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More Than Two
A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory
By Franklin Veaux, Eve Rickert
Thorntree Press, LLCCopyright © 2014 Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert
All rights reserved.
STARTING THE JOURNEY
The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON
It's a story as old as time: Boy meets girl (or perhaps boy meets boy, or girl meets girl), they date, they fall in love. They pledge sexual and emotional fidelity, start a family and settle down to live happily ever after, the end. But the story often proves to be a fairy tale. All too often it continues on into misery, breakdown, separation, divorce, boy meets new girl. Lather, rinse, repeat.
In one common variant, boy meets girl, they settle down, one of them meets someone new, things get messy, dishes are thrown, hearts are broken. Or perhaps you've heard this version: Girl meets two boys, or vice versa. A tragic choice must be made. Someone is left heartbroken, and everybody is left wondering what might have been.
We propose that there is a different way to write this story. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl meets another boy, they fall in love, girl and boy meet another boy, girl meets girl, girl meets boy, and they all live happily ever after.
The word polyamory was coined in the early 1990s from the Greek poly, meaning "many," and the Latin amor, meaning "love." It means having multiple loving, often committed, relationships at the same time by mutual agreement, with honesty and clarity. We know what you're thinking: "Who does the laundry?" We'll get to that in a bit.
Polyamory isn't about sneaking off and getting some action on the sly when your girlfriend is out of town. Nor is it about dating three people and keeping everyone in the dark. It's not about joining a religious cult and marrying a dozen teenage girls, or about having recreational sex while maintaining only one "real" relationship, or going to parties where you drop your keys in a hat.
Poly relationships come in an astonishing variety of shapes, sizes and flavors, just like the human heart. There are "vee" relationships, where one person has two partners who aren't romantically involved with each other; "triad" relationships, where three are mutually involved; and "quad" relationships of four people, who may or may not all be romantically involved with one another. A relationship might be "polyfidelitous," which means the people agree not to pursue additional partners. Or it may be open to members starting new relationships. A poly person might have one or more "primary" partners and one or more "secondary" partners, or recognize no rankings. They might have a "group marriage," sharing finances, a home and maybe children as a single family.
Some people imagine that polyamory involves a fear of commitment. The truth is, commitment in polyamory doesn't mean commitment to sexual exclusivity. Instead, it means commitment to a romantic relationship, with everything that goes along with that: commitment to being there when your partners need you, to investing in their happiness, to building a life with them, to creating happy and healthy relationships that meet everyone's needs, and to supporting one another when life gets hard. Unfortunately, society has taught us to view commitment only through the lens of sexual exclusivity; this diminishes all the other important ways that we commit to one another. People who can't commit to one person sure as hell can't commit to more than one!
Polyamory isn't the same thing as polygamy, which means having multiple spouses (most often in the form of polygyny, or multiple wives; sometimes in the form of polyandry, or multiple husbands). It's not about keeping a harem, though we know some of you there in the back row were kind of hoping we'd go that way. It's not the same as swinging, though some poly people also swing (as we discuss in chapter 17, on opening from a couple). And finally, it's not about rampant promiscuity. Polyamorous relationships are relationships — with good times, bad times, problem-solving, communication ... and, yes, laundry.
DOWN WITH THE FAIRY TALE
The prelude to lifelong monogamy echoes through our culture in fairy tales we all hear: A beautiful, charming young woman toils alone in an unhappy life, friendless and beset on all sides. She endures hardships and trauma until one day along comes her handsome prince, who swoops down and lifts her into his arms. They fall in love; the chorus swells, the curtains close.
Stories like this resonate with us because they offer a comforting view of relationships: True love conquers all. Everyone has a soulmate, just waiting to be found. Once we've found our soulmate, we will live happily ever after. Love is all you need. There's no need to work hard at understanding yourself or your needs, no need to keep working on happiness once you've found it.
Forget the fairy tale. "Happily ever after" is a myth because people, unlike characters in fairy tales, are not static. We live, we grow, we change. Happy, healthy romantic lives require not just continual reinvestment but constant awareness of the changes in our partners, our situations and ourselves. Our partners do not owe us a guarantee that they will never change, nor do we owe anyone such a guarantee. And as we change, so do the things that make us happy.
Polyamory can feel threatening because it upsets our fairy-tale assumption that the right partner will keep us safe from change. Polyamory introduces the prospect of chaos and uncertainty into what's supposed to be a straightforward progression to bliss. But a healthy relationship must first of all be resilient, able to respond to the changes and complexity life brings. Nor is happiness actually a state of being. It is a process, a side effect of doing other things. The fairy tale tells us that with the right partner, happiness just happens. But happiness is something we re-create every day. And it comes more from our outlook than from the things around us.
The relationship fairy tale carries other hidden falsehoods. For instance, it promises that one person will always be able to meet our needs. The idea that polyamory addresses this situation has its own problems (as we talk about in chapter 4), but it's still unreasonable to expect one person to be everything.
