Will you be ours? Valentine's Day for the polyamorous

This Valentine's Day, enjoy a classic essay by Annalee Newitz about celebrating differently-defined love.

(image: Shutterstock)


        1. Given what the arrow symbolizes in the Mars glyph, engorgement is meant to counteract the effects of gravity.

    1. This has always been my thought.  I’m not going to start thumping some book because people live differently than me.  But I can’t imagine how on Earth you have a poly relationship without it erupting into unspeakable drama and/or STD’s.  I’ve known two friends that were in multi-person relationships, and both ended spectacularly and horrifically.  

      I know, I know, two friends does not a world make.  But unless you have some *really, really* laid-back people, I think you’re just going to end up with a reality show – “You spend more time with her than you do me/the three of you like to do X but I hate it and I feel like you’re pushing me away because you do X/The only reason I’m with those others is because I wanted to get closer to you, you’re the only one I care about, why don’t we leave together/Bob slept with someone new and got herpes and now we all have herpes”

      1. To give the alternative view: I’m monogamous but I have poly friends, several have been in happy poly families for years, the others are in very new relationships (under a year) but are very happy and I can see them being together for a very long time. I also know relationships that have completely blown up, but then most monogamous relationships end well before “death do us part” as well (in fact probably most end before marriage is even on the table, most people do not marry their first sweetheart).

      2. Jon,
        You may also want to explore the differences between Poly, Open, and Swinging relationships as they have fundamentally different frameworks. Also, communication is HUGE, just quietly standing by while something bothers you is not going to work. Lots and lots of working through things and getting behind why you feel a certain way about something is key. You often find the things that set you off or make you feel bad have really nothing to do with the other people or their actions, but with your own hangups and misconceptions (like tying your own self-worth to someone else’s perceived emotional exclusivity).

        Not to mention having three sources of income, emotional support, and helpers in the house and life really rocks!

      3. I’ve known friends in long-term triads, and my take is that it *is* more difficult.  But also more rewarding.  And if you can get to the part where you make a poly relationship work, you seem to rid yourself of a lot of crap in the process, and end up a better person.

      4. Safe sex and frequent testing – which I would encourage for monogamous partners as well as poly – can keep the STDs at bay. I just got tested myself last week! Your local health department should be able to hook you up for cheap.

        As for drama, well… it happens, but then again, it happens in monogamy as well. I’ve seen plenty of monogamous relationship crash and burn over the same stumbling blocks that poly folks face, like jealousy.

        Personally, I’ve been in an open relationship for almost three years. It hasn’t always been a cakewalk, but what relationship is? My lovers and I manage by trying to remain empathetic and communicative. There is actually, in my experience, a certain symmetry  between open and closed relationships, with the same interpersonal challenges and rewards organized slightly differently.

      5. Every relationship, monogamous or otherwise, ends in either heartbreak or death; no way around it. My partner and I were in a triad for a while and it eventually ended in a less than wholly friendly manner… just like all my prior monogamous relationships.

        But just like anything else in life, if it’s what all involved truly want, then fear of failure is no reason not to try it.

    2. I frequently wonder how my poly friends with wide circles of partners do it (closed triads or similar arrangements seem simpler) because I barely have enough free time for my one partner. I wish I had the time management skills my poly friends have.

  1. OK, I’m going to put myself on the line here on the random interwebs.  But you love me so I know you’ll be nice.  I’m a mono and the thought of my wife with another man makes me fantasize about firearms.  But I’ll also be honest here about my double-standard. Though I am loyal 100% to my wife, the thought of some strange is quite pleasant, neverminding all the fence-mending that would need to happen afterwards.  

    So, how do polys do it?  

    1. What do you mean “how do polys do it”? How do we deal with jealousy? That’s hard…because I really just don’t experience it. Perhaps I was born without that bone. Maybe that’s the key to my successful relationships. I mean, why would I begrudge the people I love feeling happy? I wholeheartedly support their pleasure, happiness, and success, and would do everything I could to promote and foster their growth. To be upset to see them gaining those with other people is just – weird and artificial. Bizarre ritual that we were programmed with after years and years of the consumption of media supporting those relational restrictions.

