Civ to monogamy, he might as well ascribe them to slavery, since we had that too for a long time. IMO it’s a [correlation != causation] riff.

                @switters – if I misrepresent your point I apologize.Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to Glyph says:

                @Glyph – Couldn’t of said it better myself. Literally. I actually began typing a response twice, once last night and then again this morning, and just gave up because I was having a hard time saying it as succinctly as i wanted.

                So Thanks!Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Glyph says:

                I didn’t say that monogamy is the sole factor of Western success but it does provide a lot of stability. Polygamous societies had slavery to.Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to LeeEsq says:

                I know you didn’t say it was the sole factor. But I do think you tried to imply it deserves a significant amount of the credit. And I don’t think you supported that claim at all.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

                I’m really not seeing a necessary connection between monogamy and the dissemination of a culture. Seems to me that industrialization of weapons-making and transportation systems, surplus agriculture leading to surplus populations, and intra-cultural political competition for land are the principal drivers.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to LeeEsq says:

        My guess is that there are some percentage of polyamorous relationships that involve two people mutually committed to exploring the lifestyle and some percentage where one partner is pushing it and the other is acquiescing out of fear of losing the other person and some percentage in between. I won’t pretend to know enough to know how many fall into each group.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I think almost all heterosexual couples would qualify as ones where one partner has more opportunity than the other. To quote Alana Massey, “Dick is abundant and low value”.Report

  7. My advice is to get a stable job. Find a daycare for your kids.

    Are conservatives against stay-at-home parents now? I have trouble keeping up.Report

  8. Avatar Maribou says:

    I know at least a baker’s dozen of people who are involved in longterm, been-stable-for-years polyamorous relationships, some of whom are (excellent) parents. And I know plenty more than that monogamous-relationship people who eventually divorced acrimoniously with kids involved, or who stayed in abusive marriages (also with kids involved) because they were so hellbent on the cultural narrative of being with their True Love no matter the cost. Or who are long-term single, and oh so very very bitter about it, and also determined to find a monogamous narrative regardless of how it’s actually worked out for them in practice. Obviously the absolute numbers of the populations involved differ. But it doesn’t seem like “people in general” are all that good at being monogamously married to each other. (I don’t think people in general are all that good at being polyamorously committed to each other either. I think people screw up a lot. The only things that keep me from hating humanity are all the amazingly lovely parts of human relationships and my wonderful friends and family. And Jaybird, of course, who is utterly marvelous even when insisting on something that makes my head explode.)

    And I also know there’s at least one Actual (and active) Polyamorist who regularly contributes to this board, and who also *regularly* discusses what his partner is up to on the polyamory front, usually with so little fuss that most of you don’t notice it maybe? – which makes me a little wary of the broad, overgeneralizing and emphatic statements about those people in many of the comments of this post (not the OP).Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Maribou says:

      Yeah, you make a very good point.

      We should be kinder on this, given that some of the family members in our own comments do some things that fall under this umbrella.

      I make a distinction in my own head between “polyamory” (vaguely against) and “polyfidelity” (vaguely not against).

      A triad or quadrad of people who decide that they’re all going to go through this thing together? Hey, this vale of tears is rough. It’s dangerous to go alone. Take care of each other.

      A couple of people who run off and then run back to each other (or one of two who does)? Now *THAT* will all end in tears.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Jaybird says:

        Depending on whether I’ve understood your distinction between “polyamory” and “polyfidelity” right, I think there may be a bit of a logical problem there – how does one get to the second except via the first?

        How many first dates don’t have a second, how many fourth dates don’t have a fifth, before folks get to a place that looks like fidelity? And how is a first date to be proposed and accepted if the only kind allowed is a fifth or greater?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog says:

          In general, and this is just what I’ve seen, the polyfidelitous people wake up one morning realizing that they’ve found some sort of equilibrium with their core group of polyamorous partners.

          The toxic people have fallen away, the tertiaries are now the secondaries of people across town, and the core group realizes that they’ve achieved some sort of stable equilibrium.

          This might be little more than a function of 20ish people becoming 30ish people and the majority of the people that I’ve seen establishing these relationships are computer types who tend to be more introverted than extroverted.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Maribou says:

      Yeah, what you and Jaybird said.

      Some kindness, some consideration that there are all kinds of ways to screw up, that our instinct on seeing the breakup of a relationship of a form like our own will be to attribute it to the specific people and how they got along, whereas when we see a relationship unlike our own break up, we attribute it to the form of the relationship, not the people in it.

      You’re maybe referring to me there (and if not, I guess there’s two polyamorous folks on the board). I wish I had more time to spend on this thread this evening, but we’ll be packing for a camping trip…Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Yeah, @dragonfrog, I was thinking of you, though not assuming you’re the only polyamorous person who comments, just because you’re the only obviously-polyamorous person who comments. I hope you have a fine trip.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Maribou says:

          There’s at least one other (openly) poly commenter, and also there is a site contributor who wrote here about their open(ish) marriage.

          I’d love it if they’d comment with their perspectives too, so @dragonfrog wouldn’t feel like it was all up to him; but I also understand why people would be reticent to talk about this stuff, even with people who believe themselves open-minded.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to dragonfrog says:

        It’s my great hope, @dragonfrog , that nothing I’ve written in the OP or the comments is taken as a disparagement. While polyamory isn’t a good choice for me, and it seems so for many others, I’ve labored to indicate that I don’t presume to thus choose for everyone else, and to allow that for some, it’s a good way to go.

        But if I’ve stepped out of line, I very much hope that you are not shy about telling me so and if so, I shall be chagrined rather than angry.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Thanks @burt-likko – I assure you I find your piece and your comments totally compassionate and reasonable.

          I really don’t think anyone on this thread is being unkind either – Morse’s essay was, to be sure, but I don’t think I need to convince anyone of that.

