At least in theory, monogamy is simple. You have one partner, you are sexually, and perhaps intimately, exclusive with them. You come up with agreements as to what that means, you defer to this relationship if any other interests should come along. And you are good to go.
Polyamory in contrast is complex. There are multiple partners with different desires, dreams and ideas. There need to be agreements about how new partners get added. You will need to have safe sex discussions. There are often crowded schedules to be coordinated. There is also embracing the inherent inequities in poly. There are hierarchies or configurations or interrelations which need to be negotiated.
Some of the most poorly charted territories (because they are all quite different from each other) are relationships between metamours (partners of partners). These are often people who have not chosen directly to be involved, perhaps a strange old friend of your new friend. But these people can potentially have a significant impact on your life. If a metamour goes into crisis, you can expect your lover to support them, potentially trashing the carefully laid plans you have. If a metamour moves to Italy, your lover might want to visit them there, taking them far from you. If a metamour wins the Nobel prize, your personal life could become much more public than you were thinking it was going to be.
There are of course positive metamour effects as well. If your partner has selected well (and they did choose you after all) it is possible a metamour can support you when your partner is being hard to understand or acting like a jerk. If you are lucky, a clever metamour can call your partner out when they are being ill behaved towards you. And if you are really lucky, metamours can become important intimates in your life. I first met Shal as my lover’s lover and he has become one of my closest friends, long after the romance that brought us together has faded away.
This post was inspired by the above comic, which nicely defines two terms. Especially for people who are new to polyamory or have partners at significant distance there is often the practice of “parallel poly”, where metamours have very little interaction with each other and may not even have met.
But what most experienced poly people are looking for is what Tikva calls “kitchen table poly.” The idea that even if you don’t have a direct romantic relationship with your partner’s partner, they are still important to them and thus like family to you.
And these generalizations are exactly that. You could easily have an experienced pair of metamours who don’t spend time together and operate “in parallel”. Or you could have a couple or more folks who share lovers who are quick to find each other and become friends or even romantic partners. One long time lover of mines partner practices HONCing – the Happiness Of Not Connecting. We have nothing to do with each other and when we are in the same town we avoid each other.
Rita Mae Brown said “An army of lovers can not fail.” And while i don’t like military metaphors generally, i get the sentiment here. If you want to get past your jealousy, one powerful way to do it is to hang out with ruffled hair and a fuzzy bathrobe at the breakfast table with someone who deeply agrees with you about how wonderful your lover is.
For more poly comics go to Kimchicuddles.com
Other posts on polyamory and honest seduction:
- Central versus Primary – two different forms of your most important relations
- The problem of Polynormativity– What happens when the mainstream embraces poly culture?
- Can Polyamory Destroy Rape Culture? [Re-post] by Tikva
- Ok Cupid Blues and Greens – OKCs struggle with connecting poly people
- Old Guard and Young Turks – on taking care of monogamous people who flirt with you
- The Myth of Equality– Why do people keep pretending poly relationships are somehow equal?
- Is Swinger interchangeable with Polyamorous? – Clarifying definitions and super complex Venn diagrams
- Minority Relations Models – just because you are poly, does not mean you are not an asshole
- Transcending Jealousy and the Shakespeare Challenge – New words for new ideas
- Non-Euclidean Honeymoons – Is it possible to have two honeymoons in parallel?
- Rabble Rousing – Pitching Polyamory to Conservative Christians
- December is Postcards – Love letter writing is the soul of honest seduction
- Clever Hacks – Playboy and Beyond– Using hacktivism is tweak sexist culture
- Honest Seduction website – Disclosures, Love letters and radical intimacy
It was about midnight at the fabulous Validation Day party. Willow and the gaggle of friends who had come up for his 13th birthday were no doubt safe killing zombies or the digital equilvalent somewhere on our 450 acre campus. Sky and i caught each other between songs on the dance floor.
“Do you have Willow tonight?” i asked
“He does not need us, he is a teenager now.” Sky quipped
And while it was mostly a joke, there was some recgnition that even in the insular world of the income sharing intentional community, our son was becoming more independent, more self reliant and less in need of direct supervision or support from his flock of parents.
Sadly, we retreated from the lovely complex rules of Capture the Flag 2.0. It was deemed too hard to teach and we were in a hurry to get out into the cold and get playing.
Willow’s team won twice before the cold overwhelmed the group. [Pro tip – attrition. Wait for the other team to have too many members in jail and then overwhelm their strained defenses.] This game had lots of running through the woods which makes it easy to wipe out and out maneuver your pursuer. The kids seemless intergrated in the small handful of Acorners i brought over for the fun.
Willows friends almost all either live in the commune now or did at one point. One of his best friends is Adrian, who left the commune when Willow was 2. Adrian is now 17 (Willow is 13 if that was not clear). But like many kids who grow up at the commune, there is some special home like aspect that brings them back to visit and maintain friendships. A dozen years ago Adrian did child care for Willow. Now they team up to take on zombies or their digital equivalents via online chat.
The parents will stick around for a bit longer, in case he needs us for something.
The new kids on the block are actually the old kids from the block, they are just back with a very politically potent offer which will hopefully be a new direction for the squatting movement – but i am getting ahead of myself, let’s begin at the beginning.
