Apr 21·edited Apr 21

"In my first monogamous relationship as a teenager, I caught my boyfriend sexting another girl. I remember doing ‘performative upsetness’, but not actually feeling mad about it. I just didn’t care?"

"Once, a few months into a new relationship with a boy I was infatuated with, circumstance landed me sitting in the next room while I listened to him having sex with a new girl. This was terrible."

I'm confused. What's the difference?

How come you didn't care in one case, but it was terrible in the other?

Expand full comment

So I appreciate the candor in this post, you're one of the few poly people I know that will admit an element of social pressure exists in favor of polyamory (at least in certain places). One part that stands out to me is that an implicit conclusion of your post is "if a little poly isn't working, try doubling down." I think you add enough qualifiers to distance yourself from the worst version of this implication but a question remains: If social pressure towards either/both ends of the spectrum exists, how do you avoid mismatching?

I'm generally monogamous (see here for more: https://ymeskhout.substack.com/p/cuckoldry-as-status-jockeying) but a significant portion of my friends are in (what appears to be) successful polyamorous relationships. Even though I'm in an environment that is very much catering to polyamory, I still detect the defensiveness that you describe coming from them. I don't doubt that there are people who are genuinely happy in their poly relationships, but would you be able to detect when someone just *says* they're happy because they're too committed (heh) to turn back?

Expand full comment
Apr 20·edited Apr 20

Great post and really interesting hypotheses. I think you're missing a hypothesis that is almost certainly an important factor: Self selection in your cohorts

In a "monogamy-by-default"-culture, how many really make the step directly to identifying as full poly? In my experience nearly everyone makes gradual experiences and exploration before deciding whether poly is for them, and which form/amount is the right one. Most who end up identifying as full-poly have likely identified in the partial groups at some prior point in their journey. Those who have good relationships while trying this should be much more likely to unreservedly identify as poly.

In principle this could even be causing the phenomenon of partial poly having worse relationships because those with better relationships are more likely to self-select out of the group. But in theory a similar self selection could also be going on with the worst relationships leaving the partial groups, so it's not obvious how much those groups are affected by this.

Expand full comment

Given the way you declared it beforehand, your zoom decision was just and fair.

But reading through this post, I think you missed a more obvious explanation for why slightly polyamorous people have trouble: Most humans are polyamorously Aroused, but most humans are also rather Vulnerable to relationship threats. I think it probably looks Like this:

Aroused by many people, Not Vulnerable to jealousy = Naturally Polyamorous

Not Aroused, Not Vulnerable = Naturally Flexible

Not Aroused, Vulnerable = Naturally Monogamous

Aroused, Vulnerable = Naturally Conflicted

Most people are conflicted. They're drawn to polyamory at first due to basic arousal. Then they realize it's dangerous, glamorous, and, as a bonus, allows them to escape the admission that they're basic. But then when they try it out, jealousy rears up, and they find that it's overwhelming and cannot be tolerated with any amount of support from friends or members of the relationship.

But despite this, there are people out there who really don't experience jealousy very easily. When I read about your experience: "circumstance landed me sitting in the next room while I listened to him having sex with a new girl. This was terrible" I found it hard to relate to, because my own emotional reactions would have been less monogamous than yours. Unless he had been rejecting of you, or was stringing you along and playing games, or was not really close with you, why was this terrible?

Expand full comment

> If you’re not committed to polyamory, you might not just have the pain I did, you might also have the additional loop of doubt and re-evaluation - do I actually want this? Why am I putting myself through this? Is it right for me? Am I a bad person if I want him to stop? You’re checking the weight of each hand, squinting, calculating.

This rings true to me – I'm fully poly now, but in my first few years I felt like I was testing it out and could go back to mono anytime. When the first bout of Real Jealousy came knocking, the bad feelings was much worse because I felt like I COULD quit poly and never have to deal with these particular issues again, so I was constantly looking at the "make this particular pain go away" button and wondering whether to push it. Agony.