          It may be that there is some of the logical fallacy Maribou and I mentioned (heaven knows there’s hardly a logical fallacy I don’t commit myself on some topic or other).Report

  9. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Not that this matters for the content of the post and subsequent discussion, but I think the letter was a hoax as well. It just strikes me as too perfectly flipping the patriarchal paradigm on its head not only in terms of the household roles being played (she wins the bread, he raises the bebbies) and the dominant paradigm of who gets to carouse around (the bread winning male) but also the apologetics and rationalizations offered by the person lacking agency in the household (traditionally – TRADITIONALLY! – the woman). I’m not sure how this furthers feminist goals (if that’s the point) or causes people to rethink traditional role assignments (if *that’s* the point) or constitute an argument for expanding the definition of marriage to include the polyamorous (if *THAT’S* the point).

    Really, I’m not sure what the point is. But I think there’s some trickeration at play.Report

  10. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    I can concur with you (or maybe concur in part and dissent in part?) – when I’ve seen open relationships fail*, it’s been over love, not sex. And when I’ve seen them succeed, it’s been because they embraced love, or at least its possibility.

    I read Michael Sonmore’s essay a few days ago, and there were a few things that stuck out for me. I don’t want to say someone is living their relationship “wrong”, but if a close friend of mine described their relationship that way, I’d bring up as concerning.

    It kind of sounds like they’re proceeding as if they can have relationships based on sex without any risk of anyone falling in love. If they’re making rules against love, if he’s afraid of the possibility his wife will fall in love, if his wife is dating and having sex on the assumption she can stay safe from love – that all sounds like trouble, and like the set-up to most of the failed* open partnerships I’ve witnessed. Our emotions don’t follow prohibitions, and dating people and sleeping with them obviously raises not lowers the chance of falling in love with someone other than one’s spouse. If falling in love is still “off limits” and would be seen as a “betrayal” – that’s dangerous.

    Also, it sounded to me like Sonmore didn’t know the people his wife was dating. That sounds pretty scary to me – I’d probably end up with images of them as these perfect beings, especially perfect in all the ways that I’m insecure about in myself – artistic and athletic and graceful and professionally confident and never having body odour or being at a loss for conversation and and and…

    *Note that I don’t define breaking up as necessarily “failure”. F’rinstance I see the continued close friendship between my parents, and my mom’s first husband and his second wife, as part of my mom and her ex’s evolving and eminently successful relationship.Report

  11. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Why is it so hard to say, “If it works for them and isn’t hurting anyone, let it be”?

    Is it because we doubt it *really* works for them? Or because we see harm being done to others? Or both? Sometimes, I’m just at a loss…Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy If there’s not a Them, what’s the point of having an Us?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      In his article, there are a handful of tells that there is harm going on.

      This doesn’t mean 100% that there is harm going on, of course… but there are little things going on in there that indicate some deeper issues that don’t scream “this works”.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


        Who is being harmed? Anyone who is not willingly accepting the harm? I should have clarified that. Folks should be free to inflict harm on themselves.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

          I think both things can be true (and for JB I suspect are, given what he’s written in the past).

          A person should be free to harm themselves.

          Other people should be free to say, hey, that’s a bad idea, you shouldn’t do that, you are hurting yourself (and maybe others who care about or depend upon you), I disapprove of that (though I won’t stop you).

          Also, if for whatever reason this arrangement is harming their child, that would be another factor. That’s not clear from this, but it’s at least possible that parents could get so wrapped up in their extracurricular activities that their child suffers neglect. This can happen with choices made in regard to drugs, or gambling, or sex (edited to add: or work! or hobbies! or etc.!)

          And, if any of these things leads to the breakup of the marriage and/or financial difficulties, again causing the child unnecessary suffering, some portion of that blame can fairly be apportioned to the parental choices that led to that.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

          Dig this. You have some dear friends, right? Let’s assume heterosexuality on their part for the sake of argument. Some boring names, as well… John and Jane.

          Read this article as if Jane was writing it about her husband John.

          He knew how deep our love was, and knew that his wanting a variety of sexual experiences as we traveled through life together would not diminish or disrupt that love. It took me about six months — many long, intense conversations, and an ocean of red wine — before I knew it, too.


          The sex is the easy part, the fun part. It’s what the sex connects to, stands for, reveals that can be difficult. I don’t want him to fall in love with anyone else, and every time he goes on a date, I confront the possibility that he might. It happened at the beginning: The first person he dated after we opened up fell hard in love with him, and my husband, overwhelmed by her ardor, tried to love her back. Watching it happen, I was confused, angry, and terrified that he wanted to leave me. He assured me he didn’t, and whatever feelings he had for her didn’t lessen what he felt for me. Believing him then was the ultimate trust exercise. We survived because eventually I did believe him, and also because I learned to trust myself.

          Is your inclination to:
          A) Tell John some variant of “WHAT THE HELL???”
          B) Tell Jane “If you don’t like it, move to Somalia”

          Again: In his article, there are a handful of tells that there is harm going on.

          This doesn’t mean 100% that there is harm going on, of course… but there are little things going on in there that indicate some deeper issues that don’t scream “this works”.

          (And this is despite his assurances that this works.)Report

          • Avatar switters in reply to Jaybird says:

            Maybe I’m not as familiar with your positions as I thought i was. But I would have thought that you’d typically bristle at telling someone else that they are being harmed when they themselves don’t think they are (which they ultimately do by making the choices that they make). Its a common liberal impulse, e.g., to assume the third world worker working for dollars a month is being exploited, but its surprising, to me at least, coming from you. So i’m not pushing back so much as I’m wondering what i’m missing.

            Edited to add – I have similar impulses with respect to any number of choices other people make, but I am verty hesistant to think i can get enough of a grasp of another’s personal intimate relationships to have a valid opinion, particularly if all if have is a single letter. I mean, haven’t most of us, even in monogamous relationships, had thoughts, or written diary entries, or had conversations with friends, during a rough spot in our relationship, that sound remarkably similar?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to switters says:

              There is a difference between my saying “there are warning signs” and “I am going to use the force of the law to prevent you from making this choice”.

              For the record, I don’t feel that this story requires any laws to be passed.

              With that said, when someone says something to the effect of “I didn’t want to consent to this but my partner got me drunk and then I consented”, even the most libertine libertarian* might be willing to say “there are some troublesome dynamics at work there.”

              *no longer libertarianReport

              • Avatar switters in reply to Jaybird says:

                I hear you. But it sounds like your doing that thing (that other commenters have pointed out) where this story is a mark against polyamory instead of a mark against this particular person being in a polyamorous relationship. Does every abused spouse, or cheated on spouse, or divorced spouse, or unhappy person in a supposedly monogamous relationship count as a strike against monogamy, or just a strike against that specific monogamous relationship?

