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Dating experts explain polyamory and open relationships

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To start, they are not the same thing as polygamy (that’s when you have more than one spouse). They are also not maintaining secret relationships while dating a person who believes he or she is your one and only (that’s just cheating).

Polyamorous open relationships, or consensual non-monogamy, are an umbrella category. Their expression can take a range of forms focusing on both physical and emotional intimacy with secondary or tertiary partners , though some relationships can veer toward strictly the physical and resemble 1970s-era swinging or group sex.

To better understand open relationships, we talked to several experts: Dan Savage, an author and gay-rights activist who writes a column about sex and relationships called Savage Love; Elisabeth Sheff, who over two decades has interviewed more than 130 people about non-monogamy and written three books on the topic; and Karley Sciortino, sex and relationships columnist for Vogue and Vice and creator of the blog “Slutever.”

We distilled their thoughts into seven key points.

1. Open relationships aren’t for everyone. Neither is monogamy
Among people who study or write about interpersonal relationships, there’s a concept known as sociosexuality, which describes how willing people are to engage in uncommitted sexual relationships. Sociosexuality is considered an orientation, such as being gay, straight, bisexual or somewhere in between.

If you’re on one end of the sociosexual scale, it might be hard to match with a potential partner on the other . “Growing up, you’re told to find people with the same interests and hobbies, but never told to find someone sexually compatible to you,” Ms. Sciortino said. She recommends figuring out early on whether the person you’re dating is a match on the scale.

Mr. Savage explained that people who would prefer an open relationship sometimes avoid asking for it as they drift into an emotional commitment because they’re afraid of rejection. But “if monogamy isn’t something you think you’ll be capable of for five or six decades, you should be anxious to get rejected,” he said. Saying quiet about your needs can lead to problems down the line and result in cheating.

That said, a lot of people aren’t on opposite ends of the scale. Mr. Savage, who is in a non-monogamous marriage, said that when he first brought up being open to his husband, he rejected the idea. But several years later, it was his husband who suggested they try it.

“If I had put that I’m interested in non-monogamy on my personal ad, and my husband had seen that personal ad, he wouldn’t have dated me,” Mr. Savage said.

2. Polyamory is not an exit strategy.
Open relationships aren’t the way to soften a blow or to transition out of a committed situation. “If they cheat first, and say, ‘Honey, I’ve found someone else; we’ve been together six months,’ it’s very hard to successfully navigate that,” Dr. Sheff said.

Doing something with other people before discussing it essentially betrays your partner’s trust. And trust and communication are crucial in any relationship, whether it’s monogamous or not.

3. Nor is it an option to just keep a relationship going.
“If it’s to avoid breaking up, I have never seen that work,” Dr. Sheff said. “I’ve seen it limp along for a few months. If it’s out of fear of losing the polyamorous person, that’s a disaster in the making. It’s like a lesbian trying to be happy in a relationship with a man.”

Pretending to be happy with a situation while suffering inside doesn’t work for anyone.

4. Rules and situations can change.
“Non-monogamy is a basket of possibilities,” Mr. Savage said. He said that sometimes a person’s first reaction to a suggestion of opening the relationship is anxiety. “They’re going to have this panic response and assume you’re going to have 7,000 partners in a year and they’re never going to see you,” he said. But non-monogamy can be expressed in a range of ways: Some couples only have sex with other people, others date them and fall for them, others are open about being open and yet others keep their openness “in the closet” socially.

“It seems boundless,” Ms. Sciortino said. “But actually, there are so many more rules in non-monogamous relationships than in monogamous ones. There’s only one rule in monogamous relationships.”

For her, pushing her boundaries and talking about them forced her to be honest with herself about what she prefers and to learn to communicate well and clearly. “I don’t think it’s possible to understand your comfort zone until you try,” she said.

5. Prioritizing a primary partner is key.
A term familiar to people who practice non-monogamy is “new relationship energy.” It’s that excited feeling when two compatible people are getting to know each other and want to spend every minute together.