Freedonia is awesome. They have pioneered a new approach to squatting which makes it more resilient. They have tricked the police into giving them abandoned buildings. They host clever workshops, feed local and poor people for free and throw bad ass parties. All in an undisclosed location, in the shadow of serious urban decay, somewhere on the east coast of the US, far from anywhere Dick Cheney would think of hanging out.
An adventurous group of Freedonians (which is quite redundant phrase actually) set off on a bike tour to New Orleans. They called themselves the Vultures. There were puppet shows, there were narrow escapes from the police, there were complex polyamorous topographies – all the good things you would expect from our intrepid travelers. And there were lots of talks around open fires about how to step things up back in Freedonia.
Normal people would have looked at the impressive accomplishments of this full featured set of squats and said “well, we have done quite enough and we are already impressive and sustainable just the way we are”. But the Vultures would not know normal if it came at them with a knife (i’d bet on the Vultures in this fight though, normal don’t got a chance).
They decided they would kick it up a level and start income sharing. They returned from their bike tour, promptly broke into a house not far from their original places (which they had let others move into while they were on the bike tour and they did not want them to leave when they returned) and squatted it. And thus Vulture House was born.
They then offered to all of the other Freedonians to join them in this income sharing adventure. Readers of this blog will not be surprised that i think sharing and especially income sharing are instrumental in saving the world. We don’t know how many other local squatters will bite, but the Vultures are pretty compelling.
Stay tuned for more tales of intrepid revolutionaries from undisclosed locations.
Comrade Tikva has penned a great piece for Elephant Journal [Which posted my review of the Movie Wanderlust] If you want to see this article on EJ , with it’s links (and odd image) it’s here. She also does a brilliant comic on polyamory.
Many romances begin with wordless flirtation, stolen kisses and vague communication.
In a culture where disinterest is often interpreted as shyness or “playing hard to get,” men are encouraged to think women need to be skillfully interpreted and convinced, instead of taken at their word. Even the clearest “no” is still up for debate.
I’ve had men tell me I was “asking for it” by making eye contact with them on the street instead of averting my gaze. And when they discovered that my polite smile was not a request for sex, they reacted in outrage as if I was purposefully leading them on.
A stranger misinterpreting our smile as an open invitation to our body sounds ludicrous, but watching any romantic comedy will show us how our culture views consent.
How many times does the woman turn the main character down before he grabs and kisses her—and doesn’t she secretly want it all along, perhaps without even knowing it herself, until he figures out how to prove that they are meant to be?
It may be entertaining to watch awkward fumbling and forceful passion on the screen, but this kind of indirect communication seeps out into our actual romantic encounters far too often and can be very dangerous.
When men identify with that main character who wins the girl in the end, they feel cheated when their own efforts aren’t achieving the same results. They can sometimes decide to take it forcefully if the woman isn’t catching on quick enough, because “no” just means she hasn’t been convinced yet that this is what she really wants.
Most women have encountered men who feel entitled to have access to their bodies. Just look at the recent gruesome events involving Elliot Rodger and the resulting stories on Twitter with the hashtag “#YesAllWomen.”
Clearly there are a lot of men out there who think they deserve the girl, regardless of what she has to say about it.
In polyamorous relationships, unclear communication will have us drowning in a sea of interpersonal drama much more quickly than it would in a conventional, monogamous relationship.
One reason for this is that monogamy is the expected norm, so if we’re monogamous, it’s pretty easy to coast through the beginning of our relationship without putting any effort into communicating our intentions or expectations.
If we say nothing at all about what we want, it is assumed that our eventual goal is a monogamous until-death-do-us-part with someone. Polyamorous relationships are more complex and less understood, so therefore require explanation right from the beginning and skillful communication throughout.
Poly folks will often discuss their specific intentions with people they are attracted to and even sit down with everyone’s other partners and discuss it with them as well, way before the first date is even considered. It is very likely that a first kiss won’t come with a silent assumption of consent, but after it has been discussed with everyone involved instead.
Clear communication is a must for long-term poly relationships, so this is a skill that gets exercised often.
But what does this have to do with rape culture? Rape culture is fed on silence and assumptions. By insisting on communicating clearly every step of the way about any intention of sex or romance, we kill those old ideas of romance being about silent flirtation and stolen kisses.
We make consent sexy.
We might think that clear communication is overkill, boring and that it will stifle the romance—but the opposite is true. When people are open and vulnerable in relationship to each other, expressing the full extent of their desires and (most importantly) wanting to hear and understand the desires of their partners, there is absolutely nothing sexier than that.
I used to think that stolen kisses were sexy, but now I see them as a sign of emotional immaturity and dissociation. I would much rather my partners be obviously interested in what I want than trying to see what they can get out of me.
I would much rather be telling them what I want than waiting for them to guess.
Margaret Atwood’s quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” illustrates why it is more important that men take on the task of communicating clearly and receiving consent, but it is incredibly empowering to take on the task as a woman as well.
We don’t need to be in a polyamorous relationship to get our clear communication groove on, obviously. But if we’re in a polyamorous relationship we need to communicate impeccably, just to keep up with what’s going on.
Making clear communication and consent sexy is a huge part of what’s needed to feed the revolution of consent culture. So whether we are monogamous, polyamorous, monogam-ish, or poly-curious, we need to push ourselves to communicate more openly with everyone and see how it affects our romantic life.