    2.  Your way of thinking sounds perfectly evolutionary – wanting to pass genes and keep your, uh, gene collectors safe from others.

      The one poly friend I have is able to do it because  he wants more than one person and he finds people who are the same way, or who are smitten/low self esteem/what have you enough to tolerate his antics. I don’t really get all of it either, but I really don’t care what they do.

        1. Yeah because it is all about people with low self esteem in poly…

          Low self-esteem makes me not want to get my kit off in front of even one living human being.

        2.  Not saying it’s everyone, or even most. I asked. “How does that work?” and that was one of his answers.

      1. Yes, thank you.  It’s interesting… and I have no problem with others doing what they need or want to do.  No problem with other people doing whatever…it’s their business…  but I still can’t get over the image of cocking my shotgun while my wife is in the bedroom with some guy.  And I’m also not sure if I should even try to get over that.  

        I am just wondering how people aren’t territorial and protective of someone they love?  Of course I want my wife to be happy. I never want to bring her down.  But shouldn’t we be able to be happy and intimate *together*?  So I’m wondering how polys don’t have those feelings in the first place, or some polys are lying to themselves, or there is …something else going on about it, that I want to know about!  genuine spirit of curiosity!  I’m polycurious!

        1. Everyone is different. Some people are more naturally jealous than others. I thought I would be, turns out not so much at all. Other people are jealous, but deal with it like any other potentially negative emotion.

          In the end poly isn’t for everyone, but that’s okay. I just know I wouldn’t give it up for anything, even if it is occasionally a bit weird working out sleeping schedules. :)

        2.  Do you own your wife? Is she your property?

          I doubt you explicitly feel that way but that is my immediate reaction to your jealous talk featuring firearms.

        3. Why would I need to be territorial and protective? I cannot care for my lovers without pushing others away? Shouldn’t we be able to be happy and intimate together AND apart? Why is there an exclusionary aspect to the situations you put forth?

          I would think a huge part of it is understanding that a relationship is the union of your lives, and not the subsumption of the individual to some sort of chimera-like superindividual. I have my own desires, worldview, ego, emotions, tastes, etc – and so do they. If I were gone, they would continue to be. I love to see the face of my lovers light up with joy, whether is it due to something I did, an amusing television show or article, a friend amusing them, or another lover pleasuring them. How are these any different, other than by pointing to some arbitrary line in the sand?

          My loves tell me quite often that they feel safe and protected around me. I will continue to do this to the best of my ability. Making sure that they are happy and satisfied does not mean excluding things that make them happy and satisfied. You *can* have your cake and eat it too…it just has to be the right kind of cake for you.

          We all have vastly different relational models. If the mono circuit works for you, than that’s wonderful! You should continue to be happy and satisfied in the lifestyle that works for you. It doesn’t work for me, and I have only found fulfillment and happiness in the poly lifestyle. Different strokes, etc.

          A bigger part of this is something I would ask you – Why? What is your rationale for jealousy? You have yet to mention that. You just mention how it upsets you. *WHY* does it upset you? *Why* does the thought of someone else with your wife enrage you?

          1. Fair questions.  I don’t know precisely *why* because they are irrational responses – they are feelings.  But I’ll try to find out, because that would be useful information to have.

            OK, editing this a few hours later as an update. I thought about this, spoke with my wife and read some of the poly faq. Here’s what I came up with. A shotgun would be too little too late. If it ever got to that point, a breach of open trust would have already occurred. Or many breeches of the breeches would have occurred. It would mean that a communication breakdown had already happened and that our relationship was beyond repair. So, yes, the shotgun image, while all too real in my mind, would have been just too little too late to rectify a bad situation.

            As far as the possessiveness and possession goes, at a basic level it’s a natural part of wanting and loving someone. It can be taken too far. It’s part of close affinity. Loving someone and wanting to be close and not to share is a wonderful part of love. Now, when that crosses the line into obsession and crazed suspicious paranoia… then that’s not what I’m talking about anymore.

            So, that’s what I got. YMMV. Love comes in many flavors. Enjoy.