                I don’t think so. Do you? And if I’ve misread you, I apologize in advance.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to switters says:

                The problem is that stories, like this one, are the ones that inspire discussions of polyamory.

                “I was in an open relationship with someone who was taking advantage of my good nature by appealing to my higher ideals and making implicit threats that they would leave me if I didn’t give in. They even got me drunk first. This is my story.” will get published, discussed, dissected and deconstructed until the cows come home.

                The whole “I was in a stable quadrad and our lives were pretty boring at the end of the day” never gets published.Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to Jaybird says:

                Right, but now that you’ve identified the problem, I’m not sure why you’d feel inclined to perpetuate it. We’re having the discussion, and Im pointing out that it seems you are confusing the fact that this polyamorous relationship probably isn’t right for Sonemore with the proposition that polyamorous relationships aren’t right.

                If your position is that others may have a hard time coming around because they are human and they are going to focus on the bad stories instead of the good ones, I won’t argue with that. But if your position is that there are no problems with you doing the same, I guess we can just disagree.

                When blacks and whites started dating, Im guessing most of the stories my grandparents generation told referenced the bad things that happened, not the good things, when a black person and a white person got romantically involved. But that didn’t make it a sound reason to reject interracial relationships.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


            I might say, “Hey, it sounds like…” And try to repeat back to her (or him!) what I heard, emphasizing the parts that sounded potentially harmful.

            To use a real life example, I had a friend who was in a very unhealthy relationship. But she knew she was unhappy. And even then I would say, “I think you should consider this…” I never said, “You are engaging in morally repugnant behavior that should be shamed if not outlawed.”

            Look… If the dude (or dudette!) is saying that he (or she!) is happy and doesn’t seem to be coerced into saying or feeling that, I say let it be. And there is something especially problematic about freeing women from controlling relationships by insisting they get out.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

              I never said, “You are engaging in morally repugnant behavior that should be shamed if not outlawed.”

              Is that what you think follows from my saying “there are warning signs that harm is going on”?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, two people are now confused because you continue to speak in riddles and assume positions you don’t actually hold.

                What do YOU think of polyamory, @jaybird ?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                “Your Kink Is Okay” is one of those things that I try to keep in mind when it comes to consenting adults doing stuff with other consenting adults.

                It’s none of my business.

                Now, when it comes to “harm” and “coercion”, those are things that muddy up dynamics.

                Personally, with my own eyes, I have seen more people harmed, per capita, by people claiming to be poly and failing than I have seen harmed, per capita, by people claiming to be monogamous and failing. So that colors my opinions too.

                But, for the most part, it’s none of my business.Report

              • Avatar Guy in reply to Kazzy says:

                @jaybird ‘s been pretty clear through all of this, I think. I don’t really understand the disconnect.Report

              • Avatar gingergene in reply to Jaybird says:

                For once, @jaybird I feel like I understand what you’re getting at and we’re on the same page, or at least reading the same chapter!

                If I’m right, you got the same vibe from this essay- that the guy seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as the reader that this arrangement was working for him, and not quite succeeding. And yes, if this guy was a friend who was close enough to be telling me about his sex life, I’d feel an obligation to delicately point out that he doesn’t seem 100% sure about what’s going on. And then I’d drop the subject.

                There’s no judgment there, just concern that someone was being taken advantage of. And no need whatsoever to go from concern for a friend to creating laws.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to gingergene says:


                I believe someone else made this point elsewhere…

                But even if your and @jaybird ‘s reading is entirely accurate, that doesn’t mean the problem is polygamy. It means the problem is polygamy for this guy. For instance, the friend I mentioned above, the one in the very unhappy marriage. She is preparing to separate from her husband and several times throughout this process has disavowed the whole institution of marriage. I have reminded her that marriage wasn’t the problem (though, certainly, it contributed in some ways by complicating the separation process), but to whom she was married and the specifics of their relationship that were at issue.

                I mean, when we see folks in unhealthy/unhappy/potentially harmful monogamous relationships, rarely do we seriously say, “Well, that is the problem with monogamy.” We usually go more towards, “He wasn’t right for you,” or, “You deserve a better gal,” or even, “You’re better of single!”

                So why use one guy’s seemingly failed endeavor to be polygamous as evidence that the approach itself is flawed instead of this guy just not being cut out for it?Report

              • Avatar gingergene in reply to Kazzy says:

                Well, if you read me as condemning polyamory in general, there was a miscommunication on my part. To the extent that his essay means something for anyone outside his relationship, it’s only that his experience is probably a poor argument for polyamory, which is very different than saying “there are no good arguments for polyamory”.

                Of course, I can’t speak for Jay, but I didn’t understand him to be saying that either. If he is, we’re not in the same chapter after all.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to gingergene says:

                I’m not seeing polyamory as something that, in itself, is wrong and I’m not really condemning it.

                Neither am I a fan of it, however. It’s probably easy for folks to assume that because I am not a fan that I am condemning it. I don’t think they’d be correct to do so, though.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

            Nope, my reaction is the same if we reverse the genders: the narrator, whether John or Jane, is demonstrating discomfort with the partner’s extramarital adventures. So my question is the same, which is to press the question “Are you sure that this polyamory thing is really working out for you?” until an honest answer is given. A response like “Monogamous relationships have jealousy in play too!” is a diversion. We’re not talking about some other monogamous couple, we’re talking about your emotional well-being. A response laden with feminist dogma is an evasion. We’re not talking about whether and how we should change political-social gender structures, we’re talking about your emotional well-being. A response accusing monogamists of being “greedy” or imposing “unnatural” and “arbitrary” rules on “natural” human behavior is a sidestep. We’re not talking about some theory of human nature, we’re talking about your emotional well-being. Are you handling these anxieties and jealousies well enough to sustain this state of affairs into the indefinite future? Maybe the answer is “yes” and what I’d be hearing is the venting of anxieties, blowing off of steam. But just like you seem to, I read a level of anxiety into those words high enough that I am left skeptical about the healthiness of the polyamorous lifestyle for the narrator as an individual.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

              Yes, absolutely. But “Feminism” was injected into this particular dynamic between Jane and John in the original article which, for some reason, can color how this relationship is interpreted.

