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My Monogamy

Let me just say this first: for much of my life I have been, not to put too fine a point on it, a slut. I would sleep with anyone who would sleep with me, and for those of you who understand the mind of the 18 - 25 year-old male, you understand that my dance card was full for many years.

Those days are behind me, though, and now I'm struggling with a concept that has only recently bubbled to the surface of my consciousness.

In my family, we never talked about sex. It felt like something I discovered for myself, and a discovery that I had to keep secret from my parents, because if they knew about it, I was sure they wouldn't approve. And even though my parents were divorced when I was very young, I was raised with the same "spouse and 2.5 kids" ethic that most people my age were raised with. I was raised in Phoenix, and it is a deeply conservative place.

When I was a kid, my attitudes were very much shaped by my peers. The girls in my school all wanted to get married and have kids as soon as possible. Sure, we were all going to go to college, but that was really secondary. I kid you not, three girls from my high school graduating class were already married with children by graduation. One was in that state by junior year.

And like all teenage girls of my acquaintance, I thought of "marriage" as one man who was so in love with me that he was blind to the very existence of every other woman on the planet. Someone who would be so entranced with me that he would be unable to even formulate the concept of sex, let alone a relationship, with anyone else.

Let me just say that I got married and divorced three times before I found the one (and no, I don't expect him to be blind or inhuman - I've grown up since high school). And in between those marriages, I dated a lot of guys, and those relationships always involved sex. But the thing is that I never had more than one relationship going at a time. I just can't do that. It always seemed wrong to me. Like it was disrespectful to the other people I was dating. They had an expectation (or maybe they didn't and I was just assuming) that I wasn't seeing anyone else, and I had a lot going on in my life.

Now I'm being exposed to people who do not consider sex with more than one person to be a breech of loyalty. And I must say, my first reaction is one of sanctimonious superiority.

Is that right? It doesn't feel right. Suddenly it feels like that time that I found out that the woman whom I consider my spiritual mentor, a woman who has done more to awaken me to my own Buddha nature than anyone on earth, used to be a prostitute. I could never feel morally superior to her. She was in every way my spiritual superior, and I learned a valuable lesson from her.

But to me, that lesson was really clear-cut. I had made a blanket judgment about prostitutes and what sort of people they were, and she blew that out of the water. I guess my question is this: what assumptions am I making about people who brand themselves "poly," and on what are they based and what do they say about me? And what is the truth?

Just call me the elephant's child. Full of 'satiable curiosity. Just don't spank me.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
wordweaverlynn
Oct. 13th, 2003 07:43 pm (UTC)
I won't even joke about the spanking, I promise. Which shows you how seriously I take this.


what assumptions am I making about people who brand themselves "poly," and on what are they based and what do they say about me? And what is the truth?

Only you can be sure what your assumptions are. The usual ones I've seen are that it's all about the sex, that we can't make or keep a commitment, that it’s hurtful to our partners, that we're afraid of real intimacy, that we don’t really love any of our partners, that we’re sneaking around, that that we replace genuine caring and thoughtful consideration of one partner for humping a dozen partners like bunnies.

Sometimes those are true, too. Not everyone into polyamory is some kind of sociosexual saint. In fact, I can’t say I’ve met one who is. But most of us are not sexual predators luring innocents into orgies and destroying their self-esteem.

Polyamory is usually defined as ethical non-monogamy. In practice it means many different things -- everything from polyfidelity (like monogamy but with several partners) to something much looser and resembling swinging.

In my case:

It's not all about the sex. I loooove sex, but I was monogamous with my husband for 13 years and the sex stayed great all the way through. (I was also revoltingly self-righteous about the monogamy.) I had great sex monogamously, and I’m having great sex polyamorously, too. Nevertheless, I don’t have sexual contact with all my spice (plural of spouse). What I have is marriage with multiple people. Sharing checking accounts, household responsibilities, lifetime commitment. With my outside partner, I have a certain kind of play but no sex in the Clintonian meaning of the word.

(Not everybody does poly this way, of course. Every poly relationship is different.)