The problem with new relationship energy is that it can make a primary partner feel forgotten. “Your long-term partner can feel hurt if you’re taking your relationship for granted,” Dr. Sheff said. “Wear your special lingerie, surprise them, bring them flowers.”

For some people, it’s not a big deal if their partner has sex with someone else, but they can feel slighted if they are being emotionally neglected.

“It’s emotional cheating that people want to protect themselves from,” Mr. Savage said. He brought up an example from when he was dating his now-husband, who bought a Christmas tree with a good friend. The situation made Mr. Savage jealous in a way that his boyfriend’s having sex with someone else wouldn’t have. “Going Christmas tree shopping is what you do with your boyfriend,” he said.

So his pro tip? “Demonstrate that they are your first priority.” It’s called a primary partner for a reason.

6. Those sharing a lover can get along too.
Dr. Sheff said that in her experience, the most successful non-monogamous relationships are the ones in which the lovers’ partners (the ones who aren’t sleeping with each other) get along. As an example, she brought up a married couple in which the woman developed a relationship with another man when she was pregnant with her second child.

“The boyfriend and husband would do all sorts of stuff together,” Dr. Sheff said. After eight years, the relationship between the woman and her boyfriend ended, but her husband maintained his friendship with the other man.

“They had lunch every other Saturday where the husband would bring the kids,” Dr. Sheff said. “It worked because the husband didn’t have a sexual relationship with the boyfriend.”

In this polyamorous situation, and others she has seen succeed, the partners who are not sexually involved are the glue that kept the group together.

7. Jealousy is present, but not unique.
“A woman once asked me, ‘Don’t you get jealous?,’ ” Mr. Savage said. “And I looked at her and said, ‘Don’t you?’ Monogamous commitments aren’t force fields that protect you from jealousy.”

Jealousy is a universal emotion that transcends sociosexuality states.

“I always say I want to do whatever I want, and I want my partner to be in a cage when I’m not around,” Ms. Sciortino said. And while that kind of setup is possible, it’s not exactly the one she’s looking for.

So what does she recommend? “Put yourself in their position,” she said. “If you can have sex with someone else and it doesn’t take away from your love and even enhances it, you have to allow them the same freedoms.”

Dr. Sheff suggested taking a close look at the underlying causes of the jealousy: Is it insecurity? Fear? Maybe it’s even justified? “Sometimes jealousy is a signal that you really are being slighted,” she said.

Tips for confronting jealousy in open relationships are the same as in most other relationships: writing down your thoughts, talking out your feelings with your partner, seeing a counselor.

And that, all three experts were quick to note, may be the most important point to understand: In many ways, open relationships aren’t all that different from monogamous ones. The best way to feel comfortable is up to individuals and their partner(s).

Complete Article HERE!

What I Learned From a Decade of Polyamory

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Polyamory may sound sexy on Saturday night. But on Tuesday morning, you still have multiple relationships to maintain with multiple humans with multiple real-life feelings. Polyamorous relationships can be astonishingly fulfilling, exciting, and fun. But they’re also incredibly challenging. There’s no one-size-fits-all for figuring out whom — and how — to love.

After 10 years in various poly relationships, I’ve learned a lot of things; many of which would have made a big difference in how I approached this lifestyle if I’d known them when I was still a poly newbie.

There’s no “right” way to be polyamorous

There are as many different configurations for polyamorous relationships as there are people on the planet. People who are new to polyamory often want to know what the rules are. They want to feel secure that they are doing it “right.”

The truth? The only steadfast rules of poly are the same rules that apply to any relationship… no matter if you have two or five partners. Ethical polyamory includes transparent communication, authenticity of self, and an openness to others’ wants and needs. Beyond that, polyamory is completely customizable according to your comfort and experience. The key is to share your needs and fears with your partners, and be honest about your intentions and behavior.

As long as you’re being ethical, there’s no wrong — or right — way to have a polyamorous relationship.

Google Calendars will save you

There’s an inside joke that the only people who actually use Google Calendars are polyamorists. Splitting time between multiple partners can be a bit like keeping several plates spinning at once. Google Calendars can be shared with multiple people and help everyone communicate and stay on the same page.