              I mean, if one person is seeing a third person and their primary partner is really, really uncomfortable with it and it seems like there are some unhealthy dynamics going on, these dynamics do not disappear because someone involved on some level uses the word “polyamory”.Report

  12. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    I have to confess to being a bit confused as to what we’re actually talking about when we say polyamory. Because on the one hand we have advocates for poly-marriage, which would seem to necessarily imply a certain stability to a relationship structure of triads or more-ads or whatever such that you would desire a legal structure to match. But the article referenced in the OP, and the ensuing discussion, seems to mostly be about “open” marriages, which seems to be more about otherwise traditional marriage but lacking the expectation of sexual fidelity. I don’t see the relevance of the latter to the former.

    I also have to ask if polyamory is what the kids are calling what we used to refer to as “swinging” back in the day. Because that’s different again from the first two situations above. Basically, swinging was bringing someone or someones into the marriage bed. In general, it was something a couple did together as a couple.

    So we have poly-fidelity, which would seem to be a prerequisite to poly-marriage. Swinging, which looks a lot like the prerequisite to poly-fidelity. And finally, open marriages, which doesn’t seem likely to lead anywhere (except maybe divorce).Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Road Scholar says:

      I also have to ask if polyamory is what the kids are calling what we used to refer to as “swinging” back in the day.


      (For the record, I have seen these considered to be “fighting words” among the polyamorous crowd.)Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yeah, my understanding is that swinging is non-monogamous sex that is strictly recreational. There is no expectation (and in fact usually explicit prohibition) of emotional entanglement. Polyamory explicitly looks for (or at least allows) emotional entanglement.

        Which is not to say there are not liminal spaces between the two. And, both demand relationships that are, to one degree or another, open, at least at certain times or under some conditions.Report

        • Avatar Turnip in reply to Glyph says:

          Yes, polyamory is understood to have an emotional commitment of some kind, otherwise, it’s just swinging, or dating. Because there’s no easy legal definition, as there is in marriage, obviously, the term can be fuzzy. And there are certainly people calling themselves poly that other poly folks would say aren’t. We can start drawing Venn diagrams — is poly a subset of open marriage or is open marriage a subset of poly or do they just intersect at the point where in an open marriage, the founding couple are only seek partners with whom everyone wants emotional relationships in addition to physical? I’d say yes to the latter, but could find poly folks who’d argue with me.

          Here’s what’s in common with all of the non-conventional options: the need to have honest, clear communication with each other about how you both/all want your relationship to be shaped; making sure that everyone is listened to, respected, loved and cared for.

          The ideal template for a mono relationship as well, in my opinion.

          I think many of you are trying to make it too simple, too black and white. Sure, it’d be easier to talk about — and to take cheap shots at, as has clearly happened here — but the reality is that poly takes MANY different kinds of forms. If we had a white board, I could diagram a couple dozen just based on people that I know. I’m sure I wouldn’t exhaust the possibilities.Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to Turnip says:

            Hey @turnip – that is all pretty much my understanding. If I’ve been oversimplifying or taking cheap shots, my apologies.Report

            • Avatar Turnip in reply to Glyph says:

              Oh, @glyph, apologies. You weren’t taking pot shots! I was agreeing with you, expanding, responding to the “definition” conversation. And to be clear, the pot shot comment wasn’t aimed at people in this subthread in particular — there’s a lot of that going on in the comments on this post, in general, though — people who’ve known of one poly relationship, or read an article and are judging or positing theories based on that limited knowledge. My aggravation slipped out a bit in the wrong place.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Road Scholar says:

      I suspect there’s as many definitions as there are, um, people claiming to be polyamorous.

      I know the following variations exist: Group (three or more) esque relationships, wherein everyone is in love with everyone else. Open relationships wherein one or more partners has a long term boyfriend/girlfriend but isn’t really a triad (that is Alice and Bob are married, and Alice also has Tom whom she sees regularly. Bob and Tom are friends, but don’t consider themselves together in any way), and then there’s swinging and swapping which is less regular.

      Personally, I tend to consider ‘poly’ any grouping with long-term stability. So I’d consider Bob and Tom and Alice as poly, whether Bob and Tom and Alice are all together, or whether Bob and Tom are both with Alice. But I’d consider Alice and Tom swapping partners with Bob and Cindy as ‘swinging’ or ‘swapping’ and not poly — just a more open marriage.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Road Scholar says:

      @road-scholar — Poly and swinging are veeeery different and the groups don’t always get along so well. Poly is about multiple sustained relationships, with perhaps some dating on the side — but that dating could lead to something long term.

      Swinging is about couples who go to parties and swap partners.

      My relationship is currently more swinger-ish than poly-ish, but being queer and trans pretty much blocks us from swinger space, which tends to be patriarchal as fuck. But whatever.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to veronica d says:

        pretty much blocks us from swinger space, which tends to be patriarchal as fuck

        Is it “patriarchal”, or “hetero/straight” (at least on the male side of the equation)?

        Or are the terms interchangeable in your opinion?Report

  13. Avatar RTod says:

    I have to say, I’m surprised that so far no one has brought up the pretty strong historical connection between multiple-mate cultures (at least here in the U.S. , but maybe elsewhereas well?) and the subjugation of women.

    Is this because everyone assumes that we are all enlightened now and so it couldn’t happen in 2015, or that that history is largely mythical, or something else?Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to RTod says:

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d go back to the correlation != causation thing.

      We used to subjugate women, badly. We also used to do polygyny, more commonly.

      But even if we’d done monogamy, we would have subjugated women, badly. Because it’s usually what we did, stemming from reasons of (I suspect) biology relating to testosterone and upper body strength and pregnancy, and then culture.

      All else equal, a man with two wives living in a roughly-egalitarian society, has a minority vote in his marriage.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Glyph says:

        @glyph Hmmm. Maybe. But if I’m being honest, this seems to largely duck the issue by simply limiting the imagining of multi-mate partnerships as middle-class, educated liberals.

