Heart sculpture by Friedrich Lohmann, via Wikimedia Commons
One of the concepts that crossed my desk a while back was that of “Solo Polyamory.” As I sat unexpectedly alone on Christmas eve, and was reading some discussion on one of the polyamory lists I’m on, I realized that this is the style of polyamory that I’m apparently now practicing.
Many people feel that “solo poly” is an oxymoron. After all, how can you be single and “love more than one”? Seems incompatible, at least from the monogamous/couple paradigm. So what the heck IS it?
On one of the lists, one person had this to say about solo poly, in response to another writer in the forum:
First, solo poly is not about single people only. It is a way of approaching poly that claims to be valid for singles, as equally for each individual in a couple, triple, quadruple, or any tuple you care to think of.
Solo poly, which is not my own take on poly, and which I only know from a single presentation followed by a group discussion, shares with yourself a strong critique of couple privilege and of couple-oriented thinking.
Solo poly is saying remember you are at the centre of your life, not some other person who you label a primary partner.
It is reminding you that when partners ALL let you down, your truly primary resource is yourself (whether it is expenses, housework, or any of the other rhythms you list).
It is reminding you that all your relationships (no doubt to varying extents) only augment the care that ultimately is your care is your self.
For more information on solo poly, you might want to check out this article by researcher Elisabeth Sheff:
As my own relationship map changes and shifts in this new year (the only constant is change!), I find myself resonating even more with this concept of solo poly. Four years ago I wrote a list of Agreements/affirmations for myself. And I’ve been thinking it might be time to revisit them.
What do you think about this concept? Does “solo poly” make sense to you? Resonate? Seem ok, but only for someone else? Seem like a contradiction, or nonsensical?
The poly mantra, as they say, is “Communicate, communicate, communicate,” hereinafter represented as “C^3″ for brevity in this article. :) We all know (or we learn quickly), that polymory and open relationships take a LOT of communicating. In fact, a therapist friend of mine, Cat Maness, said yesterday, that her top 5 skills for poly/open relationships are:
And I’ll add that the most common thing to communicate about is… scheduling! We do a lot of talking and writing around here. It’s just part of the process.
That said, there comes a time when some folks feel that C^3 is OVER-communicating. Recently, for instance, in publicizing the second workshop I’m doing with Kathy Labriola, MORE Jealousy First Aid, I sent out a couple of invites, and Kathy send out an invite, and at least some people on both lists have started to feel like it’s OVER-communicating. (Theoretically, having Infusionsoft is supposed to help with this, but I’m such relative n00b at it that I’m still figuring out how to use all the fancy bells and whistles.) The fact, is though, that one person’s “communicating” is another person’s “OVER-communicating.” People have different preferences, and different levels of comfort with communication. And that’s natural, too.
What’s your comfort level with communication? Do you believe in C^3? Or do you have other ideas about communication? No matter what, I hope your communications are helpful in whatever sort of relationship/s you have. Because no matter who or how many you love…
Those of you with cable will probably know that Showtime’s second season of Polyamory: Married and Dating started in August. Based on early reports of “more diversity,” and the producer talking to “families from the heartland,” I had had higher hopes for this season than last. I haven’t seen the show myself yet (viewing parties are being scheduled!), but I have heard from some of my friends, and frankly, they weren’t impressed. “You’d think all we poly folk ever do is have sex, or talk about having sex,” was more or less the comment from one of my friends who’s actually seen all of this season’s shows so far. Since that was pretty much my complaint last year, I have to say I’m not shocked by my friend’s assessment. The show isn’t a particularly representative sample of differing poly relationship styles, unfortunately. Of course, this is a “reality” TV show, not a documentary, so we do have to take that into account. Sex sells, and sales drive ratings, after all.
As usual, Alan M. of Poly In The News is covering the show in detail, including some clips and a lot of analysis. Alan’s opinion seems fairly favorable (again), though that’s not without reason. The San Diego group, and Kamala in particular (in my opinion), have pretty good communication skills, and really are interested in showing the world that polyamory can work — and how their version of it works, in particular. Kamala often says things that I agree with wholeheartedly, such as this quote that Alan M. reports:
“You need a tribe. You need a community. It’s so much better than trying to do this alone.”