If you’re a poly couple, planning your dates away from your primary partner on the same night can help ward off lonely feelings or worrying about the partner left home. Just offering to share a calendar with a partner can help assure them you’re genuine in your desire to maintain open communication and honesty — which can go a long way in establishing trust in your polyamorous relationships.

Polyamory will not fix relationship issues

If you’re having difficulty being ethical in your monogamous relationships, polyamory is not the solution to your romantic woes. Yes, it’s possible to cheat in a polyamorous relationship. This may sound obvious, but all of your partners have to be aware that they are dating someone polyamorous for the relationship to be polyamorous. Otherwise, you’re cheating.

Likewise, adding a partner to the mix is not likely to “spice up” your relationship if someone isn’t getting their needs met. People are not need-filling machines. It takes a lot of communication, self-reflection, and emotional maturity to maintain romantic and sexual relationships with multiple partners.

We don’t always choose metamours

In polyamory, the person your partner is dating besides you is referred to as a “metamour,” or the love of your love. It’s really a wonderful situation when everyone can hang out and play Cards Against Humanity together. You may not be attracted to your partner’s metamour, but accepting him or her as your partner’s partner and maintaining a cordial — if not friendly — relationship makes everything a lot less sticky.

I love being friendly with metamours, but there have been a couple of times in my experience when I had to ask myself, “How can someone I love, love someone like her? We’re so different!” Part of the joy of polyamory is, for some people, variety. That means you might always like the person that your partner dates. But it takes a lot of stamina and emotional maturity to smile and be polite with someone that you don’t have friendly feelings toward.

Some partners negotiate “veto rights,” where partners agree not to date anyone their partner “vetoes.” Other poly people don’t appreciate these kinds of restrictions. Either way has its pros and cons. Regardless of how you choose to manage your metamours, it’s something to discuss with your partners well before the situation presents itself, when everyone is feeling secure, and there is no New Relationship Energy to contend with.

Polyamorous partners are not immune to jealousy

In 10 years of polyamory, I can’t count the number of times someone has said, “Oh I could never be polyamorous. I’m too jealous.” There’s a myth that polyamorous people don’t ever experience jealousy. I wish!

Jealousy is the only emotion that we are allowed to use to excuse all kinds of reprehensible behavior. But the truth is that jealousy is a cover for deep, often intense insecurity and fear. And, I ought to point out, all of this is perfectly normal — and prevalent — for most people. The best way I have found to deal with my own jealousy is to spend time with the person I’m jealous of. They are usually way less threatening and monstrous than I make them out to be in my head.

You won’t always be cured of these insecurities, but over time you develop coping and communication skills that help you get through those difficult moments of self-doubt.

Raising kids in a polyamorous family is complicated

Many of us still believe in this concept that it takes a village to raise a child. And nowadays many of us are well adjusted to the idea of multiple sets of parents providing care for children. In some demographics, more than half of children have step-parents, and split their time between households. Our culture is quickly returning to more communal living, and more step-parenting. So the concept of multi-partner parenting is not entirely new.

The benefit of polyamorous parenting is that children get more one-on-one time with parents, which aids in healthy emotional and social development. And according to some recent studies, children in polyamorous families spend less time in daycare, and have a wider variety of interests and hobbies just from having more people in the household.

The drawback is obviously the occasionally fluid nature of relationships in polyamory. Children can feel some negative emotions when a polycule breaks up and certain parental figures are no longer around. Of course, this also happens in monogamous relationships, evidenced by more single-parent households than ever before.

Love is unlimited. Resources are not.

You may be able to love five different people at once, but that doesn’t mean you have enough resources to maintain that many relationships successfully. There are only 160 hours in each week, and each partner requires time and affection to maintain healthy connections. Don’t forget about the actual costs of dating. All those dinners and movie nights can add up fast. So while your love for all these people may be sincere, you have to balance those romantic feelings with what is practical in the real world.

After looking at the cost/benefit analysis of all your romantic entanglements, you might find in the end that fewer is better.