It was a close one but I stuck with it, and now

- I'm in 'too deep' to get out – I have multiple partners I adore, my spouse has multiple partners they adore, so I kind of laugh incredulously at the thought on un-enmeshing ourselves. When problems come up I immediately roll up my sleeves, the thought of running away doesn't even occur to me

- I know myself well, I'm more secure with my partner, we've gotten more years of problemsolving together under our belt, so I'm just not that afraid of more Big Ones. Like it's going to suck, but it's almost not going to be bad as that first one, which was survivable

So: I started out as a poly optional person (even now, I'd probably be fine if I were memorywiped of poly and only did mono for the rest of my life), am fully poly now, the worst parts were in fact when I was thinking about backing out. The interesting thing to me is, what advice can I possibly give people who are in the position I was in when I was starting out? My tentative, rather sad conclusion is that there's no avoiding the muddling-through.

Expand full comment

Ithink the idea of having to constantly reevaluate an important life decision, any of them (e.g., women on career vs kids, whether to leave a spouse for an affair partner, etc.) is exhausting and leads to unhappiness. The author mentioned that in the article was spot on - it just made me apply it to so many other decisions. Knowing what works for you is so important and makes life more fulfilling than constantly having to rethink your life choices.

Expand full comment

It’d be more informative to remake the lineplots into boxplots, as this will give an idea for what the spread within each group is.

Expand full comment

I wonder what I'd qualify as. Given that I always communicate that I do not intend to limit a person I'm in a relationship with in any way BUT this doesn't mean that I won't react to some of their actions and decisions, or that that reaction won't be breaking up with them.

Basically my attitude can be summed up in "you do what you want to do and if I find something out of that to be a dealbreaker for me, I'll just leave the relationship".

Expand full comment

We have pregnancy avoidance technology which usually lets sex be more of an enjoyable (potentially bonding) recreation than a means of procreation. Possibly one way to get at feelings about polyamory is to consider how one feels about one's partner/s making babies with someone else. Absent reproduction it's not clear why sex is any different than a massage, a meal, etc., it's just time and fun with someone. Of course, people feel differently about it for evolutionary reasons but reproduction is the significance. Some manageable concerns over diseases, some physical vulnerability but with a little caution sex is pretty much like all of the other things people do together. Unless one is going to make babies (one could also look at housing and business arrangements but that's not sex and could as well be friendship). How one feels about a partner's reproductive choices and their consequences might be a fundamental way to asses polyamory.

Expand full comment

What are the two examples of positive representation of poly in media?

Expand full comment

We all know you’re poly just because you’re hot. If you were an average girl, you would feel insecure and frightened just to imagine your partner with someone else. I really want to see how you’re going to be in the future when the time comes and you lose your attractiveness. Normally a woman is most attractive in her 20s and that’s also her most fertile ages. Therefore, women loses attractiveness over time. I’m sorry Aella but it feels like your time is almost empty. You’re already 31 and things are going to be more difficult in your 40s.

I know, you might argue that surgeries may help you and I’m sorry to say that but you’re no longer that 20 year old cute girl. All the surgeries you made destroyed your natural beauty. It was your nose first, then your breast and now your face. Seriously, is that what you want for your life? It feels like you’re trying to maximizing your attractiveness at all cost instead of accepting the nature. I feel sad for you.

A woman’s value shift from her appearance to other abilities, like the ability to take care of a house or children. So stop acting as if as you were in your 20s, accept nature and have a better life.

I must say this. Every time I see you writing about polygamy, it only shows how insecure and afraid you’re with you current situation.

I understand how it feels to be a very attractive woman and wanting to sleep multiple partners. For a man, it’s much easier because there’s nothing more valuable to society than a well established man in his 40s. The same way there’s nothing more valuable than a beautiful woman in her peak attractiveness, in her 20s

Expand full comment

I think my experience basically concurs with yours that a lack of total commitment is what makes poly the most painful? I, my ex-boyfriend, and my husband's current girlfriend were all reluctantly poly, getting into it because the person we wanted to date already had a partner, but all else equal we would have preferred to be monogamous with them. I eventually found that I was actively happy with poly and I experience way less angst over it now that I understand how I fit into my husband's life vs the role his other partners play, but for the other two it never got better. My ex-boyfriend and I both recognize now that the situation was unhealthy, and I'm glad he's monogamous now because I think that's right for him.