All right then. How about commitment? Hell, my default mode is cherishing someone for a lifetime. I don’t do poly in order to avoid commitment. I want to build and maintain a network of loving, committed, lifetime relationships with people I love and who love me. Our poly family [add dates]

Is it hurtful to our partners? Not if we wish to keep them. Yes, there can be hurt feelings and shattered relationships – but that happens in monogamy, too. Every poly relationship has to come to terms with new relationship energy, occasional feelings of neglect or jealousy, and the constraints of time and energy. But I take great joy in (for example) Michele’s relationship with Paul, and I actively promote its health. "Compersion" is the term for the pleasure one takes in a partner’s other relationships. There’s a joyous synergy between loving relationships.

Am I afraid of real intimacy? No, I seek it. In fact, my poly marriage offers me more genuine honest intimacy than my monogamous marriage did. That’s a function of the people involved, rather than the form of marriage. I have been able to show more of who I genuinely am and see more of who my partners are. Maybe the polyamory makes it safer, the way large families can be safer. There’s always someone who loves you.

But true love is for two people, not for many. Can poly people really love any of our partners? I do love them all – uniquely, joyously, and realistically. Yes, we annoy each other, have hurt feelings and misunderstandings, grow close again. That’s marriage; that’s real life. My model for love and loyalty comes not from an infant’s exclusive dyadic relationship with a mother, but from the love, comradeship, and multilayered commitments I have with my three sisters.

As for sneaking around, that’s totally against the rules. We all know about each other. We love and take care of each other.

more to come. . .
wordweaverlynn
Oct. 13th, 2003 07:43 pm (UTC)


Do I replace genuine caring and thoughtful consideration of one partner for humping a dozen partners like bunnies? No again. I do have an outside partner now, but the negotiations for that relationship have been painstaking, and we’re still feeling our way, so to speak. We don’t want to disturb any of our other relationships. We need to create a space for the relationship that will be safe and healthy. It’s not like I get to see someone I fancy, grab zir, and throw zir back in the pool when I’m done. I need to consider more people now: not just my own beloved polyfamily, but my outside partner’s needs and commitments.

Polyamory is not for everybody. It’s not even for most people. But for some of us, a network of loving commitments is what works best. It can be the ground of a joyous life.

What polyamory offers me that monogamy didn’t is a loving web of commitments, a family I can rely on in times of stress and trouble, a group of people I can and do trust with my life. The warm, loving, shared sexuality is important, yes. Plus we have the security that a new love isn’t going to displace the old; a new love doesn’t mean the old one must be abandoned or discarded or even neglected. There’s room for more than one love.

cyan_blue
Oct. 13th, 2003 09:15 pm (UTC)
It's always a good thing to ask questions like these.

There's a lot to be said on this topic, and wordweaverlynn all ready made an excellent start of it. I'll simply say that for me, "commitment" does not equate to "sexual exclusivity." Commitment means... looking after those who you care for. Keeping promises. Being forthright about your desires and intentions. Being there for the important people in your life. Communicating well. Poly folks take these sorts of commitments *very* seriously.

If two people who are in a relationship happily and wholeheartedly agree with each other that each should be allowed to take other lovers as desired - then what harm is there? Many cultures have been poly at one time or another: Mormon, Muslim, Yanomamo (Venezuelan), some Nigerian groups. So, the "monogamy is better" notion is simply a social construct, held by the majority within our own culture.

And a lot of studies have been done about the psychological functioning of poly individuals and couples, and no differences between poly and monog folks were found. See here for more info:

http://www.polyamory.org/~joe/polypaper.htm#WhatIsKnown

My partner emmett_the_sane and I are poly, and we really work hard to support each other through our other relationships while also giving good attention to our own. Last night he called to ask if it was ok if he brought home a date who he was out with, and I did some quick housecleaning while they were en route, to give him a more welcoming place to bring her back to. She's a nice woman... I've hung out with her myself on occasion, to chat and play Boggle and whatnot. On another occasion recently, Emmett offered to go over to a friend's house so that I could have more privacy with a date of my own. Our commitment is one of thoughtfulness, of mutual support.
junglemonkee
Oct. 13th, 2003 09:32 pm (UTC)
I'd be interested to know what emmett_the_sane, gramina, housepet and 14cyclenotes have to say on the topic.