        It might be my age, or it might be the fact that my I was born in and mom’s entire side side of the family still lives in Utah, and it might by reading Jon Krakauer, but I worry that, unlike SSM, there would be a lot of unintended consequences that would be really, really, really awful.

        I am open to being persuaded otherwise, however.Report

        • Avatar j r in reply to Tod Kelly says:


          I think that you are working backwards. Yes, some highly patriarchal cultures have and do use multiple marriage as a means of maintaining that patriarchy.(1) That does not mean that a culture that is starting from a point of greater gender equality could not allow those who are interested in multiple marriage to do so without backsliding. Imagine, for instance, a career-focused woman who enters a multiple marriage with a man who works outside the home and another woman who prefers to stay at home. That could be a boon to all involved.

          1. It is also worth pointing out that woman are not the only victims of multiple marriage. These societies tend to produce a lot of excess males, who either end up getting exiled or used for cannon fodder.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to j r says:

            @j-r Again, I think this avoids the issue by pretending that everyone is middle class, educated, and small-l liberal.

            I think that if you were to waive a magic wand today and make Congress pass a law making polygamy legal starting tomorrow — in our advanced 2015 America — the results (especially in more rural areas) would be less “egalitarian” than everyone here seems to assume.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Krakauer is one of the very best writers out there, imo. Just thinking about Into Thin Air still gives me chills and I’ve read it like three times. (But you’re referring to his new book, Missoula, yeah?)Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

            @stillwater No, I’m thinking about his Under the Banner of Heaven, which deals with modern polygamy in rural Utah (and to a lesser extent the rural areas of Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico). Which, although is technically a marriage relationship, is probably more akin to human trafficking than what you or I might consider marriage.

            The only way it can be legally addressed, though, is via polygamy laws. Because everything else that these towns do to girls and women from birth on up (save the instances where violence occurs) is legal in a country with a First Amendment like ours.Report

            • Avatar switters in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              If polyamory is to be tarred by the worst who engage in it, why isn’t monogamous marriage tarred similarly?

              Or put another way, how many bad versions of monogamous marriage did we have to suffer through over the last 2000 years before we got to the current western ideal we all kind of like. And why should we not extend the same courtesy to polygamous marriages?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to switters says:

                When two people mess something up, you can point to one person and say “you messed this up”. We’ve got no shortage of terms for messing it up. “Emotional affairs”, “cheating”, and nicer ways to say similar “straying”, “wandering eye”, so on and so forth. The person who goes off and has a relationship with a third person is the person who responded inappropriately and needs to change.

                Polyamory, as a system, turns this upside down. If someone goes off and has a relationship with a third person, it’s not an emotional affair. It’s part and parcel with the system itself. The person who is doing something wrong is the person who is feeling jealous and hurt. *THAT* is the person who is responding inappropriately and needs to change.

                (Of course, it’s possible for someone in a poly relationship to overstep rules/boundaries and whatnot. I’m not talking about that sort of thing. I’m talking about still staying well within the established rules.)Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to Jaybird says:

                Do you think you, as an outsider, or even a hypothetical you, as a spouse involved in a divorce, can accurately point to one of the partners as being at fault. In a large majority of cases, I think its is so complicated and subjective that a coin flip would be just as accurate. I used to judge spouses who cheat very harshly. I’m now convinced that i was wrong to do so. Certainly some probably deserve it, but not all. And given the information I typically have, its not enough for me to opine. As I aged and dealt with friends dealing with this up close, I concluded that reflexively blaming the cheater is likely to lead one astray. You might be right in a lot of cases. But you’d be wrong in a lot as well. And I’m not apologizing for cheating. Its wrong. But there are a million ways to be wrong in a relationship. And sometimes cheating is as much a symptom as a cause.Report

              • Avatar switters in reply to Jaybird says:

                And the rules of the monogamous relationship are set the same way as the rules of a polyamorous relationship. Via communication, negotiation and agreement. And even if that wasn’t the case, I’m not seeing how that is responsive to my question. Could you clarify for me?

                I know a women who can climax getting her foot rubbed and frequently does. Whether getting a pedicure or a foot massage, usually by people other than her partner. The partner is absolutely ok with this, although they are monogamous in every other sense of the word. Is this polyamory? IF so is it bad? What if they have kids? If its not polyamory, or its not the bad kind, what differentiates it from the situation where she was brought to climax in a more traditional manner. Where does it become bad? Why can’t partners just make up their own rules?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to switters says:

                And even if that wasn’t the case, I’m not seeing how that is responsive to my question. Could you clarify for me?

                Well, how’s this? I’m sure you’ve seen situations where there is a toxic, or broken, or overwhelmingly hurt person who is in a poly relationship and who, seriously, does a good job of hurting one (or more) people in the process of being toxic, or broken, or processing how hurt they are. At some point in this process, inevitably, it is pointed out that they are poly and poly relationships work a certain way and a great many of the arguments that are given in the defense of polyamory are then being given in defense of the toxic, or broken, or processing behaviors.

                Now, let me reiterate: the behaviors we’re talking about are not true Scotsmen. They are, instead, toxic, or broken, or the processing of a really hurt person. Not poly.

                But the defenses of the behaviors are (mistakenly!) given as being defenses of polyamorous behaviors.

                And, to answer your question, that is why polyamory gets tarred in ways that monogamy is not.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird — You need to be more specific here. Furthermore, I’ve seen plenty stuck in bad monogamous situations. There are all kinds of reasons for this, but for many it is associated with the “monogamous life plan,” ideas of commitment and life-long bonding, ideas that a person is not complete until they exist in a pair. These ideas are commonplace and it is trivially easy to find instances where they hurt people.

                Does this condemn monogamy?

                I don’t think so. I thinks relationships are hard, and humans are naked apes with a hard-wired desire to fuck, and alongside that a hard-wired desire for love and intimacy. Furthermore, I think these things are all mixed together in complicated ways.

                Cultures develop on top of this, accidental paths through history, always suboptimal, cuz it’s a shifting fitness landscape and have you seen how humans behave in large numbers?

