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Although this isn't a bad article, overall, if you're not familiar with polyamory, you should probably visit http://www.polyamory.org/ for a broader viewpoint.
What does it all mean? It's not a user-friendly word; even many of the devotedly polyamorous admit that, though not all are apologetic about it: "I've always been aware that 'polyamory' is a bastard coinage, but it never bothered me the way it seems to some people (after all, so is 'automobile', but nobody gets sniffy about that). Then I started to wonder what it would be if it were all Greek roots, and I realized that we'd better stick with 'polyamory'. I mean, could you talk about the 'polyphilous' movement with a straight face?" And, adds a polycompadre, "Would you like to be said to have engaged in 'polyphilia,' or declared a 'polyphile?' "
Is it all still Greek to you? Here's the whole thing in a bandshell: alt.polyamory is the newsgroup for people who are interested in "responsible non-monogamy". Now you might say that's just a prescription for taking all the fun out of fooling around, but these people disagree. "We are seeking friendships more than sex, but see sexuality as a natural extension of loving relationships. We are educated, open and articulate, a cross-section of ages and ethnic groups," posts one.
They also have an edgy relationship with the world of swinging, because to the untrained eye they look the same. Note that this is not an alt.sex newsgroup. Partly that's to avoid all the free spam in that neighborhood, but it makes the point that these people are interested first in multiple love relationships. Sex comes later, if at all. The consensus on swinging versus polyamorousness: "While some swingers may practice polyamory, swinging is not 'one way' to do polyamory, in my opinion. Swinging connotes sex for recreational purposes. Polyamory has to do with relationships. Swinging does not necessarily imply relationships. Polyamory does not necessarily have to do with sex (it's not 'many sex' it's 'many love'). I know polyamorous people who are celibate. And while polyamory may assume that sexual loving is the norm, what is central is relationships, not sex. So, while polyamorous people can swing, and swingers can be polyamorous, polyamory (the lifestyle) and swinging (the lifestyle) are two different operational concepts." Put another way: "Polyamorists tend to want to take sex off the pedestal (or out of the gutter, depending on how you look at it) that makes it different from 'just' friendships, while swingers are heavily into the naughtiness of it. A friend told me about a swinging party he went to, where everyone went -- nude -- to a sauna, then got dressed and went back to someone's house. After a few drinks everyone, with hoots of laughter, was getting into a game of taking Polaroids of the women flashing their tits -- even though they'd all been nude together an hour ago. As if they had to put the naughty back into nude before they could enjoy it."
This is a fine observation, that the fun, the sexiness of swinging, as of pornography, depends heavily on its forbidden, outlaw nature. The polyamorists want to get it all out of the closet, stop treating sex as dirty and desire as unnatural. This is surely a worthwhile goal, but it is interesting that the short-term side effect can be to make sex sound like not much fun, and love relationships more like a chore than a joy. The discussions on alt.poly, while ostensibly about how to live an ecstatic life, can sound pretty grim.
I'm not talking prudishness, here, but there is a hot discussion going at alt.polyamory about the morality of casual sex. Issues of morality around love and sex are the principal topic. In general, the arguments are thoughtful, and a hell of a lot more interesting than the take-no-prisoners contests on other groups. Nor are the religiously inclined writers necessarily the ones opposed to sex in all its forms: "What I do in my life is based on principles that my heart tells me are right. I don't try to justify them by appealing to any religious tradition, and I sometimes imagine myself reshaping the traditions to fit my principles rather than the other way around. As I would write it, Adam steals the forbidden fruit and bites into it, seeking the secret knowledge that will make him divine. When confronted by the angry gods (the Hebrew word is plural, or so I'm told), he blames Eve, who in turn tries to shift the blame to the first innocent creature she comes across: a serpent, which, as snakes lack vocal cords, cannot defend itself. Thus is born the classic excuse 'The devil made me do it.'"
Another polyamorous poster pitches some broadcast woo that starts out lyrical but bogs down when he gets to the nitty-gritty: "I am not looking for anything physical at the moment. I am not looking for some hot male or female to ram anything into myself or my wife. All I want at this moment is conversation, and maybe an encounter in the future. My wife is my soul mate, and I will never leave her, but I have always wondered if there were others out there I could love as well. My wife and I are still discussing some situations and experimenting with others.