I thank you very sincerely for talking about this topic. I'm sure you guys are inundated with questions and unwelcome comments about your choices, and I don't want to add to any of that. I'm only trying to understand the root of my own insecurity and kneejerk rejection of the concept. I want to get to the Buddha nature of everyone, and this is how I do it. Thanks.



cyan_blue
Oct. 13th, 2003 10:19 pm (UTC)
We're always glad to answer questions that are asked in a spirit of openness, like yours are.
emmett_the_sane
Oct. 13th, 2003 11:11 pm (UTC)
Summoned, I answer. :)

I think a lot has been said already. The main point I want to make sure you understand is this: everyone has their own set of reasons for becoming polyamorous (whether or not they call it that).

There are many reasons I have chosen to be poly, and most of them are probably not the ones that wordweaverlynn would give for herself. In fact, were either of us inclined to do so, we could probably get as high on our horses about our own particular set of solutions and reasons for a happy life as you're feeling inside. The reason is that, as logical creatures, we're very inclined to believe that the path we're on is the only path that's valid, because it fits the data we see (otherwise we wouldn't have chosen that path). Only wisdom tells us that other people see very different sets of data that lead them to choose different lives.

Enough with generalities. Here's some concrete reasons. I'm going to state things in absolutes for my own life. Again, these probably don't suit your own world-paradigm.

I'm poly because I like stories; I like to live many different love stories, and not be confined to just one or a few. There's no reason to give up one person (usually hurting them and myself both) in order to love another. I am also very naturally honest (to a fault). So if I were monogamous, whoever I was with would know that I was attracted to other people. It'd be morally reprehensible for me to be monogamous.

I also like sex, lots of varieties of it, and always learning new things. I like meeting new friends and finding out what makes them tick, understanding their psyche in a deep way. Sometimes I teach with sex in addition to learning. And sometimes I heal.

I've also got my own insecurities in regards to meeting women, dating, seducing or being seduced... etc. The exact details are less important than the fact that I'm poly means I get to keep working on those insecurities whilst in one or more stable relationships! The benefits of this are vast... not the least of which is that I have somewhat less inclination to cling to new people when insecure.

One of the most loaded questions I'm asked about poly is, "how can you tolerate other guys sleeping with your girl?" Well, of course, it's not just other guys. :) But the question is hard to answer. I do have abandonment issues. I hate to be left out of things, whether they be parties or luncheons or women's-day-at-the-spa... you name it. If I am forbidden or specifically uninvited and know about it, I feel left out and hurt.

But... in the case of my primary, I answer that fear by encouraging her. I take an active role in helping her make fun things happen, even and especially when they do not involve me. When I can't take that role... well then I'm forced to face down the green demon. And he's losing, I can assure you.

This is another absolutist statement that may not apply to your paradigm at all: I don't think it's healthy to nurture the demon of jealousy in the way that monogamy does.

All that said, let me conclude with one thing I did discover recently: there's definitely such a thing as a person with a monoamorous heart. When you say that you cannot feel romantic towards more than one person at a time, that may really, truly be the case. I'm not that way, and it's almost impossible for me to grok, just as my polyamory is hard for you to grok.
junglemonkee
Oct. 14th, 2003 01:31 pm (UTC)
Clarification, Please
"I don't think it's healthy to nurture the demon of jealousy in the way that monogamy does."

I'm curious to know how you feel that monogamy nurtures jealousy.

I also want to clarify for you that I'm not judging anything. My initial reaction, it is true, was "how can that work?" Not "that's just wrong," not "those people are going to hell," nothing like that. Just curiosity. It would never work in my life.

My paradigm is this: I have a job that I love, children who are my delight and my life, a husband whom I cherish and the desire to discipline my mind and my heart. It's at the core of Buddhism. Buddhism doesn't say "only have one spouse," or anything prescriptive like that. It says "make good causes." If you are making good causes in your life, your life works. I don't ever get bored in one relationship because I'm always expanding myself - re-creating myself, discovering new aspects of myself (new interests, new hobbies, etc.). You expand your own world in the way that works for you.