If we accept the fairy tale, we may feel shaky and insecure whenever reality doesn't live up to our expectations. We may imagine that if we are attracted to someone else, something is wrong. (Actor Johnny Depp, whose ongoing relationship turmoil is the stuff of tabloid legend, famously remarked, "If you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn't have fallen for the second." Cue poly eye-roll.) On the other hand, if our one true love is attracted to someone else, we may feel like a failure. After all, if we do everything we're supposed to do, then we should be enough, right? And if a partner loves someone else, that means our love isn't good enough, right?
The idea of The One, the "love of your life," is seductive. In reality, it's perfectly possible to have more than one love of your life. The two of us know many people who do, and each of us has several loves of our lives — and we're not even romantically involved with all of them. Even though all of our loves have other loves, we feel secure, because we have many people who will always be there for us.
WHY BE POLY?
The best way to understand why someone might be polyamorous is to ask, "What do people get out of relationships in the first place?" Romance is a fiddly business even in the best of circumstances; why not just give it all a miss and be done with it? A quick answer might be "We are happier when we're in relationships than when we're not." Humans are social animals. We do better when we share our lives intimately with others. We're built for it. As complicated and messy and unpredictable as romance is, its rewards are fantastic. Indeed, most of us feel driven to seek out people who see us for what we are, who share themselves with us, who love us.
For many people, establishing a romantic relationship switches off this drive. The task is done, the race is won; there's no need to find new partners. But for some, being in a relationship doesn't flip off that switch. We remain open to the idea of new connections and more love. We engage in multiple romantic relationships, and love others who do the same, because doing so enriches the lives of everyone involved. Loving more than one person at the same time is not an escape from intimacy; it is an enthusiastic embrace of intimacy.
Polyamorous relationships have practical benefits. More adults in a family often provides greater financial freedom and security. Some poly folk combine living spaces, incomes and expenses, which increases everyone's financial flexibility. Even poly people who don't cohabit or share expenses gain many things from mutual support among multiple partners. If you're having a bad day, there are more people to comfort and help you. If you're having a problem, you get more perspectives. You have more of everything you get from romantic relationships — more companionship, more advice, more joy, more love.
Being poly can also be fantastic for your sex life. Sex is a learned skill, and the human sexual horizon is vast. Whatever your tastes, however ingenious your imagination, the range of sexual experience is so great that someone, somewhere, is doing something you'd love to do that would never occur to you. Each time you invite another lover into your life, you have the opportunity to learn things you might never otherwise have learned ...often, things you can bring into your existing relationships. Nobody is so creative that she has nothing to learn from someone else.
Conversely, there is a community saying: "Some people go into poly to have more sex; some go into poly to have less sex." A monogamous couple with mismatched sex drives has a major problem. Constant frustration on one side, and constant unwanted demands on the other, kill marriages routinely. But when the couple is part of a larger network of lovers, everyone can more easily find their own level, and the pressure is off.
ARE YOU POLYAMOROUS?
For some of us, whether we're polyamorous or monogamous is obvious; for others, it isn't. Many poly people feel it's an intrinsic part of who they are, like hair color or sexual orientation. A person who feels inherently non-monogamous can identify as poly even if she has only one relationship, or none.
Others embrace polyamory because they see it as inherently more honest than monogamy, which often requires denying attractions to other people. Still other folks see polyamory as a way to shed the assumptions about property and control that have long gone hand in hand with monogamy.
Deciding whether poly is a good fit requires not only deciding whether you're non-monogamous but also whether the things you want from life, and the personal ethics you bring to the world, align well with having multiple honest romantic relationships. For instance, a desire for sexual variety without romantic attachments might point to swinging as a better fit. A desire for multiple romantic relationships without openness or transparency might mean some self-work is in order.
Polyamory is not right for everyone. Polyamory is not the next wave in human evolution. Nor is it more enlightened, more spiritual, more progressive or more advanced than monogamy. Polyamorous people are not automatically less jealous, more compassionate or better at communicating than monogamists.
We believe relationships that are deliberately, intentionally constructed are more satisfying, and more likely to lead to happiness, than relationships whose shape is determined by default social expectations. It is absolutely possible for a monogamous relationship to be built by careful, deliberate choice. Many people are content in monogamous relationships, and that's fine. Monogamy doesn't necessarily mean simply following a social norm. If you decide that polyamory is not a good fit for your life, that's okay. Don't do it or let anyone push you into it.
