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?

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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?

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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.

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> 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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.)

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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.)

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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

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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?

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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.)

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

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Who made the cover photo? Beautiful.

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Apr 21·edited Apr 21

I'm a bit curious what you used for the 95% confidence intervals in your full post. (A one-sided t-test, some fancy bootstrapping, or something completely different? Either way is probably valid here.) It's especially impressive that they don't seem to overlap at all on the larger versions of the slightly poly ... fully poly plots that can be found there.

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This essay seems exploratory but I think it is getting at something. I liked poly before I heard of it but over time it became something broader than sex. However, at some points, I was open to sexual monogamy as long as nonsexual intimacy was open. I did this not because I didn't want my partner to have other relationships or because I didn't want physical intimacy with people but because it can get lonely living in a monogamous culture. My desire for some intimacy was greater than my commitment to living authentically. Having explored more and committed to poly and some other things I feel more comfortable. I'm even comfortable with my specific flavor of poly; it's who I am. That doesn't necessarily mean I will only date people like me. Rather I will keep working towards deeper honesty, living as seems right to me, and seeing who hangs around. I have some vision of how I want to live, and for now, it's enough that people don't oppose my vision even if they don't share it.

I think a difficulty we get into is that poly covers a lot more ground than monogamy. There are just more permutations and combinations. When will people be happiest? It seems obvious they will be happiest when their relationships match their desires. Possibly some relationship desires are easier to meet than others so those people will more often be happy. That doesn't make those desires better, though for some people desires are somewhat trainable and they may as well desire the easier more practical thing.

It seems sufficient to know one's desires and have good relationships (which assumes having your desires known and accepted). So there does seem to be a common pattern of poly couples who don't do much about it at times and they seem happy. I think your survey may not be getting at lifelong happiness though. Often when one member of a happy monogamous couple dies the other dies soon after and I don't suppose that is very happy.

It also seems unfair to value felt desire over intellectual desire. One might engage in or refrain from many activities because of some rational choice rather than emotions. It's fortunate when the intellect and emotions align and it probably results in more happiness but if one is exploring both and they conflict it's not obvious one should go with feelings.

I have met a fair number of poly people (maybe several hundred) and so far I have only seen one poly group that matched my model. Still, I find myself much happier in poly communities than in monogamous communities. It's like some sort of weight lifts when I am around poly people (one of many weights). The whole environment feels more alive and inviting regardless of relationships. Possibly I care more about actually living in a good poly community than about particular household models because they seem to accomplish similar things. Multiple joyful connections in a supportive environment. By joyful I mean something in addition to good conversations, not always sex but the absence of the notion that one ought to suppress a positive shared feeling because somehow enjoying one person is a threat to a relationship with another. Environments where people celebrate rather than fear responsible human connections. This need not exclude monogamous people if that is how they genuinely think or feel rather than from obligation or fear. I even know asexual people who seem like they would fit right in.

I recall an event with two people I knew well and found attractive. At the end of the event, I saw them walking down a long haul with a third person I had not met. The three of them were arm in arm and oozing sexual energy. I found this beautiful and felt great joy in their connection. I don't feel a sense of loss when I see people I love connect with other people I feel a sense of joy (and yes I sometimes feel anxious or protective). Sometimes I want to join, sometimes I think they could use some space, and sometimes it's a great time to go adventuring myself. If my desire is to join I ask (assuming I know them well). Why is this all so much easier for dogs than humans? Apart from the science and logic of things, happiness may be as much about unlearning bad habits picked up in messed-up environments.

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