                Anyway, poly works for some, as does mono. Some folks, on the other hand, fuck up everything they touch. Others just need to figure things out. Choice your poison. Figure out yourself.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

                My argument is not that monogamy is better than polyamory (or that polyamory is better than monogamy). It’s a matter of taste (parenthetical statement containing a number of caveats). As a matter of taste, there’s no right or wrong to it. (parenthetical statement containing a number of caveats).

                The question that I was answering was why polyamory gets tarred in ways that monogamy is not tarred.

                You raise an excellent point, though. When two people are in a monogamous relationship and one (or both) are toxic, or broken, or processing some awful thing that happened to them, there will be a number of people who are poly who will, inevitably, point out that this is a problem with monogamy.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird — Agreed. An in fact, when I was “doing poly,” I would watch all the inevitable TV show plots with love triangles and infidelity and so on, and I’m thinking, “Boy I’m glad I avoid all of that!

                And indeed.

                The thing, however, is that poly is a tiny subculture and mono is HUGE! So “dumb shit said by mono folks about poly” has a worse effect than “dumb shit said by poly folks about mono.”

                I mean, there is always going to be someone saying dumb shit. But dumb shit said about poly gets more widely believed and stays entrenched in power structures in a way that dumb shit said about mono does not.

                I mean, we’d all prefer if no one said dumb shit, but look at this thread. How many here defend poly? How many think they understand it but do not?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

                Well, we’re still trying to figure out what 99.44% effective birth control means.

                So far, we know that it means gay marriage. Now, gay marriage was cool because it fit the template of monogamy without a whole lot of cognitive dissonance.

                Marriage was this, now it is this and a little bit (not much) more. Two people joining together in God. Sickness, health, until death parting, so on, so forth, etc.

                One of the big (and, seriously, not small) shifts that polyamory provides is that a relationship that lasts a short while is not (necessarily) a failure. A one-night stand isn’t a failing or loose morals or anything like that. It’s two people joining and then mindfully unjoining.

                And the same for a relationship that lasts two weeks. Or two months. Or two years. Or twenty.

                If you love something, let it go. By extension, if something that claims to love you doesn’t let you go, you can reach conclusions about that.

                Now, my suspicion is that a lot of these rules grew up because of a complete lack of useful contraceptive options (“coitus interruptus”, “rhythm”, and so on) and a universe in which every child is a wanted child will have much, much different rules for sexual relationships for adults.

                My suspicion is that some of those rules arose out of hoping to avoid a handful of less desirable things that do not involve contraception… but, hey. Overcoming adversity is what humans do.Report

              • Avatar Turnip in reply to Jaybird says:

                The person who is doing something wrong is the person who is feeling jealous and hurt. *THAT* is the person who is responding inappropriately and needs to change.

                I need to challenge that a bit, although I can see how someone might think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

                #1. In a mono relationship, when someone goes outside the relationship, that involves lying and betrayal of trust. In a poly relationship when someone goes outside the existing relationship, EVERYONE is informed. Sure, there may be people who say “oh, go have a relationship with whomever you want, I don’t want to know about it.” But they gave consent to that structure. They can withdraw consent. It’s all about informed consent.

                #2. It is not at all wrong to feel jealous or hurt in a poly relationship. Those are very valid feelings. And we talk about that all of the time. But in a poly relationship, the assumption is that you want to work on those feelings, learn to deal with them, understand where the jealousy is coming from, what’s triggering it. Even us veterans are not immune to the green-eyed monster.

                The difference is…we talk about it and work through it. It’s possible to work through it, figure out why you’re jealous, test if it’s a valid feeling — sometimes it is a valid feeling: your partner’s new sweetheart may be getting more than his fair share of time and attention, for example.

                But only you can decide if you want to try and work through it or not. Some can, some can’t, some want to try, some aren’t interested at all. And that’s all okay. If your partner wants to be poly and you don’t/can’t, well, it’s the same as if you’re in a mono relationship where one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t. There will be a compromise, or you will break up. What that compromise looks like is entirely up to the people involved.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Turnip says:

                But it’s considered virtuous to overcome those feelings. You say here:

                we talk about it and work through it. It’s possible to work through it, figure out why you’re jealous, test if it’s a valid feeling — sometimes it is a valid feeling

                Which seems to imply that, sometimes, these feelings are *NOT* valid. And, of course, if they’re not valid, then they are something that the partner needs to overcome.Report

              • Avatar Turnip in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, sure — it’s impossible to be poly and continually feel jealous about your partner’s other partner. Either you destroy the existing relationship or you make your partner’s other partner leave, right? We spend a lot of time talking about what jealousy is and why you feel it. The difference between jealousy (when you don’t want someone else to have a thing you want to have) and envy (when you want the thing someone else has, but don’t begrudge them having it as well).

                Most jealousy stems from fear, fear of being left for that other person, fear of your partner loving that other person more than you, fear that your partner will find that other person better than you in some regard, fear that you’re not going to get what you need because the other person will suck up all of the time, love, attention, whatever.

                Of course the benefit of a poly relationship is that you DON’T have to fear getting left for someone else because that never needs to happen – there’s room to love more than one. Poly people feel they have the capacity to form deep meaningful relationships with more than one person. Not everyone feels that way, so certainly poly isn’t for everyone!

                The other fears stem from resource scarcity — and that’s when you sit down and spell that all out – making sure that everyone’s needs are met, that everyone gets the love and attention they need and deserve is crucial, as is the ability to ask for what you need. (Again, poly isn’t for everyone…)

                If you believe that jealousy is some natural territorial thing –that’s MY partner, hands off, then clearly, mono is the way for you. I say “believe” because I personally don’t find it a valid feeling, but I think that’s because I’m poly-minded, or rather, it was easy for me to become poly-minded because I lack that belief. I’m not trying to invalidate someone who does feel that way. I’m an atheist so I don’t believe in God and don’t really understand how other people can…but I’m not going to invalidate your belief or try to convince you that you’re wrong. (There are atheists and poly who will…and all I can say is, hey, every group has its Westboro Baptist Church.)Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              @tod-kelly – I’d also ask you to consider that, as with drugs and other outlawed lifestyle choices, that sometimes it is the outlawing *itself*, that brings about *some* (but not all) of the bad consequences, and that sometimes it’s better to bring outsiders in and regulate things than leave them to their own devices outside the law.