And then, if I may just... pursue my 'someone is slightly wrong on the internet' itch...

> The first time I saw an example of polyamory in media (Bajirao Mastani - it wasn’t even a great example!), I cried, unexpectedly touched from seeing a story about someone like me. I’ve rewatched that movie multiple times specifically because of that, and the polyamory (it’s just barely even polyamory!) depicted in it makes my entire body vibrate with joy. Is this what monogamous people feel all the time when they watch movies? I envy you.

Maybe it's what straight, white, upperclass monogamous people feel like when they watch movies, but the rest of us are grasping for representation same as you. And yeah, to be fair, poly is even less represented than most other things. But even then, I mean, Asian Americans are a relatively enormous fraction of the US population and I still sobbed like hell at Crazy Rich Asians because I'd never seen media that actually respected the cultural values I was raised with. And while queer representation has exploded over the past couple decades, it's still overwhelmingly cis, homosexual, and white. Just saying there are tons and tons of monogamous people who are not seeing themselves in media and feel the same way as you do when they see stories about someone like them. (Not meaning to be a jerk but... it was important to me to say it.)

Expand full comment
Apr 24·edited Apr 24


I *think* I'd be okay if my wife dated/fucked other people as long as our own relationship stayed good. But my wife knows that she doesn't want *me* sleeping with another woman, and that it wouldn't be fair if she did that while refusing me the same option. So I agree not to date/have sex with anyone else so as to not hurt her, and she also imposes the same restriction on herself. Does that make me poly and her monogamous, or both of us monogamous?

And what category do you put the people in a relationship in which one person has multiple partners but those partners are not allowed to date anyone else? (Such as the one in the "reality" TV show "Sister Wives" about a Mormon polygynous family.)

Expand full comment

Just started listening to you on Lex. Interesting mind. And Lex is the best.

As I was reading I was trying to make sense out of what a relationship is to you. I'm new here so forgive ignorance if you've explained it before. It seems like your world is a stream of temporary connections driving heavy emotional swings. That the goal is to live in excruciating emoting and using other people as the prop to get you off until you move onto the next one. I'm not sure there is anything wrong with that but, fuck, I'm surely not oriented that way.

I recently met a woman who led her husband into swinging. It broke up their marriage. As we spoke I was shocked to discover that in 3 years of swinger play she's had sex with some exactly once. That hundreds of hours were spent teasing, judging, negotiating, pushing/pulling but that nobody was getting fucked. As a 20 year practicing Tantric that sounds like a living hell. It also seems to be the pattern I'm reading underneath your comments above except with the fucking in place.

I appreciate what you are doing. XO

Expand full comment

God the part about “And maybe, finally, someone decides to make a monogamous movie. ... It's wonderful to see a depiction of romantic love that finally resonates with you, and also painful that this is it. This is the one movie you have, now... This is all culture has to offer you and your kind.”

This resonates a lot with me since I’m both poly and kinky, and pretty much the only movie about genuinely kinky people who want a significant element of BDSM in their relationship at all (even just sex) where it’s not treated as a joke is Secretary. There’s your one movie. Flawed, still not really fully accepting that it’s healthy, but at least shows a couple who wants this badly and figures out how to make it work and ends with an air of “different strokes for different folks, as long as they’re happy”. I’m not aware of essentially any other English language film that doesn’t basically use BDSM as just a gag or where it’s like “blind fold your partner, it’s SO kinky” (sarcasm).

(I don’t count 50 Shades because it’s barely even kinky honestly. “Show me your worst” *10 spanks* “*tears* how could you be so fucked up?!” Give me a break.)

Expand full comment

My personal point of pride was trying to fill a ratsphere polyamory survey, but being excluded as an outlier for having too many partners.

Expand full comment