– Kamala Devi, as quoted in Poly in the News
It’s not that polyamory is never about sex of course — I myself have said that polyamory is just as much about sex (or not) as any monogamous relationship. Sex is part of the vast majority of adult human romantic relationships. It just so happens that their version of polyamory involves a lot more sex than the versions of most of the people *I* know! This clip from episode 3 encapsulates some of my sense of Michael’s heavy focus on sex:
He seems to have a hard time separating sex and closeness. His new partner Rachel seems to have a hard time understanding his difficulty:
Rachel, bemused: “I’m trying to understand the way this conversation is going.” Getting into bed with her lover’s wife is not how she usually thinks of “going deeper” with a lover, she explains.
– as quoted by Alan M. in Poly in the News
So what’s the harm in portraying polyamory as primarily about the sex? Hard to say. After all, it’s actually true for some percentage of poly people. On the other hand, as my friend expressed to me, if this were your only exposure to polyamory, you might get the wrong idea, or at least a very skewed one, and think that polyamory is always primarily about sex. [Hint: It's not.] I myself have a suspicion that my having suggested that an old friend watch the show (before I saw it, last year) might indeed have contributed to said friend’s sudden cessation of contact shortly thereafter. Certainly he seemed to think I wanted something much different than I actually did.
In my opinion, the real concern, though, is that all this focus on sex contributes to the cultural ideas that lead to “Michael Carey” on Slate writing this excellent article “Why I’m Still in the Polyamory Closet.” As “Michael” writes:
I have never, ever been out as poly in a workplace. Start trying to explain consensual non-monogamy, and some people—a lot of people—are going to think you’re obsessed with sex. (Never mind that I’ve been with my wife, Rose, for 10 years, have been married for three, and in all that time the two of us have dated fewer people than plenty of serially monogamous singles I know.) Some co-workers may avoid polyamorous colleagues because they’re paranoid that they may be on the prowl. Others will become distrustful because they think that poly is an attempt to re-label behavior that they consider cheating, and cheaters aren’t trustworthy.
Exactly. The assumption is that polyamory is all about sex, whether or not that’s actually the case. It’s stereotyping. So again, what’s problematic with portraying polyamory as being “about sex”? Here’s what:
“…you don’t know if your neighbors are poly (or whatever other term they may use), because they’re still afraid that if they don’t hide that aspect of their lives from you, something bad might happen. Those potential consequences range from having all future interactions feel awkward to having authorities take away their children.” — Michael Carey, in Slate
(Note that that link he gives above is to the relatively old April Divilbiss case, but many more recent instances of polyamorous people losing their children in custody battles have occurred, enough to cause there to be several polyamory legal defense funds and organizations created. It is definitely still an active concern for many polyamorous families.)
So this, then, is why I remain somewhat skeptical of the show and its impact on real polyamorous people. Polyamory is big enough to command a TV show all of its own now, and that’s definitely progress. But the heavy sex emphasis contributes to some negative stereotypes with some very serious potential consequences indeed. It’s progress with a price, at the very least.
I’ll watch the show, and I won’t tell others not to watch it… but I WILL recommend that you keep firmly in mind the fact that “reality TV” is a whole lot more about “TV,” than about “reality.”
PS: The teleseminar I did with Kathy Labriola on Wednesday was a rousing success! So much so that we’ve scheduled a second one for Thursday afternoon September 19th at 2:15pm Pacific time. We’ll cover several more tools for dealing with jealousy in yourself, and in your partner/s!
Those of us who are polyamorous are quite aware that we’ve long been painted as “the bottom of the slippery slope,” so it comes as no surprise to us that fundamentalists, especially Christians (e.g., the Christian Broadcasting Network), are looking to interview poly people on the topic. But while we polyfolk aren’t finding the conservatives particularly surprising, apparently WE are surprising THEM.
In particular, in his recent (and not yet released) interview, Dave Doleshal (founder of the Academic Polyamory Conference) reported that the interviewer for CBN was extremely surprised that there are many Christians who are also polyamorous. According to Dave, this
“…seemed to make his eyes bug out. It seemed like this was a possibility he had never considered.”