Compersion is possible

Compersion is the feeling of joy someone gets when they witness their love being well loved by another. It’s the opposite of jealousy. It’s the kind of emotion that fills your heart to the brim and overflows love into a relationship. It’s not easy to reach — more like trying to experience nirvana.

But when you arrive at compersion, there’s almost nothing better. It happens when everyone in the relationship has their needs for time, affection, and attention met; and when everyone is confident that his or her relationship is secure. It happens suddenly. The first time it happened to me, I watched my boyfriend kiss my girlfriend, and the look of peace and contentment on their faces brought me to tears.

I was so thrilled that the people I love loved each other that I couldn’t contain my own joy. I haven’t felt that emotion in every polyamorous relationship I’ve been in, but the times I have felt compersion make it all worth it, and then some.

Complete Article HERE!

Be Brutally Polyamorous.

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“I’m polyamorous, but my partner’s new to this. They say they’re okay with what I’ve told them about poly, but… I can tell they’re nervous. So I’m going to damp it down for a while just to be kind to them – I’ll go easy on the side-dating.”

Don’t do that.

Your kindness will rip ’em to shreds.

Because if you give someone an artificial trial period, one where you give them the faux-monogamous experience to make them comfortable, then all you’re doing is lulling them into a sense of “Oh, this is what it’s like.”

And when you start up the dating after a while, they’re going to be *even more* panicky. Because *not only* will they have the usual assortment of jealousies and insecurities that come when you transition into a multi-partner relationship, but also they’ll be thinking, “But… you didn’t date anyone for a year! Now you’re looking for someone else!

What did I do wrong?”

And here’s one of the central truths about relationships: What usually scares people the most is deviations from the established norm. For example, I have a sweetie who’s a swinger: she goes to clubs and gets her itches scratched by all sorts of guys. She tells me about her scheduling problems organizing gangbangs. I think it’s adorable.

But that’s because I met her as a swinger. That’s who she was, and who she continues to be.

If my wife, who’s fairly conservative in who she hooks up with, suddenly started hitting the clubs every night, I would fucking panic.

I’d panic because my wife’s behavior would have changed, and I’d feel like maybe I didn’t know her as well as I’d thought I did, and wonder what I was doing wrong that she suddenly was into freaky anonymous sex. And whereas I know my sweetie loves me thoroughly because “gangbangs” were just part of our background noise when w met, my wife attending ’em regularly would be different.

PolyamoryhumorNot saying I couldn’t get used to it. I could adjust.

But that switch in behavior is what scares people.

Giving them a “trial period” and then dropping the big change of “Oh yeah, I date other people now” is going to hurt someone unfamiliar to polyamory more. Often, a lot more. You are doing them zero kindnesses.

Because what’ll happen by then is that you’ll be so much more attached by the time you find out the other person said they’d be okay with poly, but really, turns out they can’t handle it. It’s not like this happened in the first weeks of dating, when you were soppy with NRE but also shallowly attached – no, it’s been months, you’re both emotionally entangled. To discover after a year that whoops, this whole poly thing is actually a dealbreaker for your other partner hurts way more.

If you’re going to be poly, own it.

Mind you, I’m not saying to go out and date someone you hate to rip off the band-aid! If they’re the currently only person in your life, cool, drift with that. But for God’s sake, if you were dating other people before, keep dating. Don’t give your trying-to-adjust partner the illusion that this is trial period is what they’re signing up for.

They deserve to know what sort of effects dating other people will have on them. Some of them will be every bit as cool with it as they promised. Others will need some adjustment, and hopefully you can fine-tune your caring to give them what they need without selling out your satisfaction. And still others will freak out so much that really, your choices boil down to “be monogamous with them” or “break up.”

All of these things are better to know early on.

So yeah. It seems selfish, but… be brutal. Show them what they’re in for. Polyamory’s not for everyone, and going out of your way to give people the impression that “polyamory” means “occasionally you flirt but really, nothing happens” can demolish ’em once the first dating happens. And if you drop that hammer after they’ve come to rely on your love and support, you’ll be one of those poly folks going, “How could they not know I was poly? I told them! Why are they shocked now?”

They’re shocked because you told them that what you were doing was what they could expect, and it wasn’t.