              For one, the only people willing to risk flouting the law, are the kind of people who are, well, willing to risk flouting the law. They may have other impulse control problems, etc. You get a group that is maybe self-selected to make itself look bad, in multiple ways.

              For another, the secrecy demanded of outlaws, seems to sometimes turn desire into dysfunction. Think of some gay people living in the closet, that feel the need to cruise airport bathrooms or such. Gay people looked a lot seedier and more dangerous (heck, a lot of their lives probably WERE seedier and more dangerous) when the common conception of them was two guys meeting covertly in the bushes at the park (because that was their only available avenue), than when they bought a brownstone together and put a rainbow flag over the porch.

              Not to mention the iron hand that may be needed to maintain security when living outside mainstream society’s protections. If I have to maintain strict control over my family’s speech and movements to keep it “safe” – so that it is not discovered, and broken up by the government – well, that’s sort of a recipe for me to be a harsh patriarch in ALL respects with those family members, I would think.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          So we need to protect the poor and uneducated from themselves and their bad choices….where have I heard this logic before? 😉

          I’ve read that Krakauer book too. And this isn’t a slam on modern Mormons, but when the religion started out it probably was, like many/most or even all religions, something like a cult – with a charismatic leader and his circle at its center, who sometimes took advantage of their power over their followers. Some of this no doubt persists in some corners of the religion today (as, again, it does in all religions).

          Is that the fault of polygamy as a concept; or of religions/cults, or of more general cultural misogyny?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Glyph says:

            Ahh. Under the Banner of Heaven.

            Yeah, I’m with ya about this Glyph. Using Mormonism’s covert love affair with polygamy as an argument against polygamy more generally strikes me as begging some important questions as well as misidentifying some causal linkies. If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it’s not only that you can kill anyone but that religion can fuck anything up.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

              Although ….

              THinking about that a bit more, I think I see Tod’s point and actually agree with his earlier comment. The fact that certain religiously-based cultures desire to practice polygamy coupled with how that practice plays out (ie, pretty oppresively, it seems to me) does constitute one rationale for not legalizing the practice. That’s not the end of the story, of course, even regarding the specific situation being discussed (since making that practice open might temper some of the more extreme behaviors associated with it) but it isn’t irrelevant either.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Glyph says:

            “So we need to protect the poor and uneducated from themselves and their bad choices….where have I heard this logic before? ;-)”

            Ummm.. By every liberal I’ve ever known, everywhere?Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to RTod says:

      I think Tod is correct in that most of the discussion about social change tends to be based on the particular viewpoint of the people who do the most speaking, i.e., educated white middle class people.
      So in this case, we are theorizing about hypothetical affluent men and women with lots of life choices and social integration and how they might behave.

      I don’t think that polygamy is either a direct cause or irrelevant effect of misogyny.

      What we’ve seen and heard from the voices of oppressed people, whether racial or gender oppression, is that the oppression utilizes the tools and workings of society to express and maintain its power. Everything from zoning laws to criminal laws to social mores about what is sacred or taboo are put towards the end goal of privilege.

      So in the rural polygamous cultures, out of the various strands of Christian and Mormon theology, and American laws and culture, the ones most conducive to male privilege are stressed and made sacred, while any that aren’t are ignored.

      Pretty much the way even the most ignorant Christian who has never cracked open a Bible can tell you what Leviticus prohibits. Well, one thing in particular. Other things, not so much.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to RTod says:

      @tod-kelly I didn’t bring up your argument because my experience – both my direct lived experience of my parents, and my understanding of history – is that there’s a pretty strong – close to equal – correlation between monogamy (CERTAINLY nominal monogamy, which is what it often is) and the subjugation of women. My parents were, in my mother’s convicted belief at least, in a monogamous relationship – she had no idea he had affairs or sexually abused any of her children – and my dad subjugated the hell out of her through physical violence and other kinds of abuse. Many monogamous husbands beat, rape, and otherwise control their wives. Much of this beating, raping, and controlling of one’s spouse was so normalized (not *expected* or *majoritarian* but *normalized* – which is the same for polygamous cultures as far as I can tell) for so much of Western culture that it went without saying (other than in the legal and theological crux points where it was explicitly permitted). Whether it’s because people who don’t do those things were ashamed of letting it happen at the hands of those who do, or literally couldn’t bear to see the consequences of the legal structure they endorsed, or just mostly didn’t have enough power to stop powerful people from enforcing the supposed “okayness” of that behavior, I don’t have an answer for. But in any case, it’s only recently that “Western” monogamous culture has afforded space, resources, and cultural sway to protecting these women and stopping the violent control of their bodies by their husbands. And there’s no reason we couldn’t equally emphatically afford those things to women in polygamous cultures (though I suspect it would fail about as often as it does in monogamous cultures, which is to say, A LOT). The idea that the things that happened to girls and women in LDS cults (which is not even all plural-marriage LDSers, many of them live lifestyles that I might not enjoy but which involve adults who like their lives) *didn’t happen* to girls and women in monogamous cultures is a pernicious myth that helps us feel better about the last 200-300 years of human history.

      So it’s bloody hard for me to say “oh, but MONOGAMOUS cultures tend to be reasonable about how they treat women and POLYGAMOUS cultures tend not to be.” Tell that to my father, and his father, and my great-uncle on my mother’s side, and and and and…Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

        It might also be relevant to my stance that my mother, before marrying my father, had relatively polyamorous relationship patterns, though her sense of social opprobrium has colored the terms she uses to describe them, and that my father was insistent on Monogamy with a capital M as the only acceptable way of life. I’m sure that affects how I perceive Monogamy with a Capital M as being every bit as infected by sexism as any other aspect of life historically was. Which is not, emphatically not, to say that anyone’s particular heterosexual marriage is sexist. Only that the system is still sexist, the history is incredibly sexist, and so I have trouble seeing monogamy as standing in opposition to sexism.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

        BTW, I just reread my first comment in this thread and I feel the need to point out that when I said “a pretty strong correlation – close to equal” I meant “close to equal of whatever the correlation for polygamy is”. Not a 1:1 correlation.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Maribou says:

        Monogamous relationship norms have been more common than polygamous ones throughout history. Women have been pretty shabbily throughout history.Report

  14. Avatar DavidTC says:

    Wait, wait, wait. There are at least two things being conflated here that aren’t really the same thing:

    1) Open relationships, where one or two people in a monogamous relationship is given permission to date other people. *That* is what the article is talking about.