Note that we are not talking here about the Unitarians, who have a strong polyamory contingent. Nor are we limiting the discussion to Mormon splinter sects. Many Christians do not consider either of those groups to be Christians, strictly speaking. We’re talking about Catholics, Episcopals, Lutherans, and many, many more from the mainstream Christian denominations. Some are closeted, and some are open with their Christian communities. All are Christian AND poly*.
For those of you who might be Christian, but feel the call to being poly* as well, here are a few resources on the topic. [Note: I have not explored all of these deeply, so this does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement of any particular beliefs, practices or politics; just a link to a few places to look to convince yourself that you are not alone!]
For those who may not know, I myself come out of a conservative Christian background. My ultimate choice was not to stay within the Christian Church, but to pursue Love as a spiritual path. However, I do understand the mindset and the choices that those who are called to both might face. If you’re ever interested in discussing your own situation with me, feel free to book a free or half price session. I’m happy to listen, and to share any wisdom I can offer, because, as many of you already know, I truly believe that
“No matter who and how many you love, no matter their gender, their body shape or size, their race or the color of their skin, their political affiliation, their talents and abilities, their spiritual or religious leanings, their education…
A recent post in Facebook by Veronica Monet spurred me to post this poem I wrote a few years ago, about boundaries, in particular that “liminal space” where things are changing from one thing to the next. Veronica referenced the article “Monogamous, Except Online” and asked the question “What about you? Do you consider online sex to be “cheating” or is it harmless fun?” My answer there:
“Cheating” is breaking one’s agreements, whatever those are. So if you and your partner/s have an agreement not to have sex of any kind, even virtually, with someone else, then yes, it would be cheating. For me personally, I don’t have that sort of agreement, and it’s more about whether I feel like I’m hiding something from my partner, or vice versa. If I am able to be open with my partner, and not feel that “oh, I’m doing something wrong” feeling, and if they are able to hear about what I’m doing (online or elsewhere), and be ok with it (possibly even enthusiastic!), then it’s not “cheating,” and I know everything is ok. If they have a negative reaction, or if I feel “weird” or “furtive” about what I’m doing, then it’s a call to be in better communication with my partner.
So what about you? How do you know that you’ve come to “the edge of the world”? What kinds of Agreements do you have … or not? Do you prefer fences? a sign? guards? a guided tour? or complete freedom? As always, I’d love to hear your experiences, either here, in Facebook, or in email (LoveOTB@gmail.com). And if you’d like to talk about Agreements as a path to safety, or any other topic related to polyamory, love, and relationships, feel free to drop me a line. I’m happy to share my experiences and tools with you.
May you always love boldly, safely, and well!
PS: I’m running a summer coaching special, so now’s a great time to contact me by email, or call me (510-686-3386), and save 30% on a package. Find out how to make your relationships happier, safer, and more fulfilling!
Today I ran across an interesting article, about one woman’s journey of self discovery. You can read it under the title: Finally Embracing Desire.
The author, Monique, chronicles some of the changes taking place within her, as she moves her consciousness from the compulsory-monogamy paradigm, toward the idea that she (as the original title apparently said), can “own her own bed,” (http://www.purpleclover.com/relationships/576-finally-owning-my-bed/) and make her own choices about with whom she shares her bed — and her life and love:
…I watched myself as many old beliefs dissolved. The first to go was my need to feel like I’m “special.” This need had fogged my desire for love and acceptance, preventing me from offering my true self in relationships. I’d preferred to disguise myself as whatever I thought my partner desired so that he would make me the most special love.
I think the original title gets to the heart of some of the changes necessary in making this shift from compulsory-monogamy, into other ways of viewing relating (e.g., open relationships, open marriages, polyamory, etc.) A reliance upon external authority is gradually replaced by an understanding of personal responsibility. Ownership and control of partners (e.g., in marriage) is replaced by respect for individual needs. The dichotomy of Dependence/Independence merges toward freely-chosen Interdependence. As Monique shifts from others “owning her bed” (e.g., partners, religious authorities, or the government through marriage), she takes on more and more of her own authority — and her own power — to make her own choices, and to live with the consequences of those choices, thoughtfully and responsibly.
I never thought I would actually place myself, at forty-five, on a new road to self-discovery that would challenge something so core to my way of being. But I’ve decided that being myself and honoring the call to be sexually expressed as a sensual woman is not only okay, it’s paramount.