So keep dating. Give them as much love as you can. Hug them and let them know that your love for them is a unique thing that’s not touched by other people.

But keep dating.

Complete Article HERE!

Death Is Way More Complicated When You’re Polyamorous

By Simon Davis

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Screencap via ‘Death Becomes Her’

In February, Robert McGarey’s partner of 24 years died. It was the most devastating loss McGarey had ever encountered, and yet, there was a silver lining: “I had this profound sadness, but I don’t feel lonely,” McGarey told me. “I’m not without support, I’m not without companionship.”

That’s because he has other partners: Jane, who he’s been with for 16 years, and Mary, who he’s been with for eight. (Those are not their real names.) And while his grief for Pam, the girlfriend who died, was still immense, polyamory helped him deal with it.

There’s not a lot of research into how poly families cope with death—probably because there’s not a lot of research about how poly families choose to live. By rough estimates, there are several million poly people in the United States. And while polyamory can bring people tremendous benefits in life and in death, our social and legal systems weren’t designed to deal with people with more than one romantic partner—so when one person dies, it can usher in a slew of complicating legal and emotional problems.

“Whether people realize it or not, the partner to whom they are married will have more benefits and rights once a death happens,” explained Diana Adams, who runs a boutique law firm that practices “traditional and non-traditional family law with support for positive beginnings and endings of family relationships.”

Since married partners rights’ trump everyone else’s, the non-married partners don’t automatically have a say in end-of-life decisions, funeral arrangements, or inheritance. That’s true for non-married monogamous relationships, too, but the problem can be exacerbated in polyamorous relationships where partners are not disclosed or acknowledged by family members. In her work, Adams has seen poly partners get muscled out of hospital visits and hospice by family members who refused to recognize a poly partner as a legitimate partner.

McGarey and his girlfriend Pam weren’t married, so the decision to take her off life support had to go through Pam’s two sisters. The money Pam left behind—which McGarey would’ve inherited had they been married—went to her sisters too, who also organized Pam’s funeral.

This kind of power struggle can also happen among multiple partners who have all been romantically involved with the deceased. The only real way to ensure that everything is doled out evenly is to draft up a detailed prenuptial agreement and estate plan. Adams works with clients to employ “creative estate planning” to ensure that other partners are each acknowledged and taken care of.

Adams is a big proponent of structured mediation as a way of minimizing post-mortem surprises, like when families discover the existence of mysterious extra-marital partners in someone’s will. It’s much better to have those conversations in life than on someone’s deathbed, or after death.

But many poly people remain closeted in life and in death, according to sociologist Elisabeth Sheff, who has studied polyamorous families for 15 years and authored The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families. A person might have a public primary partner—someone they’re married to, for example—plus other private relationships. That can make it harder to grieve when one of the non-primary partners dies, because others don’t recognize the relationship as “real” or legitimate in the way the death of a spouse might be.

Take, for example, something like an employee bereavement policy. Guidelines from the Society for Human Resource Management spell out the length of time off given in the event of the death of a loved one: a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, in-laws, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Unsurprisingly, extra-marital boyfriend or girlfriend is not on the list. (Actually, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” aren’t on the list at all.) It’s possible for an employee to explain unique circumstances to an employer, but in her research, Sheff has found that some poly people prefer not to “out” themselves this way. People still disapprove of extra-marital affairs and some poly people, according to Sheff, have even lost their jobs from being outed, due to corporate “morality clauses.”

It’s similar, she says, to the experiences of same-sex couples who are closeted. “It’s much less so now because they’re more acknowledged and recognized, but 20 years ago, it was routine for [the family of the deceased] to muscle out the partner and ignore their wishes—even if [the deceased] hadn’t seen their family for years and years,” Sheff said. “They would come and descend on the funeral and take over. Or when the person was in the ICU. That same vulnerability that gays and lesbians have moved away from to some extent is still potentially very problematic for polyamorous people.”