        4. A few years ago my wife told me that she identified as poly. That *was* hard. Its taken a lot of work for both of us to come to an understanding, but now I’m at a point where I don’t have thoughts of jealousy anymore. I’m protective, yes, but of her not my own need to feel unique. I believe you can love two people for different reasons, and its strangely liberating to know if I struck up a conversation with someone interesting tomorrow, my wife would be genuinely happy for me :)

        5. awjt – Replying to your comment further down (damn nesting limits!)

          You’re totally right. Communication and trust are the cornerstones of every relationship, regardless of style. The same breach of trust and feeling of betrayal are all too relatable by most poly people, and I’m sure most people here. We all have to walk that line to make sure everything works well, and no one gets hurt.

          I also totally understand the “not sharing” part, as I have felt similar things in the past. It just seems to me now that part of the fun in *my* life is sharing with others, just as my partners love to share with me.

          I really appreciate you taking the time to read, process, and share your emotions relating to the issue. It’s really awesome to be able to see your side of things, and to see see how much you care for your partner. Getting past the gun and down into some concrete emotions and relational connections brings everything into focus. Again, thank you. You rock.

    3. Maybe it’s a gay thing, but I wouldn’t care as long as I got to hear all the sordid details.

      1. If I weren’t a hetero mono and you were mine, I’d handcuff you to the bed rails with an attitude like that.

  2. This explains it best, from the poly faq:

    Subject: 15). How do I explain this to people?

    David Rostcheck says:

    “You don’t have to explain yourself at all, or answer to anyone. You’re happy. Your feelings require no justification. It’s a mistake to try to reconcile what you feel with a social classification, because the classification may not really suit you. You start with your feelings, understand them and be comfortable with them. You, your feeling, and the people you care about are the important things. You’re getting in this unnatural, inverted position of trying to explain yourself. You don’t have to explain yourself to the world. You just are, and your relationship just is. If other people want to understand it, then you try to explain to them in basic terms what you feel, and that you’re happy.

    “Here’s how I’d deal with some specific questions:

    “:Are you seeing my daughter or this other girl?
    I’m seeing them both.

    “:So you’re cheating on her?
    No. They both know; we’re all friends and we’re happy that way.

    “:Well, which do you love?
    I love them both.

    “:Which do you love more?
    I don’t understand the question. They’re different people. How do you measure?

    “:Why don’t you commit to one of them?
    Why can’t I commit to both of them?

    “See? You don’t have to bend over backwards to express yourself in their terms. They may have to learn your terms to understand you. You’re not the one who doesn’t understand; they have to put in the work to comprehend you. Remember, the bunch of you have something that comes naturally and feels right for you; whether or not other people get it is a secondary issue. As long as you do what you want you’ll be happy.

    “Does that help any?”

    1. Yeah, that’s a pretty fair explanation.  Most of the trouble when it comes to explaining poly relationships to people steeped in monogamy, in my experience, stems from the fact that most people tend to assume that the societal and internal factors that encourage their monogamy are both normal and universal, and any variance from those factors is abnormal, and probably unhealthy.  I daresay that jealousy is widespread enough to be perfectly normal, though its healthiness is debatable, and it stops well short of being universal.  My own attitude toward it mirrors that of Dr Fenderson’s above.  If my lover is happy, then so am I.  If she’s having a good time with someone else, there’s no good reason for me to feel like she’s doing so at my expense.  You understand that it would be different if I felt I were actually being ignored or mistreated, but as long as my own needs were being met, I have no issue with her enjoying all facets of life both in my company and out of it.

      There are certainly those who would take this attitude to mean that I simply don’t care enough about her, that my lack of possessiveness equates to a lack of passion, desire, or commitment.  To make a long story short, they’re wrong.  If she stopped loving me, I would mourn.  If she actually betrayed me, I’d feel betrayed.  If trust were violated, I’d feel it keenly.  And more than anything else, I do not consider myself free to do anything at all that I would not want her to do.  This has been my policy for a long time.

      It becomes remarkably easy to imagine what this means if you can imagine feeling no jealousy.  I love my brother and I love eating lunch with him, and it’s easy to see that it would be strange and abnormal and unhealthy for me to be jealous of him eating lunch with someone else.  It’s true that fraternal love and romantic love are very different things, but we should ask themselves how they’re actually different, and why it should be that one typically inspires possessiveness and jealousy and the other does not.  And is that possessiveness and jealousy useful, or destructive?

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