What paradigm shifts have you experienced in your life? Which ones have most affected your poly/open relationships? What values are of of “paramount” importance to you, and honoring the call to be fully yourself? What choices and actions might take you away from your true self?
Love is an amazing thing. It can be a wild tempestuous journey, or a sweet, quiet smile between friends. It can make us feel the best and the worst that we ever feel in our lives. Love is often a teacher. Sometimes it’s a spiritual journey… or a crucible of change. We often don’t choose who and how we love, even though we can choose how and when to express that. But no matter what makes your love special, no matter how long or short that love is, no matter who and how many you love…
ccording to the National Opinion Research Center, women in the US are catching up to their male counterparts. Not in making money, leading companies or accumulating wealth, alas. No, we’re catching up in the percentage of women who have “extramarital affairs.” In the last two decades, the percentage of wives having affairs rose almost 40 percent to 14.7 percent in 2010, while the number of men admitting to extramarital affairs held constant at 21 percent.
But is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Fellow PLN member Franklin Veaux thinks that there’s a good side to all of this (as quoted from email):
“In all seriousness, without being flip, I think it [statistical increase in women vs. men engaging in infidelity] IS progress. It shows that we’re moving away from a woman-as-possession model of marriage toward a woman-as-self-motivated-agent model. The cheating thing isn’t good, per se, but the reasons behind it are.” — Franklin Veaux
I’d have to agree with that. It seems that the double standard around who gets to sleep around may be starting to abate. Women are, more and more, making their own choices around with whom to have sex. But is there more to this than meets the eye? I think so.
Percent of marriages where one or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional
Percent of men who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had
Percentage of women who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they’ve had
Percent of married men who have strayed at least once during their married lives
Percent of married women who have strayed at least once during their married lives
Percentage of men and women who admit to having an affair with a co-worker
Percentage of men and women who admit to infidelity on business trips
Percentage of men and women who admit to infidelity with a brother-in-law or sister-in-law
Average length of an affair
Percentage of marriages that last after an affair has been admitted to or discovered
Percentage of men who say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught
Percentage of women who say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught
Percent of children who are the product of infidelity
I notice several things. For one thing, that 41% figure contains both people who have actually had sex with someone other than their spouse, AND those who had emotional affairs. Compared with the usual US standard of counting “infidelity” as “sex outside of marriage,” though, this significantly inflates the numbers. Also, from this table, we can’t tell the percentage of men vs. women who engage in either form of infidelity. I bet those numbers would be interesting, too.
For another, there is no room in this chart for polyamory, open relationships, or ethical non-monogamy. If presented with this poll myself, I might answer “yes” to questions about historical infidelity going back to the time before my marriage. I might also answer “yes” to either emotional or sexual “infidelity” depending on how that term is defined. It’s certainly true that I’ve had sex AND emotional intimacy with more than just my husband. *I* don’t call it cheating… but those writing this survey might.
It’s also interesting to me that the average affair lasts about 2 years… just long enough for the “Disney chemicals” to wear off, and the infatuation to fade. Hmmm….
However, on the whole, I’m forced to conclude that the data isn’t particularly firm here, and doesn’t actually say much. It is, as the saying goes (attributed to Mark Twain), “Lies, damn lies, and statistics,” raising as many questions in my mind about the research, as about the results.
On the good news side, given that it does seem to indicate an increase in people (of any gender) willing to talk about their “infidelity,” this probably bodes well for transparency and honesty in relationships, which in turn probably bodes well for fulfillment within the ones that last — or even the ones that don’t. If people are happier by pursuing outside relationships, and that happiness leads to them choosing new partners, then that would be reflected in the oft-quoted 50% divorce rate — but that might also indicate that people feel more free to pursue what actually makes them happy and fulfilled in relationship, even if that means having sex with someone other than their spouse, or even divorce.
What do you think about all this? How would you answer a poll of this sort? Do you think women’s “gains” in equality here are a good thing, a bad thing, or something else altogether?
Should you freak out if you get a positive [STI] test? Probably not, depending on the number of “false positives.” Here’s the mathematical reasoning, based on a disease with a 1% rate in the population, where the test finds the diseases 100% of the time, but has a 5% “false positive” rate.
