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Open relationships are fascinating to outsiders, many of whom can't imagine being in one.
Open relationships are fascinating to outsiders, many of whom can't imagine being in one.

Not exactly Pollyanna when it comes to polyamory

I was watching the news and a story came on about people living in open relationships and marriages. I was fascinated as these couples, young and old, described living in relationships knowing that their partners were with someone else, or maybe even a few someone elses, any given day of the week.

This isn't polygamy, which is the practice of multiple marriages, it's polyamory, which is just as it sounds -- the practice of taking more than one lover. This quickly had me debating whether these people are masochists looking to get hurt or if the rest of us are the delusional ones, believing that we'll find that one person and never want or need anything from another.

The idea of marriage and one partner for the rest of your existence goes against many of our primal instincts. Watch National Geographic for five minutes and you'll realize we're all here -- lions, tigers, bears and us, to procreate, to ensure the continuation of the species for centuries to come. But, we're more intelligent than cats and bears, aren't we? Not if you look at the evidence. When it comes to humans we don't have sex just to procreate, we like it, we don't know when to stop procreating (come on people, say it with me, "birth control") and most of us cannot separate our hearts from much of the sex we have.

I'm not naïve enough to think that sleeping with more than one person is a new concept or even a bad one. Hell, I went to college; it was practically a pre-requisite. What I cannot seem to relate to is the belief that I'm in a committed relationship or marriage while knowing that one or both of us is sleeping with other people. That's not commitment, its convenience. In fact, it's just dating. You're married, but there are middle school kids in more committed relationships than yours.

Let's not forget a little thing called jealousy. Most people I know can't stand catching their significant other even checking out another person, let alone joyfully waving goodbye knowing they are headed over to someone else's place to have sex.

When I'm with someone and we've decided to be committed, to me that means, "OK, you can look (he's going to anyway), but don't you dare touch. If you do I'll make sure you regret it." There is an element of sacrifice in a committed relationship and that sacrifice is not meant to weaken the relationship, but rather make it stronger. The whole point is that the sacrifice is not one-sided. You're supposed to be in this thing together.

When you get to the point in your relationship where you both want to be exclusive, the exclusivity is not just a term, it's supposed to directly relate to you, your heart and your body.

Of course, there are temptations in life and relationships. One person can never be everything to another. That's way too much pressure to put on anyone. There are close to 7 billion people on this little planet (again, we don't know when to stop) you really think that there is only one out there for you? The difference is looking, admiring and not acting on every piece of tail that walks past. You are not a bear!

However, one need only to look at the way we treat marriage, commitment and exclusivity to start to wonder ... have we evolved enough to be that exclusive? Or, is it beneficial to have the option of other people along with the knowledge of your partner's lovers right out there in the open rather than hiding under lies and deception or simply trying to ignore the signs?

If you go into a marriage or "committed relationship" knowing that one or both of you will be seeing and likely sleeping with multiple people, good luck to you. I don't get the point of getting married, or pretending you're committed, maybe it's for the tax break or health insurance, but otherwise, why bother? Why not just date, sleep with whomever you want and move on without ever putting a more significant label on any of it?

I don't understand the concept and I know I couldn't be a willing participant in polyamory, but I do have to give credit to the couples on that news story sharing their lifestyle choices. What works for one person or couple doesn't always work or make sense to another, but that doesn't necessarily make it wrong ... I guess.

Talkbacks

mcoonan | Aug. 4, 2009 at 10:38 a.m. (report)

This is purely an opinion piece, and a somewhat sophomoric one. It includes no evidence in the form of interviews with polyamorous people, and doesn't address the question of married polyamorists whose relationship and needs evolve over time.

Talk with a number of poly people, and you'll come away with as varied and particular a set of motives for their lifestyle choice as the number of people you interview. Lumping them together and pontificating from the pulpit about their supposed character failings is of no use to anyone.

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speakthetruth | Aug. 2, 2009 at 10:31 p.m. (report)

I'm not suggesting that anyone "look" or "act" the same, I'm merely stating the fact that the vast majority of people would be far more apt to at least tolerate lifestyle choices which are vastly dissimilar to their own if the people promulgating such "options" weren't so far out of the mainstream that you could pick them out of a police lineup based upon the notion of "which one do you think is poly/gay/vegan/etc."

People used to discriminate against the Irish because they were drunks who always got into fights. The Irish policed their own and cleaned up the collect image by behaving better and at least giving the appearance of social assimilation.

Poly people should follow the lead of the gay brain trust and do the same.

I could personally care less if you swap bodily fluids with large numbers of others, save perhaps the public health risks if your behavior is risky, but to suggest that "the rest of us" aren't enlightened enough to understand your lifestyle choices is purely an ego trip that further separates your from societal acceptance.

