Poly 4: The Bad and the Ugly of Polyamory
- Polyamory – the non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously. Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time.
- Open Relationship – a relationship in which the partners decide that they can have sexual relations outside of the relationship. Partners have agreed that they can have sexual relations independently of each other.
- Swingers/Swinging – A form of sexual encounter that usually involves a couple including others into the bedroom. There is usually no emotional attachment factored into this form.
These definitions are from More than Two, which is a site designed to help folks who want to begin exploring polyamory. It’s more comprehensive than my articles, and it also comes from the perspective of someone who is polyamorous. If you are interested in learning more than I’ve laid out here, please visit!
- Cloud – A group of folks who are socially linked through polyamorous relationship(s). Can comprise of one couple, or many. Can include casual play partners or not.
This definition is my own.
Today, I’m going to discuss some comparison of polyamory. I’ve heard a lot of stories in my research, and not all of them are positive. I’m going to examine what goes right in polyamorous relationships, and what can go wrong.
Polyamory is always changing, and couples who practice polyamory sometimes find that things go right, and sometimes they don’t. I wish I didn’t have to say this out loud, but it’s exactly like what happens in a monogamous relationship. In a monogamous relationship, both parties can want something, or they can disagree. This can cause a break-up and it’s not always nice. Polyamory can find the same problems. The difference between the two is that Polyamory typically involves more people. This has a dual nature. While it probably means more communication to fix the problem problems, it also can mean that more feelings are hurt.
So Let’s Hear a Story of How Things Go Wrong
Luna is a lovely human who I worked with briefly. I had the pleasure of discussing polyamory and her relationships in depth. It was a long conversation because she’s also a writer and wanted things to be crystal clear. I hope to do this tale justice, without over-playing it. Luna and Draco began their relationship as polyamorous. They both have a community in the kink scene and agreed that play would be open. After their relationship was solidly built, Luna and Draco met Lavender. (I am creating some really interesting fanfic with these Harry Potter names.) Their relationships formed an egalitarian triad, which means each other them were involved in the other two, and all three were involved together.
That sounds a bit complicated, but Luna broke it down easily for me. There were four connections that were made: Luna and Draco, Draco and Lavender, Lavender and Luna, and all three as a unit. They observed no primary structure like we have discussed previously. There was a default “first relationship” between Luna and Draco due to the length of their partnership, but it did not change priorities or rules.
The relationship had problems on and off for the length of it, because Lavender moved in with Luna and Draco fairly quickly after the relationship(s) began. However, something occurred (what that was is neither important to the story nor shared with me) which was the final straw for Luna and she broke up with Lavender. Lavender and Draco were still together. Luna and Draco were still together at the same time. This means two relationships broke, remember? We no longer have Luna and Lavender, and we also lose the three as a unit. So Draco balanced time between seeing Luna and seeing Lavender in separate places at separate times (Luna temporarily moved to a different house).
Now, this is much more complicated than a monogamous relationship ending because Luna still had a connection to Lavender; Draco. Now, this is also made complicated by all living in the same house, which is a similar problem to monogamous divorces, or break-ups where the couple shares property. Luna talks about how she fought with Lavender when they interacted because it was emotionally hard for all of them to interact.
Aside from leaving her home, Luna left full-time access to Draco. When he split time between the two, it sparked arguments from Lavender, who commanded more time out of jealousy. I have opinions about Lavender, which spring both from this story and from me knowing Luna much better. They don’t factor into the story strongly, but there is a bit of problem not mentioning it. Jealousy is often mentioned in conversations about Polyamory, and I plan on talking about that subject a little later.
So what happened to Luna and Draco? Well, Draco broke it off with Lavender, and Luna moved back to the house they share. It was a hard time, which involved some manipulation from Lavender, as well as painful fights, and a lot feeling left out (from all sides). However,Luna and Draco have a stronger relationship because of it, and I’ll cover more of that in the next post.
So What About Jealousy?
Ginny told me an intriguing story that (in my opinion) illustrates a type jealousy. However, I want to be true to her story, and I’m trying not to twist words. She described an emotion to me and it sounded like jealousy. She doesn’t openly use that word herself, but I will use it here for clarity’s sake. You know what? I’ll just tell the story.
Ginny and Albus (this is AWFUL fanfic, please do not write it) were dating for a few months before their jobs/lifestyle separated them. Long-distance is hard, and as a result, Ginny wanted to try polyamory or an open relationship of some time. Recall that their relationship falls more into the definition of an open relationship as defined above. This is very new to Ginny, and the rules change often. They broke up for a month or so, and in this time, Albus had a few partners. When they got back together, the rules were a little more flexible than before. Ginny discovered that Albus had an romantic-emotional attachment to another partner. This hurt Ginny because she expected that their forays out of the bedroom had been physical and not emotional. This wasn’t something she had planned on happening or being dealt with.
I’ve already tried to interpret this, and I’ve botched it, so I’ll try not to do so anymore.There are a few things in play here that make an interpretation hard. It at first glance could be seen as a jealousy issues, but it also sinks into the potential breaking of an agreement. It does illustrate how a relationship can be destabilized. This is a good time to remind folks that this is not exclusively a polyamory problem. This could happen to any couple that has an emotional agreement.
Luna actually had a lot more to say specifically about jealousy, however. She tells me that she views jealousy as wanting something another person has instead of them having it. Envy is the idea that you want something someone else has as well as them having it. So one is an “either/or” situation, but the other is closer to an “and” situation. Envy is distinct because it displays a consideration for all relationships in the cloud to be healthy.
She also gives the advice that jealousy and envy both happen and can be dealt with in constructive ways. For her, the best solution was to communicate that a need wasn’t being met (usually more time with her boyfriend), and they scheduled time to spend together. She also recommends this page. It’s common to feel jealous as a result of insecurity. This page explores what’s happening and how to deal with it. It’s much more qualified than I am to talk about this, so I’ll stop.
Fixing a Cheater
I also wanted to touch on this concept while I’m here. Cheating is bad no matter what kind of relationship you’re in. If you are in the definition of an Open Relationship, and you have an emotional affair, that’s cheating. If you are in a Polyamorous relationship where you can only flirt with others, but you have sex outside of that relationship, you’re cheating.
Here’s what a lot of folks don’t understand: Cheating is not bad because you had sex. Cheating is bad because you broke a promise. If you can’t keep this promise, how can you be trusted to keep others?
Using polyamory to satisfy someone who cheats a lot because they want sex is not a good idea. The fundamental problem is that they don’t respect boundaries and agreements set in a relationship. If that person needs to be polyamorous, they should be up front with their partner about their needs, and then work out agreements that help those needs get met.
If you haven’t read Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, you should. In there, it discusses a cultural norm in France where men cheat often, and the women accept this because a mistake of one night isn’t worth breaking up a family. I want to be clear about two things:
- This is NOT polyamory. This is CHEATING.
- Ansari says it himself: “It seems like the women are being taken advantage of, just because they don’t want to break their families.”
I call this cultural norm “mistressing” because it doesn’t imply a break-up will occur. In fact, mistrissing usually feels like it’s a lifestyle choice, though it’s made primarily by the man. (There was little mention of women doing this, which is why it’s more gendered in in my description.)
There are many ways Polyamory can go wrong, which is because it’s a type of relationship, and relationships can go wrong whether they are monogamous, platonic, romantic, polyamorous, fraternal, maternal, or literally any other type. Relationships are complicated and everyone is different. Yay! In my next post, I talk about something much more cheery; How Polyamory Goes Right!
This is the part four in a six-part series! Here are the rest!