The “moral” of the story? Don’t freak out (yet); instead, get a second opinion.
Of course, the exact numbers will depend on how accurate the test is, and exactly what the false positive rates are. But mathematically speaking, a positive test is not something to freak out about, at least not until there are TWO positive tests in a row. Preferably by different testing methods.
This, by the way, is why you really shouldn’t “out” someone publicly who’s just told you privately that they got a positive test, and are awaiting re-testing (while taking appropriate precautions not to unnecessarily expose others in the meantime, just in case). Because the HIGH probability is that the re-test will be negative. Making a big deal about whether they’ve told absolutely everyone yet is just going to cause drama that is likely completely unnecessary. Giving them a little empathy about how challenging it must be to get this result and how hard it is to wait, on the other hand, would probably be really welcome.
Occasionally I get some interesting letters. Recently, I was contacted by a High School Honors student seeking information for a paper. Here’s what the student wrote:
Hello, [...] I am currently working on a research paper on polygamy. I found your information on the lovemore.com website and I was wondering if you would be willing to answer the following questions.
How does dating work in a polygamist relationship?
Did you choose to be a polygamist? If so what made you choose to be a polygamist?
Did you grow up in a polygamist family? If not how does being a polygamist affect your non-polygamist family?
How do the children interact with multiple mothers?
How does being a polygamist child affect childhood?
Do you have to be a certain religion to be a polygamist?
What are your feelings on Warren Jeffs?
Do you believe that Warren Jeffs is the reason polygamy is illegal in some states?
How does being a polygamist affect your day to day life?
Why do you believe polygamy is illegal in multiple states?
Does polygamy being illegal affect your day to day life?
Is there anything that you think that I should know about polygamy in order to write my paper?
Thank you for taking time to read my email and answering my questions
This email, while clearly interested in the topic and asking some worthwhile questions, shows the vast gulf in understanding in the general public of what polyamory and polygamy actually are.
Here’s my response:
Dear [ ]:
I’ve been debating how to answer your questions since your first message. The issue, you see, is that you have contacted the wrong person to answer the questions you’ve asked. I’m not a polygamist. I practice *polyamory*. Here’s a quick definition:
Polyamory = poly (derived from the Greek for ‘many’) + amory (derived from the Latin for ‘love’)
In other words,
Polyamory is the belief in and/or practice of multiple loving relationships, with the full knowledge and consent of those involved.
Polyamory and polygamy are not the same thing, though they share the same Greek root meaning “many.” Polygamy, however, shares the root “gamy” with the word “monogamy,” which refers to human marriage customs. (See more here: http://www.affixes.org/g/-gamy.html)
In addition to that letter, I’ve also compiled a DRAFT of a table highlighting some of the similarities and differences between polyamory and polygamy. I’ve been hesitant to publish it, in part because I haven’t yet run it by any representatives from the groups discussed (other than polyamorists, where I’ve run the paper by some researchers into polyamory, a few months ago.) So if you, dear reader, identify with any of these groups, and you find areas that you feel need improvement, please do bring the matter/s to my attention (gently, if you can!) I wish to provide this list as a starting point for thought and discussion, not as a prescription for division. I myself am not a social scientist and do not claim to be an “academic.” The references and suggested readings listed are also not meant to be an exhaustive list, but instead a starting place for further research.
(as popularly understood in US;
aka religious polygyny) (1)
Multiple adult partners
Multiple adult partners
Deserving of human rights
Deserving of human rights
Stigmatized and misunderstood
Stigmatized and misunderstood
Lack of governmental or social recognition of family status
Lack of governmental or social recognition of family status
Egalitarian (shared power in relationship)
Patriarchal (decisions and responsibility reserved to male head of family)
Structure not based in organized religion (though practitioners may be religious and/or spiritual)
Structure originates in religious doctrine or belief
Any combination and number of genders in relationship structure
Relationship structure limited to 1 man, multiple women
Mostly not prohibited in the US (2)
Mostly prohibited in the US (3)
About love/romantic relationships
About marriage relationships
Long-term commitment optional
Long-term commitment a requirement
May be sexually open (individuals in the relationship may or may not have additional sexual relationships outside of the polyamorous relationship under discussion)
Always sexually closed (individuals within the relationship may only have sex within the relationship)
Same gender sexual relationships may be allowed
Heterosexual relationships only
Allows for gender fluidity and other non-normative gender expressions
Binary gender expression only
Relationship focused (May or may not consider themselves part of a family)
(1) Other forms of polygamy exist worldwide that are not based in religious doctrine or belief. This table does not address those and is not meant to imply that they either don’t exist, nor that they are the same as the religious form of polygamy discussed here. This table exists primarily to clarify the most common misperception of polyamory being “the same as polygamy,” as represented by, for instance the TV shows “Big Love” or “Sister Wives.”