Legal recognition of polyamorous unions could provide some relief. After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, calls for legalizing plural marriage have only become louder. Adams noted that an argument put forth in Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2015 dissent may provide a legal foothold for legalization advocates. “As Roberts points out, if there’s going to be a rejection of some of the traditional man-woman elements of marriage… those same arguments could easily be applied to three or four-person unions,” she said in an interview with US News & World Report earlier this year.

In 2006, Melissa Hall’s husband Paul died at the age of 52. Both were polyamorous, but Paul’s death presented “no special problems,” since they were legally married and Hall had all the rights of a spouse. Instead, she found unexpected benefits in dealing with her husband’s death: In particular, she told me that “being poly made it easier to love again.” Since they had both dated other people during their life together, Hall knew her husband’s death wouldn’t stop her from dating again.

In traditional relationships, it’s not uncommon for people to impose dating restrictions on themselves to honor the desires of their dead spouses, or to feel guilty when they start dating again. Of course, you don’t win if you don’t date either, as people eventually get on your case to “move on with your life.” All this goes out the window when you’re polyamorous, where dating doesn’t necessarily signal the end of an arbitrary acceptable period of mourning.

More partners in a relationship can certainly mean more support. It can also mean more people dying, and with that comes more grief. In an article about loss among polys published in the polyamory magazine Loving More, one man wrote: “Those of us who have practiced polyamory through our lifetime must be grateful for the abundance of love in our lives. But having those wonderful other loves means we must accept a little more grieving as well, when our times come.”

Is the trade off worth it? McGarey certainly seems to think so. “There is more grieving, but… we are held and cradled in the love of other people at the same time.”

He compares his relationship to the Disney movie Up, which starts with a guy falling in love and marrying his childhood sweetheart. “And then [she] dies, and he turns into this grumpy old man because he lost his love,” McGarey said. “I don’t see myself turning into a grumpy old man. I don’t know if I can attribute that to poly, but maybe that’s why.”

Complete Article HERE!

Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love

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In the prologue to her new book, What Love Is and What It Could Be, philosopher Carrie Jenkins is walking through Vancouver, from her boyfriend’s apartment to the home she has with her husband. She wonders at how the romantic love she experiences firsthand is so different than the model presented by popular culture and academic theory alike. “If indeed romantic love must be monogamous, then I am making some kind of mistake when I say, ‘I’m in love with you’ — meaning romantically — to both my partners,” she writes. “I am not lying, because I am genuinely trying to be as honest as I can. But if romantic love requires monogamy, then despite my best intentions, what I’m saying at those moments is not, strictly speaking, true.”

Her book examines the long, sometimes awkward legacy of philosophers’ thinking on romantic love, and compares that with a new subfield in close-relationships research — consensual nonmonogamy, or CNM. While singers and thinkers alike have been riffing on a “one and only” for decades, she argues that space is being made in the cultural conversation to “question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.” These norms are more fluid than they appear: In Jenkins’s lifetime alone same-sex and cross-ethnicity relationships have become common.

When I asked Jenkins to describe how it feels to have both a husband and a boyfriend — she rejects the “primary relationship” moniker altogether — she said that it’s like having more loving relationships in your life, like a close family member or friend. She and her boyfriend, whom she’s been with for about five years, used to work in the same building; he was teaching creative writing on the floor above her philosophy department, though they didn’t meet until they matched on OkCupid. While both men have met each other, they’re not close; Jenkins describes the relationship as having a “V shape,” rather than a triangle. Both helped in the development of the book: husband refining philosophical arguments; boyfriend editing the writing, and helping her to sound like a normal person, rather than an academic.

Still, CNM faces lots of stigma; even the study of it is stigmatized. Yet in the limited yet rich vein of research out there, the evidence suggests that it’s a style that, in some populations, leads to greater relationship satisfaction than monogamy. In any case, the researchers tell me, the insights into what makes more-than-two relationships work can be applied to any given dyad, given the communicative finesse required when three or more hearts are involved.

In a forthcoming Perspectives in Psychological Science paper, Terri Conley, a University of Michigan psychologist who’s driven the field, defines CNM as “a relational arrangement in which partners agree that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time.” That’s distinguished from the “polygamy” practiced by some religious groups, where it’s not always clear whether wives can opt out of the relationship.