The issues that you face - jealousy, abandonment issues, the desire to explore and work on your problems - I have those too and work on them constantly. I obviously just process differently than you.

Again, thanks for your feedback.
emmett_the_sane
Oct. 14th, 2003 02:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Clarification, Please
I also want to clarify for you that I'm not judging anything

You are and you aren't. Just as I am, and I'm not. It's hard to get away from it entirely, so I think it's good if we accept a little judgement from persons with different perspectives, without having to feel that we should take on their advice or views.

Buddhism, little that I know of it, appears to impart wisdom rather than knowledge. I like that.

I'm curious to know how you feel that monogamy nurtures jealousy.

The logic circle works something like this:
  1. I'm in a monogamous relationship with Sally. That means she's only supposed to want me sexually.
  2. The things that make me attractive to Sally aren't unique to me. So Sally is likely going to feel attracted to other people with similar traits, at the very least. Otherwise, she probably wouldn't be finding me attractive anymore.
  3. See rule 1.
The exact ways in which that circle gets acted out vary widely. In the rural area where I grew up, that meant that many, if not most, married couples did not have opposite-sex friends who weren't also married, and friends with both.

Heck, even in the SF bay area, I was once out on a shopping trip with a female roommate whose fiancee wasn't along. We ran into some of their mutual friends along the way (college basketball buddies), and they called her fiancee as quickly as they could, letting him know that his girl was seen with another male.

There's also violence that I see caused by this jealousy. In extreme (but all to common) cases, husbands or boyfriends have been known to beat up their wives for even suspected attraction to someone else (it happens the other gender direction, but not as often, from what I've seen).

To me, the monogamy paradigm gives fuel to their fire, justification to their violence. Society says, "you really shouldn't react that strongly to your feelings of insecurity," not, "if your wife being attracted to someone else makes you insecure, you need to work on not having those feelings of insecurity at all."

The issues that you face - jealousy, abandonment issues, the desire to explore and work on your problems - I have those too and work on them constantly. I obviously just process differently than you.

Definitely. :) Feel free to respond back in debate form, if you like. I'm interest to hear any counterpoints to my thoughts on jealousy and monogamy.
junglemonkee
Oct. 14th, 2003 03:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Clarification, Please
YAY. I'm happy you're open to discussion. I love that in people.

"The logic circle works something like this:

1. I'm in a monogamous relationship with Sally. That means she's only supposed to want me sexually.

2. The things that make me attractive to Sally aren't unique to me. So Sally is likely going to feel attracted to other people with similar traits, at the very least. Otherwise, she probably wouldn't be finding me attractive anymore.

3. See rule 1."

This is not at all how my logic circle goes. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but my own logic circle goes more like this:

1. I'm in a monogamous relationship with Sally (what can I say? She's a cutie!). This means that while she may have whatever feelings she has, she only has sex with me.

2. While no individual thing about me is either unique or superlative (there are women with bigger boobs, smaller butts, who know more about gardening/computers/[your interest here] than I know), there is no one else on the planet with my unique package. I have never met anyone like Sally, but she has never met anyone like me. Sally may feel attracted to other women, and she is free to deal with that in the way that makes her comfortable (within the confines of our monogamous relationship). Perhaps she comments on this or that attractive feature. Perhaps she fantasizes about some other women that she sees or knows occasionally. But ultimately, I am not a static person, and I trust that my package will continue to engage Sally unless she changes at a very fundamental level in her tastes and desires, and our relationship will stay strong.

3. See Rule #1.

Both my husband and I have many friends of both genders, and in both of our cases, there are former lovers among those friends. But I believe that my relationship is like yours in that what allows those relationships to flourish without threatening our relationship is honesty. I am totally honest about everything that goes on, and my husband has complete and utter visibility into my life.

When I have felt insecure about his friends (and because we are both bi, it's not limited to opposite-gender friends) I've done exactly what I'm doing right now. I talk about it and probe it and question it until I understand it thoroughly. And it goes away.

