Desire is a fundamental aspect of all of us, and it takes many forms. We desire the acquisition of things, to have certain experiences, and most complexly, we desire other people. Our desires for other people are not singular; we long for someone to fulfill multiple needs, some of which we aren’t even consciously aware of. These needs may be sexual, including a need for intimacy, emotional, practical, psychological, and beyond.
In the new book What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, Daniel Bergner explores many aspects of desire–in this case female desire–and the implications of having multiple desires that may not be fulfilled by a single person. This leads well into the concept of polyamory, since having multiple loving relationships is one way of overcoming that challenge.
One case study in the book is that of heterosexual couples who are in long-term relationships, where their love and dependence on each other deepens over time, while their sexual desire wanes–especially of the woman for the man. The author explains that this is caused by the fact that many of the qualities that make a long-term relationship work–familiarity, dependability, thoughtfulness, accommodation–are opposed to the qualities in a man that a woman finds sexually enthralling–uncontrolled passion, dominance, unpredictability, and unfamiliarity. In my experience, this often holds true, and many couples feel stuck, not willing to give up all the parts of their relationship that work, but ever increasingly frustrated by the growing sexual incompatibility.
Pursuing new relationships, while maintaining the existing one, is a logical solution to this problem. Assuming the couple can overcome the typical challenges of jealousy and time management, this allows a woman (or a man) to focus on the aspects of the existing relationship that work well, while satisfying sexual desires that require newness and qualities that don’t necessarily fit in a long-term relationship. Of course, this is only a partial solution; the original couple in the long-term relationship will only have those needs met with others, and not with each other. That said, it is likely that their sexual connection will take on new life, if only due to each of their increased focus on sex.
This situation raises the question of whether it is possible for someone to simultaneously play the role of the familiar, dependable long-term partner, as well as the passionate, dominant object of sexual desire. Of course, a long-term partner is necessarily not new or unpredictable, but perhaps there is room to maintain some of these qualities through an enduring relationship. The other point to consider here is that when pursuing new relationships, polyamorous or otherwise, the dynamic of that relationship will be affected by the focus on being thoughtful and accommodating, rather than dominant and overly passionate. This is not to say that one approach is right or wrong; ultimately, each of us must express ourselves naturally and truly. There may be competing qualities to reconcile here.
The polyamorous community is in great need of a dating site that is specifically designed for those in open relationships. Currently, OKCupid is the go-to on-line dating destination for the ethically non-monogamous, but it has its limitations. Polyamorous people on OKCupid spend too much time filtering out recommended matches who are not actually interested in a relationship with someone who is “available” (as non-monogamous people are labelled in OKCupid land).
On the plus side–and it’s a huge plus–OKCupid is popular enough to attract a significant number of users, especially in larger cities, including a reasonable number of polyamorous or poly-friendly folks. Having a big enough pool of potential candidates is the most important factor for a dating site–more important than design or functionality. A good example of this is PolyMatchMaker; it seems to lack that critical mass of users to be the go-to place to find your poly match.
There are plenty of dating sites geared towards the swinging community, such as AdultFriendFinder and Cafe Desire. There is also the local Toronto Menage-a-Quatre, which is associated with Club M4–a swingers club that has recently started running some events for people who are polyamorous.
So is it time for a new polyamory dating site that will attract enough users to flourish? The authors of Sex At Dawn say yes, yes it is time! And so they present to us, KoTangle. KoTangle is dubbed as “a global community of sexy, ethical, adventurous people”, and is currently in alpha testing. Anyone can sign-up to help test and provide feedback about the site. The real question is whether KoTange will attract enough people to become the new polyamory dating site that this community is longing for.
Recently, the Toronto District School Board came under fire for posters in their schools intended to promote “Safe and Positive Spaces”. The posters, among other combinations, include a heart that contains three stick figures–one male and two females. The board says this was to indicate that one person may be attracted to others of more than one gender, which makes sense. What got them into trouble is that the happy threesome was interpreted as being an endorsement of polygamy.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that the image of three stick figures within a heart leads directly to the concept of polygamy, rather than polyamory, or even someone casually dating males and females. It is certainly a reflection of the way mainstream society thinks about those who engage in relationships with more than one person at a time. The recent mainstream media attention paid to polyamory should help to slowly shift this view, but it will be a slow process, and a significant amount of time until polygamy isn’t the only alternative lifestyle mentioned in this kind of controversy.
The most fascinating part of this story is that in general, people understand and accept that an individual may be bisexual, and yet their default assumption is that a bisexual person will repress their attraction to all but one gender. That assumption is so strong that the only possibility people can imagine beyond such repression is polygamy. The press coverage, and people’s thought processes, don’t even explore the absurdity of someone having to live in such a repressed state, and what alternatives, beyond polygamy, might be possible.
It’s a shame that the school board chose to simply say they were not endorsing polygamy, rather than using this as an opportunity to raise awareness of other alternatives, such as polyamory.
The Globe & Mail published a major piece on Polyamory last week, entitled Polyamory: Exploring the In and Outs of Multiple Partners. It is amazing to see the mainstream media reporting on polyamory more frequently, and this article is great example of factual, positive reporting on this topic. The Globe’s circulation is more than one million; that’s a lot of people who have now been exposed to the concepts of polyamory, from a source they presumably see as trustworthy.
The recently wrapped-up first season of Polyamory: Married and Dating on Showtime takes much of the credit for the recent coverage of polyamory in the mainstream media. While the show is not a perfectly accurate portrayal of polyamory, it has been generally well received within the polyamorous community, and has done wonders for the general public’s awareness of what polyamory is. This Globe article is another example of how the Showtime series has cleared the way for long-deserved coverage of this alternative lifestyle.