    2) A relationship consisting of three or more people. That’s X people who all have a relationship with *each other*. This relationship might not involve sex, per se, but people in it will almost certainly have a better word to describe someone else in it than ‘my wife’s boyfriend’.* Like, for example, ‘my boyfriend’.

    It’s that latter thing that *I* have always called polygamy, or at least what I’ve always assumed when I hear people being pro-polygamy. Three people in one relationship, not one person currently in two relationships, each relationship with only one other person.

    Sonmore does not hang out with his wife’s boyfriends. He does not go on their dates. He does not share their bed, and her boyfriend does not share their bed. He is not in a polygamy relationship…he’s in an *open* relationship.

    *) Not that I’m a big fan of ‘sister-wife’ term or a hypothetical ‘brother-husband’ term, I’m rather dubious of that sort of polygamy where exactly one person is supposed to be the sexual center, having sex with everyone else, and everyone else considers themselves sorta sibling, waiting off to the side for the sexual availability of the center…that sort of polygamy has been horrible abused in the past. But it is, nonetheless, polygamy.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to DavidTC says:

      A lot of the liberal criticism of polyamory is that there will be a strong tendency for it to revert to a more traditional polygamy. This may or may not be true.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I don’t think that it will revert to a more traditional polygamy, I more think that for every sufficiently feminist polygamous union, there will be 3 or 4 insufficiently feminist ones.Report

    • Avatar Turnip in reply to DavidTC says:

      Okay, you guys are getting confused with definitions. Polygamy is the practice of having more than one wife or husband. Polygyny, having more than one wife. Which is how polygamy works in most cultures, and is certainly what folks on this thread are referring to as traditional, or non-feminist polygamy. Polyandry, having more than one husband.

      Polyamory, having more than one relationship concurrently. Which is a subset of open relationships, poly referring specifically to strong emotional relationships.

      Yes, there are triads and quads where everyone has a sexual relationship with everyone. More common are polycules, where each partner in the chain has more than one relationship, although no one has to have multiple relationships. My relationship looks like this: my long term partner has a wife. She has a boyfriend, and at times, has had two. I’m in another relationship. I don’t have a physical relationship with either my partner’s wife or her boyfriend, but we consider ourselves a familial unit, living apart except for the married couple, doing holidays and vacations together. My other boyfriend is not part of that, for the most part, due to logistics, but that would be our goal, ideally.

      Sonemore is in a poly relationship. Sleeping with, or living with your partner’s lover(s) is way less common than you imagine. I don’t have hard data, only anecdotal, but of the more than 60 poly relationships I socialize with, they are almost all “chain” relationships, where each partner has multiple partners, but they tend not to have physical relationships with their other partners. There are certainly a lot of couples who want to open up their relationships and begin by seeking a bisexual woman to have a triad relationship, or “seeking hot bi babe.” How common is this? Another term for “hot bi babe” is unicorn. Because good luck, my friends.

      I live in a major metro area where there are five poly support groups that meet monthly, and another dozen poly social groups — they meet to do lunch, go hiking, play board games — it’s nice to hang out with people who don’t flinch at the complicated. We have attorneys who help us navigate the difficulties of property ownership, child custody, powers of attorney and all of the complications of poly life.

      In four years of being active in the poly community (as opposed to just being poly) I can tell you that not once have I heard of poly being referred to as particularly feminist, and while I’d agree that when you do see triads (all three people in a physical/emotional relationship) they do tend to be male plus two females, however the great preponderance of relationships tends to be more more along the chain or polycule model, where each partner is free to have as many partners as they have time and headspace for…although that usually tends to be about two each, as it’s a lot of work maintaining multiple relationships.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Turnip says:

        Polyamory, having more than one relationship concurrently. Which is a subset of open relationships, poly referring specifically to strong emotional relationships.

        …erm, not really.

        An open relationship is, in theory, open.

        People in polyamorous relationship might have *multiple* partners, but that does not mean they are free to select new, *additional* partners without their existing partners complaining. (It doesn’t mean they *aren’t*, but it doesn’t mean they are.)

        Person X might be fine with their partner, Y, having a single other partner Z, whom they are friends with and respect, but not be okay with Y going out and picking up strangers at a bar for one night stands.

        Of course, all relationships have various degrees of ‘openness’, and obviously, for a poly relationship to exist at all, either someone was okay with their partner dating at some point, or someone cheated.

        Open vs. closed is a *measure* of a specific thing in a relationship. Polyamorous is an entire *type* of relationship.

        Sonemore is in a poly relationship.

        Yes, but he’s not in a *polygamous* relationship.

        And, yes, in America, no one is *technically* a polygamist, but whatever. He’s not in a relationship that would be altered under polygamy being legal…which is rather important when we start talking about laws. Which is where the discussion always goes, for some reason.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to DavidTC says:

          FTR, in the OP I used the term “polyamory” to mean “many lovers.” As used in the OP, that term is intended to include open marriages as one of many ways polyamory might manifest, as my understanding of an open marriage is that one or more marital partner has multiple sex partners, thus, “many lovers,” with the awareness and consent of the spouse. While I guess that wouldn’t preclude things like three-ways, that sort of thing is not really what I was thinking about.

          Mistakes in application of preferred taxonomy as used in the OP are my responsibility. It does seem that the taxonomy, as with the spectrum of behaviors that various taxonomies are intended to describe, is fluid.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Burt Likko says:

            It wasn’t you I was talking about it, it was more how so much of this discussion had slipped into polygamy for some reason, which is rather unrelated to the situation at hand.

            Classifying all this is difficult, but I would restrict ‘polygamy’ to, at minimum, a group of people who are attempting to be one family.

            Polyamory doesn’t seem to be the right word here either, because he doesn’t *want* his wife to love someone else, and that restriction appears to be the plan. It *does* involved ‘many lovers’, if by ‘lovers’ we mean ‘people who love each other’.

            This is just, as he himself describes it, an open relationship. Specifically, a relationship that is open WRT sex but not WRT love.Report