I also want to separate the issue of violence in relationships from just jealousy. Having been in and exposed to both physically and emotionally abusive relationships, I don't view the catalyst as just jealousy. If I see my husband eyeing another attractive woman, I may feel momentarily jealous. If I force my husband to dress, act, talk, think a certain way to assuage my feelings, that's a control issue, and it's a pathology.
emmett_the_sane
Oct. 14th, 2003 03:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Clarification, Please
Your logic circle for the way you handle monogamy is not altogether unlike my logic circle for poly:
  1. I'm in an open primary relationship with Sally. This means that while she may have sex and love many other people, she'll give my needs and desires consideration over those of her other, non-primary sweeties.
  2. I know that I can't provide everything that Sally will ever need in any given aspect. It would be dishonest to both of us to try. Whatever those unfulfilled needs are, I trust that she's a willful person who can fulfil them outside of our relationship in a way that keeps our bonds strong. She's with me for the overall package, the person that I am. And unless one of us changes drastically, we'll continue to desire and need the other.
  3. See rule #1. :)
Pardon my use of the heterosexual paradigm; I did not mean to imply that you were. It's just that these things are far easier to discuss in English if you don't keep switching pronouns!

I don't view the catalyst as just jealousy. If I see my husband eyeing another attractive woman, I may feel momentarily jealous. If I force my husband to dress, act, talk, think a certain way to assuage my feelings, that's a control issue, and it's a pathology.

There is more than one catalyst for violence, that's absolutely true. But I do think that jealousy itself is half an "abandonment issue" and half a "control issue." I think that the basic tenet of monogamy nurtures both sides to an extent. That's not to say that people cannot manage to have relatively low levels of these within the bounds of monogamy (as it sounds is the case with you). But I think that those things happen in spite of the tacit lessons of monogamy, which go well beyond "no sex with other people."

I'd also be willing to wager that those monogamous couples for whom jealousy is not an issue would have a fairly painless transition to polyamory, were they to choose that direction for some reason. That's because I see the issue as a matter of where the line gets drawn; I happen to draw the line at time or other resource-limitation priorities. Your line is drawn at sex.

I think I'm babbling now, so I'll hit send. :)
junglemonkee
Oct. 14th, 2003 04:20 pm (UTC)
Tiny clarification
One small correction. My line is not drawn at sex. If my husband were spending so much time with another person whether or not he were sleeping with that person that it cut into his responsibilities to our household or adversely affected our relationship (he were unavailable at a time when I really needed him, or he began to miss appointments or time commitments), I would be unhappy. I would question that relationship.

So, I think that you and I even draw our line in the same place.

I love this (and it happens so often). I start talking to people whom I feel so different from, and what I hear back is "we're the same." :)
emmett_the_sane
Oct. 14th, 2003 04:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Tiny clarification
So, I think that you and I even draw our line in the same place.

It depends on where you see those different things being. I think that the continuum of limitations I am describing goes something like:
  1. no ignoring my needs
  2. no s&m play
  3. no sex
  4. no making out
  5. no casual flirting
  6. no finding other people attractive
  7. no opposite gender friends (ignoring the bi/gay thing again)
  8. no contact with other people where unnecessary
I think that anything from 5/6 upwards is getting pathological. Some cultures do enforce 8, and, cultural acceptance be damned, I think it's pretty messed up. A lot of poly people are somewhere on the wide range between 1 and 3. I aim for 1, which I think is the healthiest.

I love this (and it happens so often). I start talking to people whom I feel so different from, and what I hear back is "we're the same." :)

Pretty much. I mean, the things we want aren't really that different. It's kind of like two people ordering a pumpkin pie, one with a big mound of whipped cream, and the other is lactose intolerant or doesn't like dairy, so has it plain. We're really just arguing over modestly different versions of the same yummy dessert. :)
gramina
Oct. 22nd, 2003 10:43 pm (UTC)
Late, but present
I'd be interested to know what emmett_the_sane, gramina, housepet and 14cyclenotes have to say on the topic.

OK, I'm slow, but I'm finally here.

what assumptions am I making about people who brand themselves "poly," and on what are they based and what do they say about me? And what is the truth?

The most common assumptions not just about poly, but about [group], are that [group-members] are all like each other, and all different from [non-group-members]. <g> I think you've already caught on about that one not being accurate.