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littletinyfish | Aug. 2, 2009 at 8:50 p.m. (report)

35524 You're worrying too much about the sex and not enough about the relationship. Sex does not define a relationship. Sure, sex can be a big part of it, but there are more ingredients to love and compatibility: activities, desire, sacrifice, children, jealousy, acceptance, personality, etc. I'm utterly happy in my relationship, but I understand the difference between my and my girlfriend's sex drive. If she's happy with me, but not with the amount of sex then she's welcome to supplement it. Why should I be jealous? I get all the sex I want, she gets all the sex she wants. As long as both people understand the paramaters through open, honest communication, what is there to worry about?

Sex itself has variable quality and ingredients. I'm curious: if you can't comprehend one person in a relationship with two people can you also not comprehend a threesome (or more), or a wife cuckolding her husband, or people into S&M? Cuz on the surface, watching your significant other get screwed by someone else or getting slapped and pinched doesn't sound terribly romantic. Do these kinks mean their partners are any less dedicated to each other?

I also find it curious that you understand that the point of sex can be variable, used for pleasure (fun) or purpose (babies) and can happen between two women (as seen in your "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" article [http://onmilwaukee.com/living/articles/foster060709.html]) and can involve various parts of the body (Is it still taboo if everyone keeps talking about it? [http://onmilwaukee.com/living/articles/sarahfoster061809.html]) but then you insert a random limit that the partnership can only be two people at a time.

You're also simultaneously placing sex in two disparate bags. You claim it's unimportant because obviously everyone should be having sex with lots of people in college but then it becomes extremely important because if you're sleeping with more than one person it's a betrayal of an important commitment.

Not that sex is even the major factor of BEING in a polyamorous relationship. It's like having a best friend and a few other close friends. Your best friend is the most compatible friend for you, but they may not be in to everything that you're in to. One friend likes baseball, the other likes music. One partner likes romantic comedies and the other likes hanging out at bars. Having a best friend doesn't mean you should ditch your other friends.

Maybe this idea just isn't for you and you're thinking about this in terms of only yourself and your personal preferences and limits. Maybe you're thinking about it incorrectly as cheating and less as a constructive, open, honest relationship. Maybe your relationships are certified by sex. In any case it's clear you need to do more research and less speculation before you dive into this subject any further. It's how polyamorous relationships work: open and active communication and understanding.

Oh, and bravo, speakthetruth. I'm sure it'd be a lot easier to accept diversity if we all looked the same.

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jbdryden | Aug. 2, 2009 at 5:13 p.m. (report)

34949 There is a strong misperception both in this article and in the comments that polyamory is in the business to define what is "normal." We live our lives according to how we feel naturally doing so. To question that, means to place one's own values on our way of life, which is unproductive in any kind of discussion.

I believe that this piece has very little in the way of research which could have made this a very insightful article. A lot of assumptions have been made without asking anyone either within the polyamory community or outside of it. To have gained some knowledge into the community and the lifestyle would have made this piece - even if it had been in contradiction to the lifestyle - more enlightening and informative. As it stands now, I think that the piece has missed the point on what it is that defines a polyamorous relationship(s).

Yes, we get jealous, but we deal with it in productive and healthy ways - i.e., talking about it. Yes, we know what commitment is; we just happen to have that with more than one person. No, it isn't about sex and procreation; if that were the case, we wouldn't be as conscious and proactive about getting tested and using contraception. Polyamory is about understanding that relationships are not a necessity but a desire. We enter into relationships - of every kind - because we *want* them and in doing so, enrich our lives. So to make that decision means to understand that there comes with it a substantial amount of effort, empathy, and commitment.

Polyamory, as a lifestyle, is an informed decision between consenting adults that comes about through a great deal of communication and trust. To have those sorts of emotions between two people requires a fair amount of work - and isn't restricted to the poly lifestyle. I don't think what we have is uncommon, but it is out of the realm of comfort for most people.

There are a multitude of ways to live one's life, and each of those ways is valid - not because they ought to be validated but because each person defines their own existence, not someone else.

Having read the author's bio on the site, I was disappointed that this article gave very little in the way of advice or resources for those who might actually be interested in the lifestyle. Nor, was there a sense of empathy or "a sympathetic tone or expression that compels people to share their lives and secrets." I firmly support OMC, but this article was below average in its execution, and I am disappointed in that.

As a side note, I would like to point out that speakthetruth's use of the phrase "gay people" lives little to interpret in their social viewpoint on the matter of sexual orientation and gender identity. Also, a discussion regarding someone's attractiveness is not only tangential but pointless.

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speakthetruth | Aug. 1, 2009 at 7:35 a.m. (report)

My apologies to Ashley for saying this, but it seems like most times when poly people are "featured" on television or in a magazine, they pick some very alternative, unattractive people. I firmly believe that the masses would learn to accept polyamory more quickly if more "normal" people were profiled and became the face of it.

Gay people figured out this type of marketing a long, long time ago. Sure, there are flaming gay guys with fake lisps whose pants are four sizes too small, but the gay people who fight for gay rights are typically people who you could see at work or at the mall without realizing that they are gay.

Bitch all you want about people's biases, but they remain regardless of selective enlightenment. Dealing with the biases is far more productive than trying to change them.

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