I was surprised to discover how common it is: A 2016 study of two nationally representative samples of single Americans — of 3,905 and 4,813 respondents, respectively — found in each case that about one in five people had practiced it during their lifetime. A 2016 YouGov poll found that 31 percent of women and 38 percent of men thought their ideal relationship would be CNM in some way. Other research indicates that around 4 to 5 percent of Americans in relationships are in some sort of CNM, be it swinging, where partners have sex with people outside their relationship at parties and the like; an open relationship, where it’s cool to have sex with other people but not grow emotionally attached to them; or polyamory, where both partners approve of having close emotional, romantic, and sexual relationships outside of the couple itself. People are curious, too: From 2006 to 2015, Google searches for polyamory and open relationships went up. Other data points to how sticking to the boundaries of monogamy doesn’t come easily to lots of people: A 2007 survey of 70,000 Americans found that one in five had cheated on their current partner.

Jenkins says that as a tenured philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, she’s in a unique, privileged position to openly talk about being in a nonmonogamous marriage. She’d been interested in being in more than one relationship ever since she can remember, but it used to seem like some sort of impossible dream situation — she didn’t realize it could be an option in her real life until she was about 30. (She’s now 37.)

Jenkins met her husband, Jonathan, who’s also a philosopher, back in 2009, at a philosophy workshop that he organized at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; they later got married in the same hall the conference took place. They took one another’s last names as middle names.

Now married for almost eight years, they talked about polyamory early on, though defining the relationship that way came later. As philosophers are wont to do, they soon wrote a bit of a manifesto about their arrangement. They observed that even if their wedding guests were woke in any number of ways — not batting an eyelid if a colleague was gay or bi, eschewing heteronormative assumptions, and the like — there’s still the shared assumption that a nonmonogamous relationship is less sexually safe and less committed than a regular ol’ monogamous one. “Even our very liberal pocket of our relatively liberal society is massively — and, to us, surprisingly— mononormative,” they write. “Acquaintances, friends, and colleagues are constantly assuming that our relationship, and indeed every relationship that they think of as ‘serious’, is a sexually monogamous one.”

To Jenkins, the biggest struggle with polyamory isn’t from managing multiple relationships — though Google Calendar is a crucial tool — but rather the strong, sometimes violently negative reactions that she gets, especially online. When I spoke with her by phone, she was struck by a comment to a YouTube interview of hers, where a pseudonymous user invited “everyone” to read her column in the Chronicle of Higher Education about having multiple loves.

“THIS WOMAN IS A DISGUSTING ANIMAL,” the troll wrote. “Every bit as twisted and queer as the Mormons with their multiple lives [sic]. This femme-pig is the spectral opposite of Trump; a far far left-wing freak that desires to completely overthrow Western Christian Civilization.” Jenkins walked me through a deep reading of the bile: Bundling in politics — the “left-wing freak” bit — with the monogamy norms signals to her that there’s a judgment of what it means to be a good person in here, since politics is about living correctly, collectively. Plus “if you’re an animal, you’re out of the range of humanity,” she says. She’s also gets a lot of “get herpes and die, slut” suggestions, she says, which speaks to the hypersexualization of CNM. Nonmonogamy leads to lots of sex, the presumption goes, and with that STIs, and it proceeds from there. The way news articles covering CNM tend to be illustrated with images of three or four people in a bath or bed doesn’t help, either.

“The way we normally think about romantic love, we don’t imagine that it’s entirely about sex,” she says. “For a lot of people sex is a part of it; if we’re just having a hookup or a friend with benefits, we don’t call that romantic love. When it comes to polyamorous relationships, if you’re in love with more than one person, the same applies — to fall in love with someone is not the same as to sleep with them. We’re clear with that distinction in monogamous relationships, but in CNM that distinction between love and sex gets collapsed.”