As wordweaverlynn said, not everyone does this the way any one does it; all I can talk about is me. 14cyclenotes and I have been a couple since 1979 -- 24 years. Any twenty four year period is going to include some fairly strenuous ups and downs -- you don't make it through them without being committed. (OK, put down the damn straight jacket -- that's not what I meant! <g>)

Early on in my polyness (while I was still just in my early twenties) I had sex with someone I thought I knew, and later learned he'd lied to me about his marriage being poly. I was stupid; I hadn't talked to his wife beforehand. I haven't seen him since, and haven't ever made that mistake again. I don't like sneaking around. If nothing else, it seems like it's too much work keeping track of the stories!

What does matter to me -- and what I think builds intimacy, commitment, and all that (the stuff I most want) -- is first a commitment to each others' well-being. What that means will vary, because people are different; my part is to figure out what I need, and be as responsive as possible to what others seem to need.

That doesn't mean I'll never hurt anyone; it does mean I try not to, and I try to understand what went wrong when I do, and make it right or keep it from going wrong again. That's just normal-default, as I see it; that's how people treat each other. (I realize that's not accurate, but it's still my preconscious assumption.)

What poly offers is a web of connections and commitments, some familial, some deep friendship that isn't quite family; people I know love me even when I don't feel lovable. I could be monogamous, if that had been what my first partner needed (we need a word for bi-modal in the mono-poly spectrum); I'm glad and grateful it wasn't. I have a blood family and a heart family I can rely on no matter what, a group of friends and loves I can trust with what's most important to me.

If I have a calling, it's connection; poly lets me be that more fully than anything else I can imagine.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 14th, 2003 03:20 pm (UTC)
An interloper's two cents! :)
I have a number of friends who are non-monogamous and I know people online who are poly, and have given a lot of though to the issue. I'm monogamous/mono-amorous. So's my boyfriend. He and I have talked about that quite a bit and for the sake of idea-sharing, here's how *our* monogamy works: we acknowledge that we may be attracted to other people but we don't *act* on that attraction.

There's a world of difference between hormonal "ooh, a hottie!" and sleeping with someone. When I say he and I are monogamous that means that we don't have sexual interaction with anyone but each other. The whole "monogamy means you're not attracted to anyone else" is just not possible, if only for hormonal reasons.

So jealousy isn't an issue. We're both very open about our past and present attractions. We're equally open about the friends we have. Jealousy isn't a problem because we're both wired such that falling for someone else while we have a primary partner just isn't going to happen. Being attracted, yes. Falling for (or not keeping it in our proverbial pants with), no.

I think what causes the festering jealousy in so many monogamous relationships is the unrealistic expectations of the participants. Just because you're monogamous doesn't mean you're not going to be attracted to someone with the right attributes, and finding them attractive doesn't mean you should ditch your current partner. I sometimes think a lot of people don't get that.

-Ealasaid
junglemonkee
Oct. 14th, 2003 04:15 pm (UTC)
Re: An interloper's two cents! :)
Ooooh! Yay Ealasaid! Glad to hear you weigh in.

I have been discussing the issue at some length offline with a few people, and one thing is really clear to me. Those people who have weighed in on the poly side have all said that their reasons for/methods of being poly are their own and unique to them. And I'm realizing that it's true for monos as well.

I just LOVE discussion!
(Anonymous)
Oct. 14th, 2003 05:59 pm (UTC)
Re: An interloper's two cents! :)
Yep, it's good to be here. ;) 's what I get for surfing NaNo oriented links. I didn't even really know you had a livejournal until today. :D

But yeah, everybody's monogamy is different. I know gals who have to go sans boyfriend to movies featuring actors they lust after because their bf's get pissy about the drooling. Sheesh.

But my bf and I are both pretty mature about our relationship. As we've both said to each other on different occasions, "what's to be jealous over? I mean, you're with ME, not [insert name of drool-worthy personage, former lover, etc]."

And yay discussion! I've seen the poly/mono debate get damn heated and it's refreshing to see an open, civil exchange of ideas.
Ealasaid
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