(3) Some Christian polygamy groups advocate marrying and then getting a legal divorce in order to create a “spiritual marriage” only. This form of polygamy (in essence, a form of serial marriage) would be legal in the US. (Source: http://www.christianpolygamy.com/)
Do you have anything to add to this table? Any great references, important line items, or any comments or questions? As always, feel free to contact me on my Love Outside the Box webpage, to comment below, or to visit my Facebook page, LoveOTB. I welcome your discussion and feedback.
I was recently introduced to a new resource for managing safer sex and testing results. It’s called Qpid.me, and it claims to be “A free, simple way to share your verified STD results” by registering with them, and having your results sent directly from your doctor to their private database.
Here’s what they say on their website:
To make informed sexual health decisions, you must not only be informed about your own health, but also about your partner’s health as well. We enable you to privately share your STD [Sexually Transmitted Disease, aka Sexually Transmitted Infection or STI] status however you choose. We believe that sharing is a good thing and that it can lead to better sexual health decisions, more (safe) sex and fewer STDs.
The service is limited, and doesn’t include a couple of important STIs (e.g., HSV, aka Herpes), and so far doesn’t seem to include a way to make any statement (or have your doctor make a statement) about those STIs, either. Here’s the list of what they DO cover (from their FAQ):
» HIV: PCR/RNA, antibody and viral load (for HIV positive users)
» Gonorrhea: genital/urine, rectal and oral
» Chlamydia: genital/urine, rectal and oral
» Hepatitis C antibody
» HPV vaccine
» Hepatitis A vaccine
I myself have some concerns over this whole idea, around the idea of the results being useable to potentially stigmatize someone/s in the community who turns up “positive” for something. On the other hand, stigmatizing is certainly being done NOW, without benefit of this service to speed up the process, so I’m not sure how much actual increased risk there is.
I’m also concerned about things like financial accessibility, and that requiring a certain kind of testing might become a way to effectively marginalize some less-privileged parts of the community. Of course, there are some free or low-cost resources available, at least in most urban areas in the US (e.g., Berkeley Free Clinic), but in the current economic and social climate, this certainly is not a guarantee for everyone in all areas… and even if you live somewhere that’s covered by such services, accessing them can be more than a little bit of a hassle. (Not to mention the issues inherent with contributing to the unsustainable medical-industrial-complex in the US. (Thanks to Charlie Glickman in Twitter for that link))
One of the other things I’m concerned about is the common misconception that clear test results mean there is no risk of getting an STI. It doesn’t. It’s incredibly important to remember that testing gives you a snapshot at a particular point in time, and that any sexual contact with others means that the snapshot may no longer be 100% accurate (see more about the “window period”). Depending on how active you and/or your partner/s are, the accuracy could range anywhere from “still good” to “completely false.” Clear tests are never a substitute for good safer sex practices (e.g., consistent and correct condom use, and being mindful about cross-contamination), honest conversations with your prospective partner/s, and possibly having a Safer Sex Agreement (whether that’s something that’s “only” an Agreement with yourself, or whether that includes 1 or more partners as well.) Remember also that any Agreements you make are best made in advance of clothes coming off, and when everyone’s awake and sober!
(And now my brain is suddenly full of images of eggs and juice and the phrase “[brand name cereal] is part of a complete breakfast”! *chuckle*)
May you always love boldly, safely, and well!
Want some help negotiating safer sex (or any other kind of) Agreements? I’m always happy to schedule a free 30 minute session (or 60 minutes for half price). And if you act before the end of February, you can still get my Valentine’s Day coaching discounts.