Researchers who have studied stigma around CNM have found lots. In a 2012 paper, Conley and her colleagues found that monogamous relationships were better rated on every metric by different sets of the population, including nonmonogamous people. When 132 participants recruited online read relationship vignettes that were identical except for one being monogamous and the other not, the CNM was seen as riskier sexually, more lonely, less acceptable, and having a lower relationship quality. People in CNM were also seen as worse with non-relational things, like making sure to walk their dog or paying their taxes on time. Amy Moors, a co-author on the paper, says it had some of the biggest effect sizes she’s seen in her research. Elisabeth Sheff, a leading polyamory researcher who left academia for lack of grant funding, now frequently serves as an expert witness in custody battles; she says that often a grandmother or a former spouse will find out that a co-parent has multiple relationships, be scandalized, and demand to take the kids — even though her longitudinal research, reported in The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, indicates that kids who grow up in polyamorous families aren’t any more screwed up than average American children.

That same paper finds that there were no differences in relationship functioning between monogamous and nonmonogamous couples. People in CNM had lower jealousy and higher trust — yet also lower sexual satisfaction with their partner. Polyamorists were more satisfied than people in open relationships, perhaps because it’s hard to block of feelings for people you sleep with frequently. Polyamorous people were a special case, with higher satisfaction, commitment, trust, and passionate love than monogamous individuals, though they had lower sexual satisfaction. CNM people also had higher sexual satisfaction with their secondary partners than their primary partners, though that difference fell away when controlling for relationship time, with primary relationships averaging three times the length of secondary relationships.

“Overall, the standard for human responses for relationships is habituation,” Conley says. “That involves a loss of sexual attraction, and we can tell that from stats from therapy. And to the extent that a couple is frustrated sexually, it spills over to other parts of life.”

There are other explanations for high satisfaction scores for polyamorous people, she adds. It could be that they’re just acting out a social desirability bias, given that they’re participating in a study about CNM and want the lifestyle to look good; it could also be that people who enter into polyamory have self-selected themselves into a hypercommunicative population — all the poly self-help books emphasize the importance the need to explicitly talk things out. “People interested in polyamory are more relationship-y than the average person,” she says. “They like thinking about relationships, talking about relationships. That’s great in monogamy, but needed in polyamory.”

All this suggests the kind of people that are the right fit for CNM. Beyond being relationship-y, a Portuguese study out this year found that people with a high sociosexuality, or disposal to casual sex, had less relationship satisfaction when in a monogamous relationship, but those effects disappeared if they were in CNM. Still, they were just as committed to their relationships — signaling that exclusivity and commitment may not be one and the same. Harvard sexologist Justin Lehmiller has found that people who are more erotophilic — i.e., that love sex — will be a better fit for CNM; same with if they’re sensation-seeking.

Amy Moors, the Purdue psychologist, has found that people with higher avoidant attachment — where you’re just not that into intimacy — have positive feelings about and a willingness to engage in polyamory, but they were less likely to actually partake of it. While a correlational study, Moors explained that from a subjective perspective, it makes sense: “When you have avoidant attachment, you like a lot of emotional distance, physical distance, time by yourself,” Moors says, which is not a fit for the relationship-y remands of a poly lifestyle. Also, there’s reason to believe that folks who have relational anxiety, and are thus sensitive to separation, might be prone to the jealousy that’s known to flare up in CNM, though it’s not like that doesn’t happen in monogamy, too.

What motivated Jenkins to write What Love Is, she says, was a gap — or silence — in the philosophical literature, that polyamory was rarely discussed or even acknowledged as a possibility. “Noticing these philosophical silences and denials, while simultaneously being made aware of how society at large viewed me for being a polyamorous woman, made me realize there was something important here that I needed to do,” she says. “To do it meant bringing my personal life and my philosophical work into a conversation with one another. The familiar slogan says that the personal is political, but the personal is philosophical, too.”

Two key themes emerge from reading the book: that love is dual-layered, with social scripts overlaying evolutionary, physiological impulses. And that the “romantic mystique,” like the feminine one before it, assumes that love is mysterious and elusive and corrupted from examination — a sentiment that protects the status quo. But with investigation, and conversation, the mechanics of love reveal themselves, and norms can change socially, and be tailored locally. Like Jenkins, you can custom-fit your relationships to your life — if you dare to talk about them.

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