For those of us who are polyamorous and Canadian, this article provides a convenient avenue for discussion of our lifestyle with friends and family who have been kept in the dark about our non-monogamous nature to date. “Hey, did you see that article in the Globe last week about polyamory” is a nice sounding, relatively safe test of what your loved one’s reaction might be, should you decide you come out to them.
It has been reported that an even longer, more in-depth piece on polyamory will appear in the Globe in the coming months.
Given the lack of understanding of polyamory in the mainstream public and media, as demonstrated recently by the Newt Gingrich incident, there is clearly a great need for more activism around open relationships. Groups like the Polyamory Leadership Network, which will be much better known now thanks to upcoming coverage in the New York Times, are at the forefront of efforts to increase awareness of ethical non-monogamy.
Being an activist for polyamory is not quite like being a political or human rights activist. The difference is that to be a public advocate for open relationships, you yourself must first be “out” about your non-monogamous status, and be comfortable with drawing attention to that aspect of your life. Many people are not at all ready for that, especially because such a decision impacts the partners and families of anyone who steps into the spotlight.
That is, of course, unless you happen to be a monogamous person who believes so strongly that others should be able to choose to be ethically non-monogamous without discrimination, that you take up the cause. I have yet to come across such a person, although perhaps, like gay-straight alliances, the non-monogamous community should be trying to work more close with open-minded monogamous groups. Just as very conservative parents dealing with a gay child are more likely to listen to a fellow conservative than to another gay person, the mainstream public may overcome their typical skepticism about non-monogamy if the message came from a more traditional source.
Tonight is one of those nights that many who are new to non-monogamy dread: my partner is out playing with someone else. And by playing, I mean having lots, and I mean lots of sex.
How am I feeling about this? Fantastic. No, seriously–I absolutely love it.
We have been non-monogamous, and more specifically polyamorous, for more than a year now. Early on, we went through all of the typical stages of opening up that included many serious conversations, very real concerns of jealousy, and ultimately a shake-down and testing out of just how strong our relationship was. Thankfully, that stage is now past; not only did we discover our relationship was on solid ground, but in process of opening up we reinforced it exponentially through increased honesty, connection, and love.
As counterintuitive as it seems, sharing ourselves with others–mind, body and heart–has taken an already solid, well-functioning relationship to new heights. And so, on nights like tonight, when I can only imagine the passion and pleasure taking place a few short miles away, I feel a special sense of joy, combined with a little giddiness, against a backdrop of arousal. Now is a moment when polyamory is as real as it gets; emotions, feelings and not to mention screaming-from-the-rooftop sex is happening, now, as I sit here in a quiet house, typing away. And there is no joy quite like it.
Of course, I understand why others don’t have the same reaction to their significant others going wild into the wee hours with someone else. Without enough trust, security, honesty and faith, negative feelings can easily crop up, rational or not. And in a polyamorous arrangement, negative feelings can quickly spiral out of control, given the complexity of the relationship dynamic. My sincere hope is that more people out there can experience the elation of polyamory, in all of its aspects, both long-term and in those special moments like this one.
Language is a funny thing: while definitions seem to be precise and specific, words are often interpreted differently by different people. Such is the case when it comes to defining “open relationship”, “polyamorous” and “swinger”. There are many places to read up on what these mean in more detail, but it isn’t difficult to find conflicting definitions.
I consider “open relationship” to be a broader, umbrella term, that refers to any variation of non-monogamous relationship. Polyamory and swinging are more specific types of open relationships, the former focuses on emotional connection that allows for falling in love, the latter on sexual play between couples that tend to only play together.
But as explored on a recent Swingset post, it’s far less important to worry about the definition of these terms, and what you consider yourself, as it is to ensure you and your significant other(s) are on the same page about your rules and standards. And of course, even if someone or a couple labels themselves as one thing, it is common for that not to remain static over time. Allowing yourself the freedom to explore what feels right, regardless of what it’s called, is one of the joys of open relationships.
A great post on the Free Thought Blog about what it’s like for someone who isn’t familiar (or comfortable) with polyamory to end up in a relationship with one half of a polyamorous couple. It’s fascinating to hear the perceptions of an open-minded, thoughtful person as he is introduced to the concept, and then the reality of polyamory, and what it means to live a polyamorous life.
The journey from monogamy to polyamory is often a turbulent one. For couples who have lived monogamously for many years, it seems common for one of the two to come to the realization that they can no longer be monogamous; then comes the challenge of how to communicate this to their partner.
Scanning the polyamory-related mailing lists, there are often desperate pleas for help from individuals who are stuck in a situation where their significant other will not accept polyamory, and yet they desperately want to love not only that significant other, but someone else too. The logical resolution would be to drop the pursuit of polyamory, and focus on keeping the status quo of their life stable. But love and logic do not always go so well together, and so this solution is not easily accepted, and rarely implemented.
The unfortunate reality is that humans are not naturally monogamous, and yet we are conditioned at an early age to believe that we should be. Add to that religious and social constructs that enforce monogamy through the threat of all sorts of consequences, and it’s not surprising that those trying to break free of monogamy don’t often do so smoothly.
Because of the tricky situation monogamous partners face when they want to “open up” a relationship, timing is key. There is a big difference between having the “monogamy isn’t for me anymore” conversation before you have had a significant relationship with someone else versus afterwards. Afterwards, this declaration can seem like nothing more than rationalization, no matter how true it may be.
There are plenty of success stories when it comes to couples making this transition. But sadly, there are also many cases that just don’t work out. The common theme across these examples is that once someone realizes they believe in polyamory, they often cannot live any other way, regardless of the consequences.