It's useful to think of polyamory as an outgrowth of a certain set of relationship ideas. Rather than asking, "Am I polyamorous?" you could ask yourself, "Are the tools and ideas of polyamory useful to me?" Even if you don't desire multiple relationships, the things we talk about in this book may be valuable to you.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT POLYAMORY
At this point, some of you may still be thinking "Woohoo! Endless orgies!" and others of you are likely thinking "What a load of horse manure! This is just a fancy way of saying your partner lets you cheat." For anyone who imagines that being poly means sleeping with whomever you like, whenever you like, without having to consider others' feelings, we have some bad news. A polyamorous relationship does not mean that anything goes. It means far more listening, discussing and self-analyzing than you may be used to.
You might end up with one partner (if you're on one end of a vee or an N or a W), or you might even be single (it's possible to be poly and have no partners at present). You might have fewer partners over your lifetime than someone who has many monogamous relationships in a row, like, say, Johnny Depp. Promiscuity suggests a lack of discernment; polyamorous people may be very picky indeed.
Of course you can, if you want to, run around shagging everyone you can ...as long as you accept the consequences. If you disregard the needs and feelings of people you're sleeping with, you don't get to sleep with them anymore. And in the poly world, word gets around. Acting without thought for your partners is a poor long-term relationship strategy.
For those of you who imagine that polyamory is a fancy word to excuse your cheating, we have bad news for you as well. "Cheating" is violating trust by breaking the rules of a relationship. If taking multiple lovers does not violate trust, then it's not cheating by definition. Betrayal, not sex, is cheating's defining element. (A person can move from cheating to polyamory, though it's a road fraught with peril; we get into that in chapter 17.)
You may be tempted to think that a relationship allowing multiple partners has no rules at all, but think again. Many kinds of poly relationships exist; each has its own agreements. But all require trust, respect and compassionate behavior.
Despite the images of free-love compounds that might be dancing in your head, polyamory does not necessarily meaning living in a commune or an intentional community. Not all poly people live with multiple partners, or with any partners, for that matter. Nor is polyamory all about couples seeking thirds.
Polyamory doesn't necessarily suggest a taste for kinky sex. You can be polyamorous without mounting a trapeze in the bedroom. Many people in polyamorous relationships have straightforward tastes. Poly families spend their time balancing checkbooks, watching Netflix, doing laundry, all the ordinary things a family does. If you're interested in polyamory because you imagine nonstop kinky orgies, you may be disappointed.
Don't get us wrong; we're not knocking wild sex parties or kinky orgies. Some poly folks (Franklin, for example) are quite fond of these things. Others (like Eve), not so much. Many poly people dislike group sex, don't identify as bisexual or pansexual, and don't even own a vibrator, much less a trapeze.
When the poly community first took shape, many of the most visible activists and organizers were commune-oriented pagan or New Age spiritualists. Today polyamory attracts a much broader range of people. We've met poly folks from all walks of life: political liberals and conservatives, evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, rationalist skeptics, working single parents, college students, you name it.
DOWNSIDES OF POLYAMORY
The people in the modern poly community are, by and large, groundbreakers. We are ahead of the curve in a lot of ways; many of us embraced an unconventional approach to relationships decades before the word "polyamory" existed. Because of that, many of us are activists, cheerleaders and salespeople for polyamory. That means much of what you will hear about polyamory focuses on the benefits rather than the costs. We do not want to provide that one-sided view in this book. Polyamory is not Nirvana. Every silver lining has a cloud around it. Only you can decide whether the benefits are worth the costs.
Polyamory is complicated. When you have more than two people involved in your romantic life, things get complicated fast. Keeping many simultaneous relationships going is not for the faint of heart. Problems can occur in any relationship. Personality conflicts can arise, and all sorts of things can go wrong. In a polyamorous relationship, there are more opinions being offered, more people's feelings to get hurt, more personalities to clash, more egos to bruise. Navigating a disagreement or problem in a poly relationship requires outstanding communication skills and good problem-solving tools, which is kind of the point of this book.
Excerpted from More Than Two by Franklin Veaux, Eve Rickert. Copyright © 2014 Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert. Excerpted by permission of Thorntree Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Janet W. Hardy,
PART 1: WHAT IS POLYAMORY?,
1 Starting the journey,
2 The many forms of love,
3 Ethical polyamory,
PART 2: A POLY TOOLKIT,
4 Tending your self,
5 Nurturing your relationships,
6 Communication pitfalls,
7 Communication strategies,
8 Taming the green-eyed monster,
PART 3: POLY FRAMEWORKS,
10 Rules and agreements,
11 Hierarchy and primary/secondary poly,
12 Veto arrangements,
13 Empowered relationships,
14 Practical poly agreements,
PART 4: THE POLY REALITY,
15 How poly relationships are different,
16 In the middle,
17 Opening from a couple,
18 Mono/poly relationships,
19 Sex and laundry,
20 Sexual health,
21 Poly puzzles,
22 Relationship transitions,
PART 5: THE POLY ECOSYSTEM,
23 Your partners' other partners,
24 Finding partners,
25 The rest of the world,
Last words: Love more, be awesome,