"I guess I am looking for someone that both my wife and I can fall in love with....
"Since I am writing this, I would like to correspond with a female (since they are the better sex), and my wife would probably want me to correspond with some inferior male (she can do that search on her own)..."
"Inferior male?" Uh-oh. Is jealousy rearing its ugly head already? And speaking of jealousy, just how do the polyamorous among us seek to placate the green-eyed monster? Glad you asked.
Some face it and deal with it, others try an end run. Members of the second groups have been seen tooling around town with a sporty little philosophical dodge called "compersion." Says one of these revisionists: "As I recall, it was coined by the Kerista commune crowd, and I believe it has the definition of 'being totally with,' and the example is 'that feeling one has of seeing one's loved one express love for another,' and is considered the opposite of jealousy." Here's the explanation for how it's supposed to work: "The central insight is that it's effectively impossible to remove jealousy from someone who feels it; it leaves a void, and something -- usually more jealousy -- just leaps in to fill it. But, by conscious replacing jealousy with another emotion....one can rid oneself of jealousy."
Nice theory, Einstein. Is everyone on alt.polyamory buying it? By no means. Here's an example of what happens when theory meets practice: "Several years ago, my then boyfriend and I were in love with the same woman. The woman didn't like me in 'that way,' but did like my boyfriend. I was very disappointed, and didn't handle the situation very well. One thing that I felt at the time was that I was in the wife role and she was in the mistress role....I felt like a schlep stuck in the house doing dishes while she had exciting romance..."
Just as there is a great gulf between the polyamorists and the swingers, there appears to be a significant unspoken division between polyamorists of theory and practice. I'm not suggesting that the theorists have never had any experience at all, but that they spend more time in the lab than in the field -- and that, like all true believers, they reject facts that don't support their theory. Witness this lament: "I'm wary of people who like poly in principle but who have little experience to back it up. I've been burned several times...by such folks."
What does the experience team have to say about the warm, fuzzy idea that compersion can drive out jealousy? "I think it's interesting, though, that both emotions can be experienced at the same time. In fact it's most common for me to experience both at the same time. When I experience jealousy without compersion, I know something is desperately wrong." This has more the ring of authentic experience.
Jealousy isn't the only subject on which there is disagreement between the starry-eyed idealists and the sadder-but-wiser gang. One woman asks the million-dollar question of multiple relationships: "How do other people handle it when their partner has an exciting new love, and their long-term relationship may be settled into the post-excitement phase that long-term relationships seem to settle into?" The first response chides: "This 'post-excitement phase' sounds like the root of the problem. Avoiding such a phase might be the solution....My belief is that long-term compatible relationships don't much experience a post-excitement phase." But this naive bit of advice is countered by: "In my experience, this is hokum. There is a marked difference between something in the first bloom and something that has reached maturity. The dizzy, breathless, concentration-debilitating anything-can-happen feeling fades. Nothing can be done about it.
"I try to keep in mind that there are advantage to both positions. When in the initial phase, it is tempting to feel that the more established partner(s) have the advantage of prior and fuller knowledge of the lover. When in the mature phase, it is difficult to avoid feeling threatened by the initial bliss. Since I have been in both positions numerous times, it is easier to focus on the advantages of my current one.
"It also becomes easier after it has happened a few times and you aren't abandoned for the new thrill. Good luck in what is rarely an easy situation."
That's the bottom line for people who have multiple love relationships. No matter how much you may wish for a set of rules and principles that will help you keep all your balls in the air, there are no sure things. That's why the monogamous unit is so popular -- not because most of us have eyes for only one other, but because every variable added to the equation makes it harder to solve. Take a second lover and you risk losing both lovers.
But a lot of people feel that the rewards are worth the risks. If you've ever wondered what life might be like with multiple partners, where everybody knows what's going and no one's sneaking around, alt.polyamory can give you some insight. Just remember that no one else's experience will be exactly like yours, and that you're dealing with people, not something easily predictable like the weather.
The natives are friendly. They may talk you to death, but they won't hurt you. So drop by; you just might find yourself contemplating a step into a brave new world. 8^)
Copyright 2003 by Aahz (except for portions copyright 1997 by General Media Communications, Inc.)
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